Podium positions firming up
The penultimate day of racing at Skandia Sail for Gold saw the final jostling with sailors attempting to make it into the top 10 and a ticket to tomorrow's medal race. The weather contrived to throw everything at the sailors, with a gentle start in just five to six knots turning savage as a squall crossed the course in the afternoon, bringing gusts up to 20 knots and eventually a cold, hard rain.
In most classes the final podium positions are already becoming defined.
The leads of Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen in the 49er, Ben Ainslie in the Finn and Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie in the 470 Women are looking all but unassailable, each holding a 16 point advantage going into the double points scoring medal race. In each case they would have to come last tomorrow and the second placed boat win in order to lose their gold medals. However in other classes it is much tighter - in the RS:X Men New Zealand's JP Tobin leads Britain's Nick Dempsey by just one point, while in the Women's division Spain's Marina Alabau and Poland's Zofia Klepacka are tied in first, as are Freddie Loof/Max Salimen and Robert Scheidt/Bruno Prada in the Star, these two now with an unbeatable 30 point margin over third place.
Today in the 470 Men, France's Pierre Leboucher and Vincent Garos posted a ninth and a first to maintain their overall lead. But it’s now a charging Mathew Belcher and Malcolm Page, the Australian World Champions, who are in second after scoring two thirds today. The gap is a very closeable five points and the Aussies will have the bit between their teeth as a win would ensure them the all-important qualification for 2012. In third are Israel’s Gideon Kliger and Eran Sela – but they are 24 points off the lead and will be in defensive mode in the medal race, watching out in particular for the Greek duo Panagiotis Mantis and Pavlos Kagialis.
For the Brits there will be a particularly interesting show-down set to take place. Favourites Luke Patience and Stuart Bithell have not had a good couple of days since moving into the gold fleet and while they finished today in eighth overall, this has allowed double Silver Medallist Nick Rogers and his new crew Chris Grube to slip ahead of them into fifth. Rogers and Grube are 11 points from the podium and nine points ahead of their young British rivals. This will be one interesting race to watch tomorrow.
In the 470 Women Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark are kicking themselves, after winning the first race, only to call a significant shift wrong in the second results in a 34th, now their discard, but more significantly dropping them to third on the leaderboard. After their two bullets yesterday, New Zealand's Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie - so dominant in the breeze of the past few days - showed they can also perform in today's trickier stuff to post seventh and a second, and as a result are looking unbeatable tomorrow in the top spot. The battle on for the remaining medal places will be between France's Camille Lecointre and Mathilde Geron, Mills and Clark six points behind them and Israel's Gill Cohen and Vered Bouskila a further five points behind. Britain's Penny Clark and Katrina Hughes have also sneaked into the medal race in ninth place.
In their larger-than-the-others series, the 49er Gold fleet sailed four races leaving Australian World Champions Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen with their 16 point cushion over France's Stephane Christidis and Peter Hansen, who moved up into second place. But even more so than in the 470 Men, the interesting battle will be the inter-Brit one with past World Champions Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes currently holding third, but with John Pink and Rick Peacock just two points behind them, and, just to make life interesting, veterans Paul Brotherton and Mark Asquith another eight points adrift, any three of these teams therefore capable of making it to the podium. The battle is set to be particularly spicy since the sizeable Skandia Team GBR 49er squad is set to be culled down to three teams after this regatta.
In the Finn, the Ben Ainslie of old is doing the business expected of him on the water. Here in Weymouth the Olympic legend has posted five bullets in ten races which must leave the competition simply shaking their heads. Ainslie almost had the series wrapped up... Today Ainslie won the first race, taking him 20 points clear of Scott, but Scott was not letting the triple gold medallist win that easily. At the top mark of race two, Scott rounded third with Ainslie five places behind in eighth. What happened next amazed all those watching: Ainslie hit the windward mark, had to do a penalty turn, but still managed to move up two places to sixth by the leeward mark. He then gained one more place on the final lap to finish fifth. So 16 points separate the two going into the medal race - worst case, Ainslie needs to be no worse than eighth if Scott wins. But if history is anything to go by, it’s unlikely Ainslie will let Scott go sail his own race.
Meanwhile Scott holds an 11 point lead over third placed Croat Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic, while in turn World Champion Ed Wright is still in with a long shot at the podium, but it is indeed long with a 12 point deficit on Gaspic.
"It was another difficult day but I ended up having a better day than my rivals, so that’s the main thing," commented Ainslie. "In the first race the wind was hard to read and shifty, but luckily I pulled out a good result. In hindsight, I could have done something different in the second race, but I have ended up with a decent lead going into the medal race. I just have to keep my eye on Giles and beat him or finish close to him. The conditions are very important tomorrow and will dictate my tactics. It should make for an interesting medal race."
