Billy Besson and Marie Riou eventually managed to finish 6 rounds of racing in the Nacra 17 class at the Rio Olympic Games, despite Billy's injury. Victim of a disc hernia just before the Games, he nevertheless managed to race all the rounds despite being in considerable, continuous pain. He was particularly handicapped in the heavier winds (where he's normally unbeatable), but still managed 1st, 1st and 3rd place finishes on the day when the wind was lighter and more stable. Big up to both of them for their determination and tenacity in the face of such adversity!
Memo on the Partnership with BIC Sport:
The 2016 Olympic Games get underway in just a couple of days time, and the members of the French Sailing team are in Rio, readying themselves to take on the world’s sailing elite. Among them, Marie Riou and Billy Besson with their impressive record of four successive World Championship titles in the Nacra 17 Catamaran class, making them big favorites for victory at the Rio sailing centre. But despite their exceptional performances, financial support and income has stayed at a more modest level through the years of hard training and top level competition.
In an effort to resolve the Olympic funding issues, the Minister for Sport launched an initiative, appealing to businesses to give financial aid to top level athletes through the newly-created « Athlètes et Partenaires and le Pacte de Performance » club. The substantial budgets that have resulted have enabled athletes to concentrate their efforts on maximizing performance in the best possible conditions. As things stand, 185 funding contracts have been signed by 90 different businesses.
And this is how BIC Sport came to accompany Marie Riou and Billy Besson on their Olympic medal quest.
This support is a perfect fit with BIC Sport’s business model and philosophy. For more than 10 years now, BIC Sport has been at the helm of international mono-type competition in both dinghy racing (O’pen BIC) and windsurfing (Techno 293 OD), which have given literally thousands of young sporting hopefuls in over 40 countries the chance to get involved in high level regatta racing. The Olympic partnership is a logical follow-on from this investment in discovering new talent. No coincidence then that our two Champions were present at July’s O’pen BIC World Championships in Quiberon, France, sprinkling some Olympic stardust on the 205 young sailors present for the event.
Billy, can you tell us about the journey that brought you to the world of competitive sailing ?
My name is Billy Besson and I’m 35 years old. I was born in Tahiti, where I lived until I was 18. My mother is Tahitian, my father is French, and I was actually born on board the family’s boat at the Tahiti Sailing Club ! So, since before I could even walk I was totally immersed in the world of sailing and the open sea. I’ve actually known Marie since we were both youngsters. We had even competed against each other in the Optimist class when we were kids. And since I came back to France – where Marie was living – to start doing competitions, we bumped into each other again during regattas and, one thing leading to another, found ourselves both competing at the World Youth Championships in South Africa.
I was racing in Hobie Cat 16s and she was in 420s. And we carried on our individual paths up to the point when the Olympic catamaran rules were changed, introducing mixed crews. That was when I asked her if she’d like to compete as a team with me.
How would you describe the Nacra 17 class, it’s not a discipline the media have paid enough attention to up to now ?
Well, first of all, the boat itself is a bit different. It’s a sport catamaran incorporating hydro-foils that keep the boat partly out of the water when in motion. It’s a completely different sensation from sailing a conventional catamaran. It’s totally innovative and « of it’s time ». The second difference is that obviously we’re required to race as a mixed crew, a new element in sailing that has brought full equality to the class and sport.
Looking ahead to the 2016 Olympics, what exactly is your target for the Games ?
I’m not sure whether it’s a good or bad thing, but we’re carrying the burden of pre-competition favorites on board, and as the favorites it’s got to be gold ! I’ve never been to the Olympics, Marie has competed once, at the London Games in 2012. I think it’ll be hard enough just to get a medal, of whatever color ! (he laughs). Saying that, obviously we’re coming off the back of four consecutive world titles, and that’s unparalleled in Olympic class racing… Which probably explains the level of expectation.
What are the important factors regarding the conditions where the Rio racing will be held ?
We managed to get over to the Rio sailing centre a few weeks ago to check out the water, the currents and the general wind conditions we’re likely to encounter. With its particular geological/geographical situation, surrounded by the sugarloafs and other small mountains, the wind’s quite turbulent and inconsistent, with big changes of direction. You have to learn how to adapt to it, and remember that there’s lots of land mass under the water too ! Behind Rio is an enormous 45km wide estuary displacing massive volumes of water that create powerful currents. You have to take all these elements into account and work around them during the races. Not so easy !
Can you tell us a bit about the « performance pact » relationship you’ve now got with BIC Sport, what has that brought on a day-to-day basis to your tandem with Marie Riou ?
Well first of all it gave us the financial capability to invest in some of the costly equipment you need to compete at top level, and that’s given us a lot more freedom to train and compete hard. The other interesting thing is that BIC Sport have a long-standing involvement in water and sail sports. That gives them a long-term view and commitment, making it possible to plan for the future, not just today. We were talking about the Optimist small dinghy class earlier, but let’s not forget, BIC Sport came up with their brilliant O’pen BIC design over ten years ago ! We had a fantastic day at the O’pen BIC World Championships in Quiberon recently, it was inspiring to meet the new generation of young racers. The Olympic Games is a way of bringing it all together with one objective in mind, and we can really feel the support coming from inside the business. Working with BIC Sport has also introduced us to a different sector of activities and helped us see different possibilities for the future. Mind you, I can tell you that at this moment we’re totally focussed on one single objective (laughs again…).
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