Kiwi and Brit 470 Women assured of gold or silver
The final two races for the full 470 Women's fleet took place on straight windward-leewards on the Harbour course in the lightest winds (from the WSW) so far seen at London 2012. With it came some of the biggest scores.
Going into today, three teams were proving dominant - Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie from New Zealand were leading from Britain's reigning World Champions Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark with the Dutch former double World Champions Lisa Westerhof and Lobke Berkhout having broken away from the rest of the fleet.
On the first beat, the Dutch and Brits went left while the Kiwis chose to split and take the mid-right. At the top mark it was Italians Giulia Conti and Giovanna Micol who led around from China's Xiaoli Wang and Xufeng Huang and Brazilians Fernanda Oliveira and Ana Luiza Barbachan with the Brits in fifth, immediately ahead of the Kiwis.
Down the first run the Chinese and Australia's Elise Rechichi and Belinda Stowell overhauled the Italians, with the Kiwis, who had chosen to gybe away earlier, moving up to fourth, rolling the Brits, in turn knocked back to eighth.
Wang and Huang started to pull ahead up the second beat with the Brazilians overhauling the Aussies to move into second, but on the next run the Kiwis sped through having once again done well on the left to round the gate second with the Brits still lagging in ninth.
Mills and Clark managed to lose another place on the last beat, but redeemed themselves slightly as they pulled back to eighth place before the finish, with the 11th placed Chinese taking their first bullet of the series after their second in yesterday's first race.
Importantly the Kiwis came home second while the Brits were eighth - their worst score and immediately discarded. However in terms of the fight for the top medals, the Dutch came home last and as a result had to count their previously discarded 18th dropping them back considerably. With one of the heaviest crews the Dutch traditionally don't like light winds.
In the second race the right paid with Mills and Clarke doing well up the first beat on the centre right. But it was the experienced Aussies Olympic gold medallists Elise Rechichi (2008) and Belinda Stowell (Sydney) who rounded first ahead of Spain's Tara Pacheco and Berta Betanzos with the Dutch doing better in third, followed by the Argentineans and the Brits in fifth, two places ahead of the Kiwis.
Rechichi and Stowell managed to extend away on the run with some separation also developing between the Spanish and third placed Brits, who had managed to overhaul Westerhof and Berkhout to take third. However on the next run it as the Argentinians who joined the frontrunners, rounding the top mark just ahead of the Brits with the Dutch down to sixth.
The run once again favoured the Brits who pulled themselves back up to second, albeit with the Aussies having performed a horizon job with the Dutch now down to ninth.
Once again the right proved favoured on the final beat with the Argentinians gunning for the second placed Brits with the Dutch back up to fifth. And this is how the positions remained at the finish line .
And what of the Kiwi overall leads? They had got buried close to the pin at the start leaving them in last place, but pulled up through the fleet to round in 10th, but they also had a rotten second beat, banging the left hard with no success leaving them once again with the back markers from where they were unable to dig themselves out.
With both the Kiwis and the Brits posting one bad result today and the Dutch one bad and one average, so Mills and Clarke have managed to claw their way back so they are even stephens with the Kiwis going into the medal race. But most impressive is that , as was the case in the 49ers earlier, the lead duo are now assured of either a gold or a silver medal.
Sadly, now 19 points behind, the Netherland's Westerhof and Berkhout are now out of contention for gold and silver and will have a fight on their hands to claim bronze, with four boats behind them threatening their position to varying degrees.
"The first race didn’t quite go to plan," said Saskia Clark of their day. "We got off to a good start, but there was a persistent shift which made everyone get back into it and we managed to drop a few places through the race, which meant that the Kiwis had a 10 point jump on us. But we managed to get our heads back in gear for the second race and it was very similar tactics to our first race, but it came good for us that time."
Mills added: "You never know what is going to happen out there. They are really really good and I thought that at any point thjey could have easily pulled back into the top 10 and that would be that. So don’t count your chicken."
And how does she feel at 24 being the youngest member of the British sailing to be assured of a medal (Patience and Bithell are both 25). "Wicked! Just relieved. We knew we could do it and that is the worst part – knowing you can do it and then not performing your best."
Clark added: "It is awesome, it has been a rollercoaster of a four years: Plotting after Beijing, it was not at all how I thought it would pan out, but I am very proud of the team that Hannah and I have built with Joe [Glanfield, their coach]. I know we are not done yet, but whatever the outcome I will be proud of it."
However the celebrations are on hold as they have yet to compete in the medal race and they will be lining up for a straight match race with the Kiwis Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie. Both teams have one crew who has been to the Games before, with Clark having been on the wire for Christina Bassadone in in Beijing while Jo Aleh came 7th in the Radial four years ago.
They will of course watch the 470 Men sail their medal race tomorrow on the Nothe course, although given that there is zero wind forecast with high pressure moving over the UK (summer at last, maybe?), there is every likelihood the Men's medal race may get postponed to Friday too. Lighter winds, Mills says would play into their hands. "We prefer it when it is lighter, especially against the Dutch who are a bit bigger than us but the Kiwis are also really good when it is light, so it is the same."
Unfortunately when it comes to match racing, the Kiwis may have the upper hand Olivia Powrie being a former New Zealand National Champion in the discipline. So will the Kiwis be swapping roles? "She might be steering but I wouldn’t be able to handle the front of the boat, so that won’t work," quips Aleh.
Mills says that they did two or three days match race training in the build-up to the Olympics and that they will have to run over those lessons. "We haven’t done very much actual match racing on the race track so it is going to be pretty hard especially if the wind is up."
Clark made an interesting point about their psychological approach going into the medal race. "At the last World Championship, we were a point ahead, effectively on equal point, but we were the leading one andwe were the one to have the gold medal to lose, so it was a stressful, dynamic kind of thing even though we were equal fourth. We really tried to push that in our heads, that we were equal fourth, not first. So it is a little less stressful to think we are second going into the medal race, ours to win theirs to lose. But the Kiwis will be doing exactly the same in their heads that we are equal second. It is a mind game a little bit, but it is a nice place to be."
As their day, Jo Aleh said: "The first race today helped us out a little bit and then we followed up with our little stuff-up of the regatta. We had to do one. So that was it and I guess it left us still in a pretty good spot. I don’t really look at the points through the event and they look better than I thought they would!
"We quite like the old Harbour course. It is pretty good. With the exception of that last race, it has been pretty even breeze. The last one was a bit more shift and pressure than usual. It has been good racing – all the courses here have been great and the Nothe is a bit of fun as well!"