His rival Giles Scott gave his take on the day: "The first race was tricky and shifty and didn’t go well. The second race I wasn’t sure if Ben was going to have a go at sailing me down the fleet, which I think he could have done, but fortunately he didn’t. I was able to get a good start on the right side of the course and eventually win the race. That result brings the margin to 16 points, it leaves a lot of hard work to do tomorrow, it’s heavily in his (Ben Ainslie) favour, but anything can happen in medal races so I will be working hard to make sure anything does happen."
In the Lasers, overnight leader and current world champion, Australian Tom Slingsby didn’t have a good day posting a 13th and 12th. Fortunately for Slingsby, Andrew Murdoch – who was second this morning - had a worse day with an 8th and a 20th. Unfortunately for Slingsby, former World, Olympic and European champion and local hero Paul Goodison returned to form to post a first and third for the day moving himself up to within striking distance - just one point behind Murdoch. With Slingsby's advantage now down to eight point, all three podium positions are open, although the people on the podium are defined as fourth-placed Philipp Buhl is 34 points behind Goodison.
Tom Slingsby commented: "Today the first race was quite light, big shifts and it felt like I was going quite well, but in the end the result wasn’t too good and I finished 13. In the second race I was up there and made some stupid mistakes and went from being in a good top sixth or seventh position to drop back to 12th so points-wise that didn’t really help me that much. For the Aussie team you have to win a World Cup event to qualify to be nominated for the Olympic team. I was lucky I did that two weeks ago at the Delta Lloyd Regatta, Holland so the pressures off me a bit. If you asked me before the event who to watch I would have probably said Paul Goodison (GBR) and Andrew Murdoch (NZL). They are second and third at the moment and hot on my heels so the good guys are all up there and I would say the best guys are in the medal race."
Paul Goodison added: "It’s been a pretty tough week with strong wind for the first four days, but today we got a little bit lighter. It’s been pretty physically tiring, but I’m happy I’m going into the medal race tomorrow. I think I’m third overall and guaranteed a medal so it’s all about trying to get as high up the podium as possible and to try and get a gold medal, rather than a silver or bronze."
The Laser Radials saw all of the leading pack posting some high scores. But it was the Netherland's Marit Bouwmeester who came out best to lead Belgium's Evi van Acker by six points. Ireland’s Annalise Murphy remains in contention for gold or silver another 13 points behind, but she may well be more concerned with defending bronze from France's Sophie de Turckheim and Britain's Charlotte Dobson – both within eight points of the Irish rising star. Those not making the cut for the medal race included the current World Champion, Sari Multala (FIN) and US star, Paige Railey.
In the Star class the situation is unique with Scheidt/Prada tied on points with Loof/Salminen and they are assured of the top two spots with a 30 point cushion over third placed Italians Diego Negri and Enrico Voltolini, who moved up to third by winning the final race of the day. There was some controversy in today's opening race when most of the class' heavy hitters fell to the black flag including the two leaders and Britain's Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson, who now lie fifth with only the slenderest of chances to claw back the 14 point deficit on the third placed Italians.
Max Salmenen commented: "I don’t feel any pressure going into tomorrow. We have been training a lot with the Brazilians in Italy on Lake Garda, so it is pretty exciting to be going head to head with them. We both have a big lead on the fleet so we can’t do worse than second place, so it should be quite fun racing! We are really confident and we like medal race situations. We have a good track record so we are looking forward to that. For us it is just about being in front of the Brazilians, it is going to be about match racing them and making sure they are behind us!"
Robert Scheidt added: "Today was a funny day and the wind was very unstable in the first race. The current was pushing a lot of the boats over the start line so it was black flagged and we were disqualified, so didn’t race. But it was good for us as our main opponents were also over the line. There was more pressure on the second race but we had good conditions, more stable and solid. Tomorrow we will be keeping an eye on the Swedish guys, Loof and Salminen - they have been sailing consistently and well but we are very happy, so far a good week and it will be a very exciting final tomorrow."
As mentioned competition in the RS:Xes remains the tightest. New Zealand’s overnight leader, JP Tobin had a good day with a second and a fourth, but Britain’s Nick Dempsey had a great day and his first and third pulled him to with a point of the Kiwi. Dutchman, Dorian van Rijsselberge can’t be counted out of the reckoning though, six points behind Dempsey. These three will almost certainly settle the medals between them, as the fourth placed Piotr Myszka is another 17 points further back.
It’s even tighter in the RS:X Women, where Poland's Zofia Klepacka and Spain's Marina Alabau are now tied for the lead. It was Alabau’s to lose this morning and she posted a 14th and a tenth, while Klepacka won the first race and was third in the second to draw level on 33 points. There are two other sailors within striking distance, Maja Dziamowska (POL) is 13 points behind Alabau in third, and while Lee Korzits (ISR) dropped from second to fourth, she is still only two points from the podium.
