Olympics Qualification for HK Sailing



From Optimist beginner to Olympic 2024 Sailors

A story about ABC’s sailing and racing programs and a young sailor who embraced all that the programs had to offer.


Training in Hong Kong during the year 2020 with COVID was a stop and go affair at best, wih multiple “pauses” in sports activities. In December, Hong Kong Nationally sponsored 49er skiff sailors, Russell Aylsworth, and Akira Sakai (AK), who departed for Sydney to continue training for the Olympic qualification event in Abu Dhabi. Expecting no further interruptions they departed Hong Kong on the last day before another lockdown.

Training in Sydney with AUS National team ended abruptly with an outbreak on the Sydney North shore in late December, and so the boys fled to Melbourne, to contine training with AUS team, in preperation for the then scheduled Melbourne regatta in January. This would be a great tune-up to get in some racing in (after a 1 year absense) before the actual qualifier. However, that regatta was then abruptly cancelled at the last minute due to a COVID case at the racing venue. That led to a flight to Abu Dhabi for the February scheduled Asian Olympic qualification after a 1 year delay. After waiting a year, the Abu Dhabi qualification was then cancelled soon after the boys arrived so they waited it out (and trained) in Abu Dhabi as rumor had it that Oman would put together an Asian Olympic qualifier in March or April. After a one year delay due to COVID, along with a year of uncertainties regarding training, and even the event itself, the Mussanah Open Championship / Asian & African Olympic qualifier in Oman was finally held.

Oman, April 2021

The Oman coast stretching to the East and South of the Strait of Hormuz, particularly Mussanah, offers consistently hot and dry conditions, with an onshore breeze that averages 10-12knts, daily from about 1pm to 4pm. Travelling by vehicle from Abu Dhabi in early March the boys arrive in Massunah for 7 days quarantine, and although delayed at the border, the containers of equipment arrive in time to support about 10 days of pre-race training in the local conditions.

After two days of registrations and measurements racing finally started on Saturday April 3rd. Light winds prevailed for the first 3 races and Russell/ AK scored a 10/1/12. Not a consistent showing, but a bullet nonetheless and a lot of racing to go.

Sunday, Day 2, brought in a mixed breeze, and given the light conditions, we witnessed more inconsistency. Another bullet, but an 11th and UFD penalty landed the boys in 9th place. Racing still not even half completed with 15 races scheduled and a medal round, but the hole was getting deeper.

Monday, Day 3, similar breeze and certainly and looking for that lost consistency, the boys really needed to up their game. Everything was on the line and they managed a 2,5, and another bullet to pull back up to 5th place. Although, a good effort to claw back, there was still a lot of work to do and races were running out.

Tuesday, Day 4, scoring a 9,7,2 dropped the boys back to 6th with only 3 races to go. Talking with coach Rory Godman, anything less than 3 top 3 scores on the last 3 races were needed or it was really finished.

On Wednesday, Day 5, the boys following a second place closed out the day by scoring not only “top 3” places, but put in 3 bullets, putting them up into second place.



Thursday, the Final Day, was the medal round. It would take another bullet by Russell and AK in the final medal round, and for India to score at least 5 boats behind, to close the gap and take first. Russell and AK got the bullet (remarkably) , and from the finish line, watched India, (who were 8th around the top mark into the last leg) work their way through the fleet, finally finishing 5th. With that, India (and great credit to them), earn the one Asia spot for the Olympics 49er. Counting the medal race Russell and AK scored 7 bullets in the 16 races, compared to 2, which was the most bullets for any other team, however the early on inconsistency was key to the final result.


A thrilling time in Oman, but this story is really about how does a kid growing up in Hong Kong, ever get to the point where they are competing in an international sailing competition, just a hairs breath from Olympic qualification?

Rewind - Hong Kong, 2009 - 2013 :

Optimist beginning....

Russell started sailing in the Optimist beginner group in 2009, at the age of eight. ABC provided sailing instructions, headed by Kevin Lewis, who had just brought in Rory Godman as a coach, with Kevin continuing as trainer.

This implementation by ABC allowed sailing students to take either a sailing development tiered path, or a racing focused path.

For Russell, this was an especially exciting option as he wanted to sail as fast as he could, even in the early years.

Russell attended instructed sailing for about 6 months in the Optimist, under Rory’s watchful eye.

I remember that in those early months, Rory dubbed the ABC’s racing squad the “Aberdeen Racing Academy”, and all Russell could think of was getting into that initial ARA team. As the young Optimist fleet headed out around Middle island for training, Rory would shout “Follow Russell!” and he would lead the pack.

Russell was included in the ARA in late 2010, and by April 2011 he was in racing form, as can be seen in the two early Optimist photos. ABC continued fully supporting the sailors, certainly in HK training and events, but also in overseas events.

Thailand was a memorable event for the sailors, as for many, including Russell, it was their first international event. Russell ended his Optimist career early as at 12 years old (as he grew too big), yet at the top of the HK rankings.

Also, Russell figured the Club offered many opportunities to just get out on the water and try out all the boats!

Hong Kong, 2014 - 2018 :

Into the 29ers

Russell started sailing 29ers at 12 years old. It was really an early step into the 29ers, but Russell was just growing too big. He needed to gain strength early to handle the boat. Russell sailed with Matthew Wright for the first few years on the 29er. Russell and Mathew entered their first 2, 29er events, the 29er North American and World championships, Cork Ontario, Canada, finishing 19th in Silver fleet in North Americans and 23rd for Bronze fleet in Worlds. Russell was 13, the youngest sailor in the fleet, just gettingstarted. Russell competed in 27 further regattas on the 29er, switching helm to Calum Gregor in the middle of his stretch. Russell and Calum won the RHKYC Around the Island race in 2015 and repeated it again winning in 2016. Sydney, Keil, Medemblick, Wales, Melbourne, Auckland and Los Angeles (many international cities multiple times over the years) rounded out the local events. Once again, all made possible by the support of the ABC.