Photos © Pavlina Soukupova
The Finn class is very excited to announce a co-operation agreement with the Dinghy Academy in Valencia to fund and train aspiring Olympians from developing Finn nations. The class has committed to part fund the training of four sailors at the Dinghy Academy in 2013, with the intention this will continue through to 2016. It hopes at least some of the recipients will qualify for the 2016 Olympic sailing regatta.
The first two recipients of the Finn class grants are Alejandro Foglia (URU), and Agustín Zabalua (ARG). Foglia is a three-time Olympian in the Laser class, while Zabalua is a highly experienced dinghy and keelboat sailor. Two more grants are still to be allocated.
As well as providing coaching, boats, logistics and a training base, the agreement includes the opportunity for sailors who are considering joining the toughest of all Olympics classes to have five days free use of the equipment and facilities in Valencia. Interested sailors should contact the class and those from new countries to the class would be especially welcome.
This new scheme comes under the auspices of the FIDeS programme (Finn International DEvelopment Support), created in 2006 as a way to channel funds and expertise within the class towards sailors from nations trying to develop Finn sailing.
The Dinghy Academy is the brainchild of Luca Devoti (ITA), the 2000 Olympic silver medalist and long-term builder of the Finn through Devoti Sailing. He explained the concept of the Academy. "We have put together a well-assorted team of Olympic champions from various countries in one high-level training centre under the guidance of some of the world's top specialists."
"We offer top coaching, charter Finns and a team of dedicated sailors led by Vasilji Zbogar (SLO) showing how to get better at Finn sailing and how to get to know your inner being to master it and to have a real chance at winning."
"The joint venture with the Finn class is working at further internationalising the sport, attracting new countries to the ultimate sailing challenge, the Finn."
Valencia has proved a popular training venue for Finn sailors for many years because of its excellent conditions afloat and great facilities ashore. This began in the lead up to the 2007 America's Cup where sailors from various teams sailed Finns in their spare time, so it was a natural choice for the Academy.
A large number of sailors have already used the Academy for their winter training. As well as Zbogar, Max Salminen (SWE), Eduard Skornyakov (RUS), Alex Muscat Diaz (ESP), Lennart Lutkus (GER), Igor Terpigorev (RUS), Andrey Gusenko (UKR), and Alican Kaynar (TUR) have spent time there. It is into this group of top-flight sailors that the Zabalua and Foglia have been learning the ropes over the northern hemisphere winter.
Foglia, of course, already has extensive Olympic experience, having sailed the Laser in 2004, 2008 and 2012. He has switched to the Finn to prepare for Rio 2016.
The Dinghy Academy has been an essential part of his training. "The Dinghy Academy has been providing me all the equipment to be able to sail in the Finn, because I don't have my own boat yet. Luca is helping me to get to know the boat and its basic controls."
Foglia explains how he is finding the transition. "I have never sailed the Finn before, so I was very excited the first time. I didn't think about how hard it was going to be or what to expect. But it surprised me how tough it is. The first time in Valencia it was blowing 30 knots and it was an extreme experience. Sailing downwind demands strength and fitness, but also an effective technique, so I have lot of work and hours on the water to come. The good thing is that through the Academy I am improving fast."
"Zbogar is the reference for me. He is a very successful sailor and is pushing hard all the time. It is good for me because I can see how far I am from my desired level and it motivates me to keep improving. He helps me to set up the boat, Luca is always pushing and we get always quality training. I think I am getting the feel of the boat quite fast. I like the Finn a lot. It is very powerful."
In contrast Zabalua, is a highly experienced dinghy and keelboat sailor, but has yet to enjoy Olympic competition. He is also acting as a coach at the Dinghy Academy.
He describes how he is benefiting from the training. "The programme is helping me to get the level necessary for racing at pre Olympic level leading up to qualification trials. Like Alejandro my technical and economic resources are limited so the Dinghy Academy project makes this campaign possible. It is a great honour to be part of the class."
"The Finn is a magnificent boat, tactical, physical, aerobic and technical so it is necessary to work in all of these areas. I have been making amazing progress over the last few months and even won a few practice races when the conditions suited me. I need to do much more work but can certainly say that in the three first months the learning curve was grooving up super fast."
He also cites Zbogar as a great influence. "Certainly to be at the side of Vasco, one of the most determined athletes that I have ever met, and Luca, my mentor from the D-One, makes an incredible difference. I always knew that the Finn was a super hard boat and for a light guy the effort would be enormous. It will be one of the hardest challenges in my life."
The Finn class has committed to providing grants to four sailors in 2013, and with two sailors already signed up, there are still two spaces left for the remainder of the year.
All Finn sailors are welcome to join the programme. Historically Finn sailors have always been a strong community, a group of friends sharing the same passion. The vision for the Academy is to become a centre to meet, exchange experiences and get better at the game. In return, the sailors receiving grants are expected to commit to specified training and a limited event programme.
If recipients of the grants do not have their own boats, the Dinghy Academy can also help. Devoti said, "We provide them with boats, as we are doing for Zabalua and Foglia, and we can also take their boats to regattas."
International Finn Association (IFA) president Balazs Hajdu (HUN) explains how this programme fits in with the Finn class development policy. "Sailors from nations that are developing Finn sailing mostly experience a lack of technical knowledge, such as tuning and boat handling skills. The Dinghy Academy and its coaches provides this know-how in addition to providing a training camp opportunity and regatta logistics, as well as of course the camaraderie among sailors. There is also an economies of scale factor in the project which is vital for sailors with low funding."
"IFA is keen on further globalising Finn sailing and therefore supports projects which enable sailors to experience these advantages. The project is run in the framework of FIDeS which has been in operation for the last seven years and enabled Finn sailors from India, Venezuela and Cyprus to sail in the Olympics."
If you are an aspiring Finn sailor from a developing Finn nation and wish to take advantage of the opportunities of this programme then please email Finn class executive director Corinne McKenzie at . There are further details on the Finn class website and soon there will be applications forms posted there as well.