The Match Racing started with the quarter finals. It was the USA that turned on the early form with the Gold Group winners Sally Barkow, Elizabeth Kratizig-Burnham and Alana O'Reilly dispatching Finland's Silja Lehtinen, Silja Kanerva and Mikaela Wulff by 3 – 1. Team-mates and compatriots, Anna Tunnicliffe, Molly Vendemoer and Debbie Capozzi went one better though, and beat France’s Anne-claire Le Berre, Alice Ponsar and Myrtille Ponge without losing a single race.
The other two quarter-final matches were much closer, both going to a nail-biting fifth race. In the end, it was Claire Leroy, Elodie Bertrand and Marie Riou (FRA) that prevailed over Australia’s Nicky Souter, Jessica Eastwell and Lucinda Witty. That left Lucy Macgregor, Annie Lush and Kate Macgregor (GBR) to emerge victorious from their match against the Netherlands’ Mandy Mulder, Annemieke Bes and Merel Witteveen.
The semi-finals were sailed soon afterwards, and the tough quarter final had obviously done Lucy Macgregor and her team no harm at all. They took on what had previously looked to be one of the form teams of the regatta, Sally Barkow and co. There was a blizzard of penalties and incidents, but the Brits emerged winners from the melodrama with a 3-1 scoreline. It was left to Barkow’s fellow Americans to keep the Stars and Stripes flying, and Anna Tunnicliffe and her colleagues delivered with another 3-1 victory, this time over Claire Leroy’s French team. Tomorrow’s final should be a cracker, with both Macgregor and Tunnicliffe appearing to hit top form at the right time.
It was the final day for the three Paralympic classes at Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta.
First up on the Paralympic course was the two-person SKUD 18, and they put on a fabulous display in the gently freshening conditions. Australia’s Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch - Beijing silver medallists - pressed the trigger too early at the start of the final race of the series and were over the line. But they had already done enough to be able to discard the result and still take gold. Four points behind in silver were Britain’s World Champions Alexandra Rickman and Niki Birrell, chased in turn by Fitzgibbon and Tesch’s team-mates, Dunross and Cox – a good day for Australia’s SKUD teams.
Liesl Tesch said: "We are very happy with the week, we worked hard in the challenging conditions - just knocking one race off at a time. The last month has been lots of training so pretty full on. It’s back to Australia after this for a week then back down to Weymouth for the Worlds so it’s full on! The Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta is an Olympic selection event for us – we have to beat the other Aussies in our class first to qualify for the Games before even thinking about the international contenders, so the Aussie’s are our main competition at the minute! After that though I would say the Brits are the ones to watch, Niki (Birrell) and Alexandra (Rickham) have been tough guys to beat this week."
The Sonars also raced in the morning and produced another medal for the home team - this time gold for John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas. The chasing Dutch closed the gap from four to three points, but the reigning World Champions Udo Hessels, Marcel van Veen and Mischa Rossen couldn’t quite do enough on the final day to go past the Brits. They only just fended off the French charge of Bruno Jourdren, Eric Flageul and Nicolas Vimont Vicary, who tied the Dutch on points at the end of the regatta, but lost silver on countback. The reigning Olympic champions, Jens Kroker, Robert Prem and Siegmund Mainka could only manage a seventh.
"We set a target of winning a medal this week and just carried that through," commented Steve Thomas. "This event is part of our selection process so it was an important one for us. A win here is great but I don’t think the pressure is off – we don’t know if we have been selected until we get the nod and for us this is just one of a number of regattas that are part of that process. We just move to the next regatta now and keep trying to improve to win a spot at the Games and ultimately a medal there. It’s our World Championships here in a few weeks, and we are feeling pretty confident but there are eight or nine boats that are capable of winning races in this fleet, so it is about chipping away at the leaderboard and just getting the results."
It was the 2.4mR class that took a battering in the afternoon, but not much has put Damien Seguin (FRA) off his stride this week, and a bit of proper British weather on the final day certainly couldn’t rob him of the gold medal. It was a close run thing though, as Dutchman Andre Rademaker went on a charge with a first and a second, and closed the gap to a single point to take silver. In doing so, he pushed the overnight silver medallist and his countryman, Thierry Schmitter into bronze.
"It’s been a very windy week!" confirmed Seguin. "Perfect except for the rain today. All the big players in the 2.4mR are here – there have been 34 entries. It’s a big achievement winning on the Olympic waters, I’m back in Weymouth and Portland next month for the IFDS and I won here last year so I hope to do the same again. But I’m very happy with today.
Medal day racing starts at 10am with the Lasers.