South African teenager Ian Walker wrapped up a fantastic week of sailing at the Optimist World Championships in Antigua, just missing out on a podium spot.
The 14-year-old was South Africa’s only representative at the championships and did the country proud, finishing in fifth place out of 255 competitors. This result ranks as one of the top achievements for South African sailors on the international stage. The Optimist World Championships is a good indicator of future Olympic champions. The result is a massive improvement of 36 places on his already outstanding result at last year’s event in Cyprus.
Walker claimed three race wins and a second place during the week to qualify for the gold fleet. Although it was initially tough going, he managed a fourth place in the third last race to make sure he finished in fifth spot overall.
The title went to Italy’s Marco Gradoni for a third consecutive year after he claimed victories in the final two races, with Malta’s Richard Schultheis in second overall and Spain’s Jaime Ayarza third.
“On behalf of all South African Sailing, and the whole sailing community in the country, we’d like to congratulate Ian on his result at the Optimist Worlds,” said SA Sailing vice president Peter Hall. “This remarkable result is comparable with our Proteas team reaching the semi-finals of the Netball World Cup in Liverpool. It really bodes well for Ian considering where most future Olympic champions started out. “Ian is a huge inspiration to all of us in South Africa who have been following his progress with great interest. We trust that he will keep up the great sailing and keep flying the South African flag high.”
The youngster also received congratulations from the SA Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC). “The 2019 edition of the Opti World Championships 2019 in Antigua has attracted 260 youth sailors from 65 nations and we are very proud of Ian Walker, our own athlete representing South Africa at this renowned event,” wrote SASCOC communications officer Jessica Choga. “Such International events go a long way in offering exposure to our young athletes who are the future Olympians. As the macro sports body, we congratulate you on your sterling performance.”
Walker’s father, Clive, added: “The Walker family are truly humbled by the support that Ian has received from sailing enthusiasts and organisations from all corners of the world, in his quest for victory on behalf of South Africa at the 2019 Antigua Optimist World Championships.“
“We, as a family, are great supporters of the Mallorca and Cape Town-based Marine Inspirations mentoring initiative (founded in 2014 by Anthony Just and Phil Wade to promote maritime and sailing careers for less-advantaged South and Southern African youngsters) which, by the way, has played a part in getting Ian to compete in Antigua.“
“As a family already well-established and successful in super-yachting for many years, we proposed to use Ian’s personal determination to train and fight for his place on the world stage as a driving momentum for years to come, by strongly supporting Marine Inspirations in their drive to give less-advantaged kids the opportunity to represent the RSA at international events, as and when these possibilities arise,” he added.
All the results here
As the Spanish school summer holidays are 10 weeks long, all parents are faced with the dilema of how to keep them out of boredom while holding a job. So our kids were shipped off to Club Nautico Arenal (CNA) sailing camp at the tender ages of 4 (Paula) and 3 (Ian) years old. The reason was due to our family background of sailing and conservation of marine life.
The development progression consisted of swimming, kayaking and making sand castles on the beach. Then 8 kids-up on a 2 sail dinghy (similar to GP14) with a monitor onboard. Then double-handed on a Laser Pico dinghy. Finally once they developed confidence, they were sent out to sea in Optimists.
Then they get promoted to the novice racing class, which together with the A,B & C groups (40-45 kids) sail all day Saturday and Sunday until 2pm during school term. There are 8 active clubs in Mallorca, which all hold their own regatta which attracts a fleet of over 150 regular active sailors. It goes without saying this is every Federation’s dream to have depth in members.
Looking back I remember fondly the close sailing relationship I shared with my parents in SA, but I must now admit the concept in Spain to give the club and coaches full control over development does have benefits. Thankfully we still get to enjoy those diner time sailing discussions as a family.
Paula now races comfortably in the junior BIC Techno windsurf class, and Ian has become part of the club’s 1st Team to travel to the mainland to become comfortable with vast testing conditions. Thankfully his school tutors understand and give homework to take along, as he knows if grades suffer, we will pull the plug!
In 2016 we planned a long Xmas holiday to SA. Our expat friends from CT living in Mallorca suggested Ian should race in the Junior Nationals in Theewaterskloof, and with a stroke of luck it was the Dabchick 50th Anniversary to keep Dad entertained.
The SA Optimist community was so accommodating, it turned out to be a smooth ride full of action.
Ian was welcomed into the scene from day 1, and given a great boat thanks to Roger Hudson from Race Ahead and the amazing support from the Ashwell family.
A year later I needed to visit my elderly folks in Durban, so decided to drag Ian along for the Midmar Youth Nationals. Again the warm support made it a pleasure, whereby friendships on and off the water were strengthened.
We are firm believers in positive thinking, whereby his SA Citizenship opened the door to accept the generous offer from SAS to fill the open slot in the SA Worlds Team. Thanks Cal for your efforts to make this happen.
Ian is so grateful to be given this opportunity, as all the subsequent intense training has taken him to the next level which has paid dividends with his results so far in Cyprus. Long way to go!
Together Shellee and Claire have found a favorable balance to cater to the boys personal technical needs and create an enjoyable atmosphere for lasting memories.
Upon writing this I’m watching Matt, Keagan, Brian, Karl and Ian as 37th ranked team beat 12th ranked Hungary in the team racing World Champs. After that, they narrowly lost to Australia (13th) and Chile (21st), all along flying the flag proudly.
Then on 3rd September the boys will take on their respective World Championship ranked fleets in phase 2 of the regatta giving it their all.
Good luck boys.
It’s great to share the experience with you.
(Editor’s note: Ian has qualified for the Gold Fleet going into the final days of racing for the Optimist Worlds 2018)
Well, we are done, finished over en “klaar”.
The kids spent their second off-day in a relaxed mood. Claire and I took them to see the “Big Buddha Hill Temple”. Snippets of Buddhist philosophy was experienced with men in shorts allowed to do what they want and Claire and Chiara had to wear a sarong, otherwise “no see”
That evening we watched the Americans beat the Chinese in the final of the team races.
The fourth day was spent with good winds, complaints by unknown coaches that the conditions were dangerous and the safety officer postponing the race. According to him a 40 knot wind was predicted.
After the squall, the skies cleared, the wind dropped and the kids were told to launch. After spending a few hours on the water everybody returned. Notwithstanding the fact that no races were sailed, fun was had by all. A Pattaya party.
On day five the races started with 10- 15 knot winds. It was a good day with three races sailed. The kids went out there with the intent to learn and improve and they made us proud. The BFD’ and UFD’s showing that they were well aware that a good start is important and they were trying their best.
The last day was spent on the water with no races sailed. Still a great ending to a fast and competitive event.
Boats were returned. The “Winner” boats inspected with an eagle eye and the slightest damage to be paid by the sailor. Fortunately no penalties to us(thanks Karl and Alex) as we had to feed Fabritzio, who by that time looked like Fabio, a few beers to get the boxing gloves off.
Deposits on the Far East boats, Winners and RIB was returned and with 30 minutes to spare it was off to hotel for closing ceremony. Prizes were handed out and all sailors received well deserved recognition for their participation in the Optimist World Championship 2017 held in Pattaya.
Lessons learned was that we need big fleet experience and lighter sailors. Having said that, the optimist class prepares a sailor for future sailing and hopefully the young sailors will always remember the joy, the fun and making new friends and keep sailing till they are parents themselves.
World Optimist Championships 2016
Clube Internacional da Marina de Vilamoura
25 June - 4 July
Event Website: http://optimistworlds2016.com/
Background photograph by Matias Capizzano