Final podiums decided
The Laser and Laser Radial gold medals went the way of Tom Burton (AUS) and Anne Marie Rindom (DEN). Mat Belcher and Will Ryan (AUS) made sure of Men's 470 gold whilst Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie (NZL) clinched the Women's 470 honours.
Racing on the Pão de Açucar race track, a south easterly breeze in between 5-10 knots allowed all the fleets to conclude their racing. The breeze died towards the latter part of the afternoon as the Women's 470 wrapped up proceedings.
Tom Burton (AUS) took a four point lead over Nick Thompson (GBR) into the Medal Race, but with the Briton unable take to the course due to an injure he had sustained following a collision with another boa,. the Australian had a strong advantage over the chasing pack.
Burton came through in sixth to take gold in the light breeze and whilst on paper the result seems convincing, it was far from that as the Australian explained, "It was pretty tough. I had a really good start and was going good in the first half of the first beat but I got a bit conservative and made a bit of an error and ended up at the back pretty quick. The rest of the race was pretty stressful.”
Things could have been tighter for the Australian had Thompson raced which Burton was quick to recognise, "Yesterday I didn't see him in that second race where he got hit but obviously he got hit pretty bad after seeing him today. It would have changed things up so who knows what would have happened.”
With the light winds testing the sailors' tactical nous the positions chopped and changed. Francesco Marrai (ITA) took the bullet and was followed by Charlie Buckingham (USA). Both sailors finished fifth and sixth respectively. Rutger van Schaardenburg (NED) came through in third which was enough to push him up from third into silver medal position.
Thompson's advantage was a good one coming into the Medal Race and even though he counted 22 points he takes away bronze. Robert Scheidt (BRA) finished in eighth which was not enough to push him ahead of Thompson.
Thompson commented: “I was in my room, feeling a little bit sorry for myself, watching online for results updates and seeing how the guys got on,” said Thompson of his medal race experience, before describing the circumstances of his injury.
“It was one of those situations that you never really see – I was sailing downwind for the second race of the day on the first downwind leg and pretty much got taken out by a fellow competitor. Obviously they didn’t so it on purpose, we’ve made up and everything’s OK, but it was pretty much a bow contacting my arm quite brutally and took me out of the race and I couldn’t sail today either.”
The European bronze medallist took great confidence from his performance prior to his injury, and sees the race series that he put together at this venue as a huge confidence boost on the road to 2016.
“The biggest thing for me was that I was able to sail so well here,” said Thompson. “Generally they’re conditions that aren’t usually my favourite, but I still managed to put together a really solid series and I certainly feel very comfortable in Rio now.”
Meanwhile for Burton and the remaining sailors it has been a good test and offered a glimpse of what will occur in two years time. With a mixed bag of conditions the best Laser sailor will Olympic gold as Burton concluded, "If you're good across the board you'll be good here.”
Denmark's Anne Marie Rindom claimed a hard fought Laser Radial gold medal following a fourth in the Medal Race.
Rindom trailed overnight leaders Tuula Tenkanen (FIN) and Evi Van Acker (BEL) by two points heading into the final race and was able to advance up to the top of the podium as she explained, "I was in third position and I could become first. I was really nervous, obviously. I was trying not to be but you can't always do that when you have all the adrenaline going on. I tried to stay out of trouble and avoid contact with all other boats and just sail my own race by focusing on my sailing and speed and it turned out really great.
"I saw that the other girls in front of me got a really bad start so from there it was just follow them and make sure they didn't get ahead of me.”
Midway through the race Alison Young (GBR) had moved into gold medal position as she took the lead. Rindom had work to do and with Tenkanen and Van Acker struggling behind her she pushed forward. She moved up from seventh to fourth by the conclusion of the race as Young dropped back a spot.
"It's a huge step for me,” smiled Rindom. "It's pretty good and a good signal you can sail in the Olympic venue. I think Rio is definitely a hard place to sail. It's so much different to what we're used to in Europe so we're definitely going to have to train here a lot.”
Young managed to take silver whilst Van Acker came through in eighth position to hand her bronze. With a ninth place finish Tenkanen dropped from first to fourth overall.
Alison Young, sidelined from competition for the last ten months following illness, commented on her silver medal finish, helped by a second place in the double-points medal race: "I’m really chuffed with the result and a good performance in the medal race. I just sailed my own race and tried to put in the best performance possible and hope that the other girls didn’t have such a good race. I’ve been out basically all year and this is my first regatta back. I started [my recovery] back on the 31 March with just 10 minutes’ sailing a day so I‘m really pleased to come here and medal now. Thanks to all of the British Sailing Team support staff and my coach Hugh for getting me back into the boat and back racing.”
Mat Belcher and Will Ryan (AUS) brought a 17 point advantage into the Men's 470 Medal Race and whilst they got the job done their ninth place finish was far from their best.
"It was tricky final race,” admitted Ryan. "We were comfortable with what we had to do in the final race so we didn't really feel any pressure or stress. It was the first time we sailed on that course and we rushed into it a bit. It was nice with some good racing in the fleet and we learnt something new and we'll practice some more on that area again.”
