Photos: Matiaz Capizzano

Croats out in front

As French women look strong at the 470 World Championships

Friday February 26th 2016, Author: James Boyd, Location: Argentina

Weather extremes this morning delivered thunder, lightning and heavy rain, keeping fleets ashore, before a breeze of 38 knots swept across the race track.

The wind died, picked up and then settled at around 17 knots for racing, serving up the breeziest day of the Championship so far.

An early 0930 hours decision by the Race Committee to postpone racing until 1300, meant teams could stay at their accommodation or at least stand down their level of preparedness. A further one hour postponement until 1400, before the fleets headed out to the track, with 2 races completed for each fleet.

A crunch day and last chance for teams to secure their place in the top ten leaderboard who advance to Saturday’s medal race. Getting the mix to work out on the race track was crucial, with some intense jostling for positions makng the difference between success and heartache.

Their leading position and points advantage at the 2016 Worlds marks the strongest chance yet for Sime Fantela/Igor Marenic (CRO) to unseat the dominance of Mat Belcher/Will Ryan (AUS). The Croatians hold a 13 point advantage over second placed Paul Snow-Hansen/Daniel Willcox (NZL) on 55 points, with Belcher/Ryan in third on 58 points - with each of these three teams capable of securing gold. The only other team with a shot at the podium are fourth placed Sofian Bouvet/Jeremie Mion of France, but the best they can upgrade to is silver or bronze.

In the 470 Women, Camille Lecointre/Helene Defrance (FRA) also hold a useful points advantage, although not quite as significant as the Croatians. Counting a 44 point scoreline gives the French team a 6 point margin over defending World Champions Lara Vadlau/Jola Ogar (AUT), with 2012 Olympic Gold Medallists Jo Aleh/Poly Powrie (NZL) 1 point behind in third. Points are close and any of the top 8 teams have a punt at the podium.

On Saturday 27 February, the 470 Women will race first at 1100 hours, followed by the men at 1145 hours. The course format changes, with a short, sharp 25 minute windward/leeward race.

470 Men

No surprise to note that three of the top four teams going into the 470 Worlds Medal Race were the top three teams at the Rio 2015 Test Event - they are simply amongst the best in the world.

A perfect day for Sime Fantela/Igor Marenic as they get ready to rise to the challenge of medal race success and potentially walk away with the gold medal tomorrow. A 2,1 scoreline boosts their advantage to 13 points, which is not insurmountable, but will prove tough to crack for the other two teams in gold medal contention.

“We had a great day in a difficult spot like any other day, and I am really pleased how Igor and I sailed today, practically and technically as well,” said Fantela. “I am just feeling happy and relaxed right now. It was another long day and we are just looking forward to tomorrow, to stay focused, stay calm and that is the plan.”

The pair has stood on the 470 Worlds podium every year bar 2013 since they won gold in 2009, and 2016 marks their closest prospect since to claim victory. They are guaranteed a medal whatever their result.

“This time we are closer than in Haifa [2015 470 Worlds] to win the gold, so it’s all good. We came here not with a huge imperative to win something. We have had good sailing and our goal is the Olympic Games, this is just all part of it. If we win we will be happy, and if we don’t win we will go on,” continued Fantela.

Behind the Croatians, the Kiwis, Aussies and French could walk away from the medal race very happy or hugely disappointed, as they have as much chance of securing a medal as not.

Closest in pursuit of Fantela/Marenic are Paul Snow-Hansen/Daniel Willcox (NZL).

“Our goal before the regatta was to be in the shot for a medal and we have put ourselves in a position to do so,” said Willcox, “so we are just excited and happy to be here and will enjoy getting amongst it tomorrow in the medal race.

“It’s going to be tight and exciting racing. In Olympic sailing the competition is so close and if you make a mistake you feel it, so tomorrow is going to be about whoever can put together a good performance around the medal race course. It’s going to be close and we are looking forward to it.”

Mat Belcher, six time consecutive 470 World Champion, has more often than not led the series going into the medal race.

“The challenge for most of the sailors for the last couple of days has been staying out of trouble,” reflected Belcher. “We are pretty happy with our results, although certainly during the races today we stopped a lot. It is just tough racing and something we are not quite used to,” he said referring to the added race track dynamic of the weed.

