Aussies lead as Ainslie provides a masterclass
Overnight storms and a three hour postponement because of lack of wind disrupted the start of day four of the Trofeo Princesa Sofia Mapfre in Palma, but eventually two more races were sailed in slightly better wind conditions. Australia was the stand-out team today and are currently leading three classes.
Old hands, but a new team – they started sailing together five months ago – Elisa Rechichi and Belinda Stowell were disqualified at the start of race 7 (along with 13 other boats), but managed to pass the French team of Rol/Defrance by a single point in the overall standings.
“It’s pretty unusual to get a black flag and then come home at the end of the day leading the regatta,” said Stowell, the Sydney Gold medallist. “The black flag was a bit disappointing but we regrouped well, got back on our game and picked up a second. Four out of the top five crews were black flagged and excluded at the start of the opening race so I think what it did was make the points really close and bunch everybody up."
Skandia Team GBR's Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark are making a late bid for the medal race positions after a tough start to their week. They ground out a 4,1 from their two races – a score matched only by Japan's third placed Ai Kondo and Wakako Tabata. After a difficult week they are now 14th overall, while their training partners Sophie Weguelin and Sophie Ainsworth, who have been punching above their weight this week, were unable to hold on a top three overall position for a fourth day and have dropped to seventh overall.
In the Australian effort, less surprising is that in the Men's 470, Mat Belcher and Malcolm Page sailed consistently well today to move from second to take the lead following an eighth and a sixth today.
“It was a bit like groundhog day again, five to seven knots and choppy,” said Page. “My legs are certainly getting stronger from crouching down in the boat all day! We did it a little tough at times today but managed to hang in and ground it out when it mattered. It’s a great school here racing in these conditions which aren’t natural for us. We’re hoping for a bit more breeze tomorrow, maybe up to 10 to 15 knots so I’ll get to finally stretch the legs out.”
Mat Belcher added: “We don't often have the chance to race in such light winds so these are good practice for us, especially with all the strong teams here!”
The reigning World Champions hold a seven point lead over second placed Argentinian Lucas Calabrese and Juan de la Fuente with fellow Australians Sam Kivell and Will Ryan two points further back in third. Under the watchful eye of ubercoach Victor Kovalenko the two crews have sailed exceptionally well in the light and tricky conditions.
Top Brits continue to be Ben Saxton and Richard Mason in 24th, while Luke Patience and Stuart Bithell improved to 29th with a 1,15 from their day, but still have a long way to go.
Australia also leads the Laser, not favourite Tom Slingsby (who lies sixth with a 15th and 12th today), but Tom Burton who holds a two point gap to Skandia Team GBR pair Paul Goodison and Nick Thompson, Goodison enjoying the most consistent day in the gold fleet, with a 6,5.
The Laser Radial has a new leader with Spain's Alicia Cebrian moving ahead of Marit Bouwmeester (NED) now in second position and Evi van Acker (BEL) third. “There is such a good level here, so I am trying hard to do my best," said Cebrian. "This regatta is very important for the Spanish Radial team as we are in selection for the Olympic Games. There are still two more regattas to go, so I need to keep working hard as the other two are very good.”
Britain's Charlotte Dobson and Alison Young both advanced today – Young won the day with 5,2 elevating her to 14th overall, with Dobson breaking into the top ten, in eighth overall thanks to 2,6 for her efforts.
Britain's Olympic legends continue to lead in the Star and the Finn. Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson hold an eight point lead over Brazilians Robert Scheidt and Bruno Prada, after posting a 6,7 on the water today.
The stand-out performance of the whole regatta though is Ben Ainslie who added two more bullets to his already impressive scoreline. With three bullets, four seconds and discarding an eighth, Ainslie on 10, is 23 points ahead of Beijing silver medallist Zach Railey (USA) with Daniel Birgmark (SWE) a further two points behind.
Railey said: “Conditions were a bit better, but still very hard to predict.” On Ainslie he had only respect. “Ben is going fast and making really great decisions on the race course. We had a close race in the second race today and he was able to edge me out for the win. You have to give credit when someone is sailing well and he is doing a great job this week.”
Ainslie of course is still getting back to fitness after an operation on his back earlier this year. He commented, “It was a difficult period over the winter. We’ve been here training pretty hard, but the conditions funnily enough are quite different to what we’ve been training in and I think everyone’s finding it hard. For me it’s just great to be back racing again and you do realise there’s a huge difference between training with four or five boats and suddenly having 60 boats, a long start line, 1.3 mile beats and a big course so it’s very different and it's great for me to be back racing and getting my head into that.”
Tomorrow Ainslie has the possibility of sealing the regatta win with room to spare. He is the only sailor here seeming to make sense of the conditions every race and his scoreline proves it.
In the 49er, Danes Jonas Warrer and Soren Hansen are conserving their lead in the 25-strong Gold fleet. They are ten points ahead of Britain's John Pink/Rick Peacock and the French team of Dyen/Christidis, winners here in both 2011 and 2010.
Peacock admitted that Palma is providing some testing racing: “It was a solid day but very tricky – there were moments when we thought the sea breeze would kick in and it would be quite nice. It was certainly on and off and difficult to get your heads round it but we got some quite good results."
Selection for the British 49er spot at London 2012 remains still up for grabs, but Peacock insists that’s not a factor in their approach to the racing. “It’s business as usual for us really. I can understand there’s pressure – there are great sailors in this fleet and it’s going to be tricky, but it’s just about dealing with that I think, and so far so good.”
Dave Evans and Ed Powys are now sixth, while Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes also improved on their early half of the week and are now 15th with three more gold fleet races on Friday to try and break into the top ten medal race spots for Saturday.
For the Women's Match Racing, there was a two hour wait for the sea breeze to fill in before completing the last two flights of the Gold Round Robin to seed the Quarter Finals.
The first two Quarter Finals were finished quickly as Claire Leroy (FRA) swept Lucy Macgregor (GBR) 3 -0 and Anna Tunnicliffe (USA) did the same to Ekaterina Skudina (RUS). Olivia Price (AUS) and Tamara Echegoyen (ESP) had to battle a little longer to beat their opponents, Mandy Mulder (NED) and Sally Barkow (USA), respectively.
The Semi Finals are now set: Leroy (FRA) will face Echegoyen (ESP) and Tunnicliffe (USA) will meet Price (AUS). The other four Quarter Finalists will sail off for 5th through 8th places.
“We started the day with the two final gold round robin races which we lost, leaving us sixth overall going into the quarterfinals,” said Curtis, who sails in the Australian team with Olivia Price and Lucinda Whitty. “We were paired up against the third placed Dutch crew, skippered by Mandy Mulder, and we managed to beat them three wins to one.
“We had much better speed today in the choppy conditions and managed to take the lessons that we learnt from the gold fleet racing and put our improvements into practice this afternoon. Tomorrow we’re racing Anna Tunnicliffe in the semifinal and with more wind forecast we’re excited for some high quality racing.”
Friday will see the last chances for sailors to select for the Medal race and the semi finals in the Women Match-Racing.
The top three remain unchanged in the 2.4mR with Thierry Schmitter (NED) adding two bullets to lead the 24 boats fleet by a comfortable margin.
From Rick Tomlinson/www.rick-tomlinson.com