(ATR) Daniela Moroz was the class of the field, convincingly winning gold in the women’s kitefoil racing final at Doha’s Katara Beach.
The four-time world champion blazed across the Persian Gulf waters, easily outdistancing her three opponents in the first heat of the finals to nab an ANOC World Beach Games title. The 18-year-old athlete from San Francisco – who was the top qualifier and event favorite – demonstrated tact, confidence and ability beyond her years.
"It’s super crazy – I’m so stoked right now," Moroz said, shortly after her victory. "I think I’ve won pretty much every title that I could get this year. It was one of my goals this year, so I’m happy about that."
Wind conditions were no more than satisfactory. At times, lack of sufficient winds off the coast of Doha caused semifinal races to be delayed.
Despite a few delays and typical steamy temperatures around 35 degrees Celsius, racing wrapped up successfully on an idyllic late afternoon in Doha. Fourteen-year-old Julia Damasiewicz of Poland was runner-up to Moroz winning the silver medal, while Elena Kalinina of Russia took bronze.
Kiteboarding will make its Olympic debut at the Paris 2024 Games as a full sailing event. With riders and kiteboards reaching speeds of 70 kilometers-per-hour on the water, the sport will immediately become the fastest Olympic sailing discipline.
"For the Olympic classes, we’re the fastest discipline, but there’s definitely other sailboats out there that are quicker," said U.S. kitefoil racer Evan Heffernan. "If you look at the America’s Cup and Sail GP they are doing 40 knots sustained, which is 75 kilometers-per-hour. Daniela had a chance to go up against one of them in San Francisco and found out that she is pretty even with them.
"Those boats are worth millions of dollars and my set-up is a few thousand, maybe five-thousand tops and I can match their speed," Moroz said with big smile.
"The coolest part is that it is the cheapest and easiest sailing discipline to pick up," Heffernan said. "If you come from a youth sailing program or surfing background, you can easily learn how to kite and get into this discipline."
The competition format for Paris 2024 will be a two-person mixed gender relay. Olympic kiteboarding will be contested off the coast of Marseille.
"It’s huge for the sport – it will be really exciting to see kites at the Olympics," Moroz said. "It’s going to be really good for the sport of kiting, really good for sailing and the spectators are going to love it.
"We’re just pushing boundaries and we’re loving what we’re doing."
Heffernan, 21, said he believes that kiteboarding will appeal to the youth demographic that the Olympic Movement is seeking, while also creating renewed interest in sailing.
"In sailing in the past, they’ve really struggled on the media side and with viewership, so having something that is cutting edge and interesting to watch hopefully, is what we’re going for and something that is cool and fan friendly," Heffernan said.
However, Heffernan admitted that athletes in the sport will become more serious with more at stake and potential new sponsors considering its newfound Olympic status.
"It will become more competitive focused, like you saw with surfing – Kelly Slater and some of the top guys were the first to really get into the training, Physio, and mental part of the performance," Heffernan predicted.
Damasiewicz will be just 19 when kiteboarding makes its first Olympic appearance.
"To be honest, everything will change – everything is changing actually," Damasiewicz said, referring to the rising popularity of the sport. "It is an amazing feeling to be someone who can compete in the Olympics some day. Everyone is fighting to be this person competing in the Olympics.
"It will be a new format with this boy and girl mixed, so now we have to learn everything from the beginning because it’s totally something new," said the Polish kitefoil racer. "I’m excited about it."
Moroz already has high hopes looking down the road to kiteboarding becoming Olympic.
"It’s the biggest goal – I want the gold medal."
Written and reported by Brian Pinelli in Doha, Qatar
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