“That’s nice, that’s part of it,” Belcher smiled about the three-way battle for gold. “That’s why we are here, it’s good competition and I am sure everyone’s going to be going out pretty hard and that’s why we do it. It’s will be interesting to see how it all works out.”

An opening race 9 win to France’s Sofian Bouvet/Jeremie Mion (FRA) pushed them up to third, dropping to fourth after a 6th in race 10. The team, who were 470 Junior World and Junior European Champions in 2009 and 2010, can move on in to claim either the silver or bronze medals tomorrow.

“It’s long to get to the top as there are teams with a lot of experience so we are fighting,” Mion commented about the years spent mastering their craft in the 470 fleet. “We did good at the 2013 470 Europeans and won, but the Europeans is not the World Championship and the Worlds is more intensive as it is the most important event for every country, so everybody wants to be the best at this moment. So it is very nice that today we can be in the top four for sure. We are happy as we know we can do it, but at the Worlds it is different and it would mean a lot for us to get a medal.”

Clambering into the top ten after today’s two race go Germany’s Ferdinand Gerz/Oliver Szymanksi in 6th overall and Luke Patience/Chris Grube (GBR) in 8th.

The 470 Men fleet was put on notice that South Africa’s 470 sailors are well and truly in the hunt for glory when Asenathi Jim/Roger Hudson’s scorching performance on day 3 at the 470 Worlds saw them take the series lead. The pair grappled to find consistency in the second half of the regatta, wrapping up in 11th overall, but still marked a career best performance at a 470 Championship.

“We are very delighted especially in this year’s Worlds as we build up to the Games,” said Jim. “I can say it is the right message to our competitors, and it is the right step for us to see what we can do with good equipment. It has given us more motivation of what we can do and where we need to work now.”

“Sure the boat has helped,” commented Hudson, referring to the new boat they raced at the Worlds, “but we have been training like crazy for a very long time and it is nice to be paying off. 32nd at the ISAF Worlds in 2014, 21st at the 2015 470 Worlds and 11th here. We are making progress in the right direction which is the most important thing. And we are hungrier than ever to keep working hard and get to an end goal. It’s a real honour to come 11th in a fleet of this calibre – as there are such good sailors all the way through.”

Results (top 10)

1. Sime Fantela/Igor Marenic (CRO 83) - 42 pts
2. Paul Snow-Hansen/Daniel Willcox (NZL 2) - 55 pts
3. Mathew Belcher/William Ryan (AUS 11) - 58 pts
4. Sofian Bouvet/Jérémie Mion (FRA 27) - 62 pts
5. Panagiotis Mantis/Pavlos Kagialis (GRE 1) - 91 pts
6.Ferdinand Gerz/Oliver Szynmanski (GER10) – 93 pts
7. Gabrio Zandona/Andrea Trani (ITA 2) - 93 pts
8. Luke Patience/Chris Grube (GBR 868) – 94 pts
9. Anton Dahlberg/Fredrik Bergström (SWE 349) - 98 pts
10. Onán Barreiros Rodríguez/Juan Curbelo Cabrera (ESP 9) - 109 pts

470 Women

There has been no stepping on the toes of France’s Camille Lecointre/Helene Defrance who have controlled the 470 Women fleet since race 4. The pair has never before been in the position of leading going into a medal race, a fact not lost on Lecointre.

“We are very happy to be in this position right now and we think after being third or fourth going into the medal race, we think it is good to go into the medal race with points ahead. Yes, we are very positive.”

The French took bronze at the 2015 470 Worlds

“We are all very close, 6 points is nothing, but it will maybe help and we will focus tomorrow on sailing the best we can and we will have our fingers crossed for first place,” she added.

It would seem a foregone conclusion that the team will be in Rio, but they are still waiting for confirmation from their national authority.

“We are very happy for our week and we really hope the selection will be announced as soon as possible, but all this time with Helene we have been really focused on Rio. It is very different from the last campaign,” she said referring to the build up to London 2012 with former crew Mathilde Geron where the teams in contention for national selection were much closer, “but here we feel much freer and our sailing has got better.”

Collect a medal here tomorrow and it might come sooner than expected for the French.

