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 as the Optimist World Championships is a clear indicator of future Olympic champions and it is massive improvement of 36 places on his result from 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 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 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 so far… Give it your all and make South Africa proud. Enjoy this experience of a lifetime and off the sports field also take this chance to mingle with your other fellow sailors from across the globe and forge firm relationships.”
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 to 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.