New Zealand sailing fans have reason to be doubly happy at the end of day four of the 49er and 49erFX World Championships, with Kiwi teams topping the table in both men’s and women’s divisions.
The 2013 49erFX World Champions, Alex Maloney and Molly Meech, look to have rediscovered their world-beating form in recent weeks, winning the warm-up regatta in Miami earlier in the month and now taking the lead after a strong performance in moderate south-westerly breezes off Clearwater Beach.
Scores of 3,1,10 have put the New Zealanders 3 points ahead of previous series leaders, Victoria Jurczok and Anika Lorenz of Germany. Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze also sailed a great day, notching up 1,8,1 to sit in 3rd overall. But the best day went to the Spanish team of Tamara Echegoyen and Berta Betanzos who won all three of their heats in the blue division of qualifying, rocketing the London 2012 Olympic gold medallist Echegoyen up to 4th overall.
Meanwhile in the men’s 49er fleet, no surprises to report that Pete Burling and Blair Tuke continue to dominate the racing, although the triple World Champions did ruin their unbroken run of bullets with a slightly less perfect scoreline of 3,1,2,11 from today’s four qualifying heats. Discarding the final race 11th, the unstoppable Kiwis have stretched their lead to 28 points over arch rivals, Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen who sit in 2nd overall.
The live TV coverage showed that even Burling and Tuke occasionally make tactical mistakes, and they were lucky that the Irish team of Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern waved them on in a tight port-starboard situation. “Yeah, maybe,” smiled Tuke, “but we let them off the hook on a port-starboard in the last race at the top mark. And they tacked on our face, so I reckon they owe us one.”
McGovern didn’t deny it. “We train with the Kiwi boys quite a bit, so we like to show them up a bit when we get the chance,” he laughed. It was a good day for the Irish too, winning a race and coming 4th in the next, moving them up to 9th overall.
Outteridge and Jensen were racing on the opposite side of the qualifying draw, and just like the TV course that Burling was competing on, the key to success was all about getting a great start and being able to hit the left-hand side of the track, sometimes sailing within metres of the breaking surf near to the spectators and sun worshippers enjoying the white sand and blue skies that lit up Clearwater Beach today. “The start was critical, and hoping you didn’t take any bad waves as you came out of the start, or that you had enough space to leeward to be able to put the bow down and accelerate,” said Jensen. Tomorrow the reigning Olympic Champions get their chance to line up against the reigning World Champions for first time this week, as Gold Fleet finals get underway.
For many, this is a critical moment in their Olympic selection trials, and for the Spanish in particular. The Alonso brothers finished 3rd at the 2015 World Championships in Argentina, setting their rivals a tough target. But scores of 4,2,3,9 lift the young crew of Diego Botín and Iago López Marra to 3rd overall, putting them in a great position to challenge the experienced Alonsos for selection. “We are very happy with today,” said López Marra. “The target is to finish inside the top 8 and to beat the points score of the Alonsos. The interesting thing about this venue is that every day is different, and it is producing a really good test of all-round sailing ability.”
While the Alonso brothers have a struggle for selection, another veteran team from Austria, Niko delle Karth and Niko Resch, sit in 4th overall and are looking very likely to be sailing at their fourth successive Olympic Games in Rio this summer. They narrowly missed out on a bronze medal at London 2012, which is part of the motivation for still sailing in 2016. “But also we just love what we do,” said delle Karth. “We have sailed together for a long time and we really look forward to racing together again at Rio.”
Other big performances came from the young Italian teams and from David Gilmour and Lewis Brake who started the day in 49th overall and with slim hopes of making the top 25 cut for Gold Fleet. But the young Aussies put the hammer down and with scores of 1,4,4,13 they have surged up to 17th overall and live to fight another day, against the world’s best.
With so much riding on this week and the need to make it into Gold fleet, there were a flurry of last-minute protests as teams fought by any means necessary to get their way into the top 25. One of the best FX teams, Ida Nielsen and Marie Olsen, were fighting to stay in contention after picking up two OCS disqualifications yesterday for breaking the start gun too soon. Scores of 3,18,3 have scraped the Danes into 22nd overall, enough for the bottom end of Gold Fleet. But they still have a mountain to climb if they’re to challenge the other Danish crews in 8th and 11th overall, as they enter the final two days of their selection trials.
To find out if Nielsen and Olsen can fight their way back up the rankings, and for all the other dramas and battles in play at the 49er Worlds, tune into tomorrow’s live TV coverage starting at 12pm local time (Eastern Standard Time).