There is no underestimating the strength of mind of Austria’s young protégé Lara Vadlau and crew Jola Ogar. When Vadlau wants something, she has shown she is more than capable of getting it, and a third title is at their fingertips.

“First of all it has been a really tough event and we did a pretty job today. We didn’t have the easiest job in the second race, as we had a brilliant start, brilliant upwind and then we caught the sea grass and it went in our centreboard case,” explained Vadlau on their day.

“I think it is really nice to go into the medal race like this, because usually we go as leading position and we will have had a great week and we can think oh we can’t muck up the medal race. And so tomorrow, we are really excited to go into the medal race like this. It’s going to be fun,” she added with a smile.

Whilst there is no denying the plants on the water have been a challenge, many teams, including the Austrians, recognize it is a perfect training ground ahead of Rio.

“I think Rio is worse, because here you can see the grass floating and you can see from far away where the weeds are,” commented Ogar. “But in Rio the trash is submerged half a metre and you can’t see it from far away, and only see it when you are virtually on it. I think this is good training, and if you can do well here, you will do well in Rio.”

On her expectations for Saturday’s medal race making it a World Championship hat trick, Ogar wisecracked, “I would prefer to have two World titles, and a gold medal in the Olympics!!”

‘On it at last’ would be fair sentiments for the 2012 Olympic Gold medallists, Jo Aleh/Polly Powrie (NZL) as they took out their first win of the series in race 8, followed up with a 7th and are now ready to race for a medal tomorrow.

“It’s been a pretty hard week,” said Aleh. “We have struggled a bit with a few different issues, so are sort of surprised we are still in the mix, which makes tomorrow fun.

“I haven’t really looked at the results that closely, but the way it looks everyone is pretty close so it’s just going to be a matter of sail the race. Sail the race to win the race, and I guess we’ll be doing that, so it’s just another race but 10 boats, which will be a nice change. It will be a good challenge.”

Up close behind the Kiwis in 4th place are China’s Xiaoli Wang/Lizhu Huang. The halfway stage of the regatta marked a tipping point for the pair, as they accelerated from thereon in, and now both silver and bronze medals are within reach. At the 2013 470 Worlds, history was made for Chinese sailing, when Wang with her former crew claimed the nation’s first ever medal at a 470 Women World Championship, securing bronze. They could match or improve on that tomorrow.

Bronze medallists at the 2015 470 Europeans and winners of the Rio 2015 Test Event and Annie Haegar/Brianna Provancha found themselves in a bit of a spin today, and go into the medal race in 8th.

“We made most probably every single mistake you could make in the first race, didn’t fetch the pin, didn’t get the time, didn’t have a line sight, fouled at the mark, missed the layline three times, couldn’t get the rudder down on the downwind, it was the snowball effect,” said a tired Provancha after racing.

Despite past performance, for them national selection to Rio 2016 comes down to their results here and at the 470 Europeans – a tough process. A perfect example of their resilience was their ability today to climb from last place at the first mark to 15th by the end.

“Hats off to the girls that had a good day, because it was very challenging out there,” said Provancha.

In an amazing display of raw talent, Israel’s Noya Bar-Am/Rimon Shoshan left the fleet in their wake in the final race of the day, coming alive in the stronger breeze to wrap up a race win.

The top ten leaderboard at the start of the day featured the same teams two races later, just a different order, apart from the French leaders.

Results (top 10)

1. Camille Lecointre/Helene Defrance (FRA 9) - 44 pts
2. Lara Vadlau/Jolanta Ogar (AUT 431) – 50 pts
3. Jo Aleh/Polly Powrie (NZL 75) - 51 pts
4. Xiaoli Wang/Lizhu Huang (CHN 1221) - 56 pts
5. Fernanda Oliveira/Ana Luiza Barbachan (BRA 177) - 58 pts
6. Sydney Bolger/Carly Shevitz (USA 88) - 63 pts
7. Agnieszka/Irmina Orozek (POL11) - 67 pts
8. Anne Haeger/Briana Provancha (USA 1712) - 68 pts
9. Bàrbara Cornudella Ravetllat/Sara López Ravetllat (ESP 14) - 75 pts
10. Afrodite Zegers-Kyranakou/Anneloes Van Veen (NED 216) - 76 pts



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