Luke Patience and Elliot Willis took a third and walk away with silver whilst Paul Snow Hansen and Dan Willcox (NZL) won the Medal Race to take bronze.
A lot of positives can be taken from the week by the Men's 470 fleet but Belcher knows there is work to do two years out from the Olympic Games, even with an excellent performance, "A lot of the athletes that haven't performed to their expectation here will turn round and say they've got plenty time so they'll be okay. And the guys that did perform get confidence from it.
"It depends on the situation and for us we are really happy to come here and win. We knew if we sailed well we could but it's nice to get a bit of confidence. We've got to spend some more time here and the other athletes will do the same.”
Patience and Willis' silver came about despite a protest for allegedly receiving outside assistance from their coach prior to the race start – a claim which was subsequently thrown out.
Willis explained: “We snapped a trapeze wire at about six minutes to the start. Our coach came in to help us repair it and there was a bit of confusion about whether we were inside the four minute [limit] but we were well outside out of it.”
“It’s a great feeling,” said Patience of their podium performance at the 2016 venue.
“We’re here two years out, we’re on the podium having teamed up five months ago – that’s a nice place to be. The medal’s not the colour we’re aiming for – we are moving to a place where we’re looking to challenge in this class – but with the adversity that’s been pushed our way this week we’re really happy. We were the only boat going into the medal race that was able to take the win from the Aussies mathematically, so that’s also a good thing.”
Jo Aleh and Polly came out on top in a three way shoot out for the Women's 470 title. Heading into the day Aleh and Powrie were tied on 15 points with Anne Haeger and Briana Provancha (USA) and Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark (USA).
It was winner take all between the trio and with the Kiwis taking fourth they had sealed the deal. In a fading afternoon breeze the conditions were extremely hard for the Race Committee and sailors' as Aleh explained, "It was a pretty tough race. Sail by the seat of your pants, see what happens and keep hoping it will work out. We knew we had to beat both of them [Mills/Clark and Haeger/Provancha] and be top five if the Austrians won. We always wanted to do well but just had to beat those boats. Pretty early on, as we started we were in the middle of them and kept an eye on them. The Americans dropped back pretty quickly so it was just between us and the Brits.
"Everyone found it stressful. There was a lot happening. When the boys raced before the wind was a little bit more set but the wind had just changed. It was one of the most unstable Medal Races we've done.”
Mills and Clark came through in sixth to pick up silver whilst the Americans dropped out of the podium places following a tenth. Austria's Lara Vadlau and Jolanta Ogar capitalised on the Americans misfortune with a fifth, enough to hand them bronze via countback.
For Olympic silver medallists Mills and Clark, they executed a good start to their medal race strategy, but the Sugarloaf medal race course proved once again that it’s a tricky one, with places won and lost easily.
The British Sailing Team’s Sophie Weguelin and Eilidh McIntyre won the final race, while Mills and Clark finished in sixth, which was not quite enough to overhaul Aleh and Powrie for the top step of the podium. The British pair had to settle for silver.
“We’re always happy to get a medal and to get one in the Olympic venue two years out is great. It’s a huge deal,” admitted Mills. “To be racing in the medal race equal on points with the top three is really cool and it’s a really great position to be in so on that front we’re really happy. We’ve been sailing really well this week which has been nice.
“Just the medal race unfortunately didn’t quite go to plan so we’re a bit gutted about as we felt like we had a good strategy and executed that. It just goes to show that the medal race course is pretty tricky with lot of snakes and ladders so that’s a good lesson to take forward.”
Team GBR's Olympic Sailing Manager Stephen Park has hailed his team’s ‘substantial progress’ since the 2012 Games, as British sailors rounded off the first Rio Olympic Test Event with eight medals across seven Olympic classes.
Giles Scott’s Finn class gold was the only victory for the British Sailing Team, but three silver and four bronze medals were also added to the overall British tally at this Aquece Rio International Regatta, which Park described as ‘very pleasing’.
“It’s been a fantastic end to the first Rio Test Event,” Park explained. “Winning eight medals in seven events of the ten that we compete in has been very pleasing. It’s certainly a work in progress and of course we’d like to win more gold medals than we’ve won this week.
“But we were in there competing for gold medals certainly in four of the events and to be racing out for the podium in every single one of the ten events is a fantastic place to be.”
Park concluded: “We’ve still got two years to go to the Games itself and the progress we’ve made over the two years since 2012 has been substantial. We’re really looking forward to the challenge that lies ahead to improve on those performances and try and make those medals a little bit shinier than perhaps some of them have been this time around.”
Attention now turns to the Santander 2014 ISAF Sailing World Championship which takes place in northern Spain from 8-21 September 2014. The Santander 2014 ISAF Worlds is the first Olympic Qualification regatta for the Rio 2016 Olympic Sailing Competition. 50% of Rio 2016 spots will be decided in Santander.