Top sailors from Hong Kong, China, and Thailand were greeted with cheers on their return to shore after the medal races at the 2023 Asian Sailing Championships held at the Royal Varuna Yacht Club in Pattaya, Thailand. In the six-fleet event, the Chinese scored a record haul of medals and six tickets to Paris 2024, and the Thais earned the highly coveted two additional tickets to the next Olympic Games in the ILCA 6 and 7.
ILCA 6 gold medalist Min Gu of China was ecstatic, having won not only the regatta but also her selection to represent the country in Paris 2024. “I’m very happy to be the champion in Pattaya, Thailand,” she said, “and also very happy to get qualification for China joining the Olympic Games. It’s very, very exciting.”
China’s Dongshuang Zhang, a Tokyo 2020 Olympian, and compatriot Hui Li took silver and gold, thanks to Thailand’s Sophia Montgomery, who chose to pass on medals in favor of protecting her position against India’s Nethra Kumanan to achieve her goal, Olympic qualification.
“It’s part of the game,” said an understanding Kumanan after Montgomery successfully forced her to the back of the medal race fleet to ensure Thailand would be the second country on the leaderboard.
Sophia flew into the arms of her family upon her return to shore, overcome by emotion. “I’m very, very proud and happy,” she said before launching into an Oscar-worthy thank-you list. “Everyone helped me. I didn’t think it was possible. I couldn’t have done this without everyone helping me,” she gushed.
In the ILCA 7, Nicholas Halliday of Hong Kong, China, saw six years of effort pay off. He earned gold and a long-awaited ticket to the Olympic Games with but a three-point lead over silver. “I’m so happy. I’ve been training so long for this, and I am so excited,” he said.
Silver went to Thailand’s Arthit Mikhail Romanyk, who was besieged by home country reporters on the beach and carried atop his boat to his trailer. “It’s been a great event. We had great conditions every day and a great race committee, too. I want to thank my family and friends for coming along and cheering me on. It’s been a very long journey and I’m very proud of myself to be able to do this with my team.”
He made sure his sparring partner, Chusitt Punjamala, got equal recognition for his three wins in the fleet to Romanyk’s zero. Similarly, Montgomery recognized her 15-year-old sister Grace, who surprised all with a fifth-place finish in the fleet despite having only just moved into the ILCA 6. All four were introduced to sailing at the host venue, the Royal Varuna Yacht Club, and could not have been more elated they delivered for not only their home country but also their home club.
The ILCA 7 bronze went to three-time Malaysian Olympian Khairulnizam Afendy, who would have lost on a tie-breaker to Indian Olympian Vishnu Saravanan had Saravanan not been penalized two points for an equipment inspection issue in the medal race quarantine zone earlier in the morning.
Afendy and Saravanan join the league of past Olympians now vying for qualification at the 2024 ILCA World Championships. In the ILCA 6, Tokyo 2020’s Nethra Kumanan from India and Stephanie Norton from Hong Kong, who finished 7th and 8th in Pattaya, will face intense pressure alongside several other sailors who have been determined to earn a ticket to Paris 2024, including Japan’s Yumiko Tombe who has been training for this opportunity for 12 years. Malaysia’s Nur Shazrin Mohamad Latif will also be focused on improving her performance. She was the only sailor to have already qualified her country for Paris 2024 after winning gold at the Asian Games, but she finished 10th overall in Pattaya.
The 2023 Asian Sailing Championship and Asian Qualifier for Paris 2024 was organized by the Yacht Racing Association of Thailand and the Royal Thai Navy, with the support of World Sailing and the Asian Sailing Federation. Sponsors included the Sports Authority of Thailand, Chonburi Province, and Pattaya City. The event was staged at the Royal Varuna Yacht Club in Pattaya, Thailand, which also hosted the ILCA Asian and Oceanian Championship and the ILCA Master Worlds Championships in the past year.
Report by Nima Chandler, Royal Varuna Yacht Club
Feature photo by YRAT. Thai ILCA sailors Chusitt Punjamala, Arthit Mikhail Romanyk, and Sophia Montgomery celebrate the country’s qualification for Paris 2024 in the ILCA 7 and ILCA 6 classes.