Hyères threw out its toughest challenge for the final day of racing at the Sailing World Cup with a truly up and down day of the purest form.
A breeze in excess of 20 knots came through in the morning with many wondering if there would even be any racing at all. Thunder, lightning, torrential rain and huge winds ensured the Olympic sailors were pushed to their limits.
As the day advanced, the weather completely turned on its head and midway through the Laser Medal Race, the wind cut out entirely. A wait for breeze ensued and as the rain returned so did a fickle 3-9 knots. Nine fleets completed their Medal Race with only the Men’s RS:X missing out.
The sun did make an appearance, for the closing ceremony, shining light on the exceptional performances of the world’s best sailors. The heroes of the sport are born at the Sailing World Cup and come of age at the Olympic Games.
The road to Rio is a hard one and if the racing in Hyères is anything to go by, expect fireworks at the Olympic Games.
Men’s and Women’s 470
Great Britain’s Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark overhauled overnight leaders Camille Lecointre and Helene Defrance (FRA) to take gold in an exciting Women’s 470 Medal Race.
Mills and Clark knew the maths before the Medal Race, beat the French, keep the Brazilians at bay and gold would be there’s. It didn’t start that way however as the Brazilians charged out the blocks, taking an early lead. The British sat in third and out of the gold medal position but they remained in contention.
“Going into the race the tactic was to race our own race, ” explained Clark, “Off the line the Brazilians got a bit of a jump so that left us protecting the French really, and seeing how the Brazilians’ race played out.”
New Zealand’s Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie were pushing the Brazilians hard at the front of pack and very little could separate them. On the second upwind it was advantage Kiwis and they held on to take the lead, much to the delight of Mills and Clark (GBR) who had indeed kept the French at bay.
Mills added, “We had our eyes on what was going on, we caught the Brazilians up quite a lot up that second beat and once we saw that the Kiwis had definitely passed them we relaxed a bit on them and really wanted to protect the French to make sure we got the win.”
Mills and Clark famously went toe to toe with Aleh and Powrie at London 2012. The Kiwis came out on top in the Medal Race but they were pleased their great rivals were able to offer a helping hand, “Obviously [the Kiwis were] a huge help at that point in the race. It was a fun, exciting race, ” Mills said.
Clark continued, “It’s great to come to any World Cup regatta and win it. For me and Hannah to convert a second into a first in the Medal Race shows we’re making progress with our comms and everything, but we’ve still got progress to make.”
Oliveira and Barbachan finished in second with the French dropping to third via countback after an eighth.
The pressure was off Croatia’s Sime Fantela and Igor Marenic in the Men’s 470 Medal Race as they had opened up such an advantage that all they had to do was complete the race safely to snap up gold.
A fifth confirmed them as winners as they defended their title, just as stylishly as 2015.
“This feeling is great, ” explained Marenic. “We feel really happy with how we sailed this week and very proud. We sailed consistently and were always in the top six. We like this venue and this event. It’s our favourite from when we first came here in 2002. We’ve come every year. We enjoy the conditions here and it’s quite similar to those in Croatia. It obviously suits us.
“This is a huge confidence boost but it’s just another race before the Games and we are really happy with the way we’ve been going. We will continue working.”
The race for silver and bronze was significantly tighter out on the water. Six points separated Mat Belcher and Will Ryan (AUS), Anton Dahlberg and Fredrik Bergstrom (SWE) as well as Lucas Calabrese and Juan de la Fuente (ARG).
The trio were all bunched up at the start, getting underway almost as one but on the first upwind the Aussies and Argentineans just had the superior boat speed and edged ahead. They rounded well clear of the Swedes and were in the driving seat.
Dahlberg and Bergstrom worked their way through the fleet and drew within touching distance of the Argentineans as the Australians pulled away. The run to the finish was dramatic, the Swedes and Argentineans were neck and neck and separated by just millimetres. As they crossed the finish line almost simultaneously the Swedes were penalised for not giving way to the Argentineans and were forced to re-enter the racing area and conduct penalty turns.
The damage had been well and truly done and the Swedes picked up tenth which knocked them out of the medals. It was silver to Belcher and Ryan and bronze to Calabrese and de la Fuente.
Laser and Laser Radial
A race of two halves is the best way to describe the Laser Medal Race. They got underway in a breeze of well over 20 knots and concluded in 3 knots.
Conditions as mixed as those in Hyères ensured high stress levels of every racer. Philipp Buhl (GER) held his nerve to climb the ladder and claim a hard earned gold.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever sailed a race with a wind range of 25 knots decreasing down to 3 or 4 in the end, ” said a flabbergasted Buhl. “It was very tough and tricky. You have to make a few smart decisions as there were lots of wind shifts. It was intense and in my point of view it was a great race.
“In the beginning there was just full power in the sails and you had to hike hard, be very aggressive and then in the second lap it all changed to tactical sailing. All you need in Laser sailing was evident today, all the skills were used in that 25 minutes.”
Andy Maloney (NZL) took the race win and was followed by Buhl over the finish line. Sam Meech (NZL) came through in third and that was enough for silver as Tom Burton (AUS) dropped from gold medal position to third following a seventh.
Meech’s silver medal is significant as the New Zealand Rio 2016 Laser spot has not yet been decided. Maloney could only finish fifth and if Hyères is a deciding factor, the spot could well go to Meech. The pair have remained respectful of each other across the week and know that neither of them would be racing for medals if it wasn’t for the other pushing them.
Two key Laser regattas remain before Rio 2016, the Laser Worlds in mid-May and Sailing World Cup Weymouth and Portland at the start of June. However, Meech indicated that an announcement could well be imminent, “I think we’ll know before the worlds, ” he said.
“I’ve just been trying to sail as well as I can and get the best overall result I can to give me the best chance. Obviously it’s coming close to our selection so finishing in front of the other Kiwis hopefully helps. We’re going to go to the worlds next, we leave tonight and then find out about selection.”
Belgium’s Evi Van Acker (BEL) took her third consecutive Laser Radial victory in Hyères after a straight shoot-out between herself and Josefin Olsson (SWE). The pair had an almost unassailable advantage over the chasing pack heading into the Medal Race and were split by two points, it was who beat who.
Van Acker had experience of the French waters on her side so came in as favourite. After a race abandonment due to the sailors not being able to complete their race in light breeze the wind was stable for their second crack and it was full on.
“I focused on my own start, ” explained Van Acker, “From the moment that I saw the opportunity I was in control and I managed to keep Josefin behind to win. She did come back really fast so it was tricky.”
Like most of the Olympic sailors in Hyères, Van Acker is a huge fan of the venue and through a beaming, winning smile, she concluded, “I love it in Hyères. My first time here was in 1992 and I was just seven years old in the Optimist. I’ve come here many times and I think it’s a really great venue for sailing. It’s so variable, we’ve had everything here this week and it’s been fun sailing.
“I’m always happy to be here.”
Jake Lilley (AUS) described the Finn Medal Race as the hardest of his life. A fair assessment when your national rival is hot on your heels and the the wind conditions are tough to race in.
The Medal Race was tense and hard to judge but the huge Australian got the job done, finishing three points ahead of his compatriot Oli Tweddell to claim gold. “My heart was definitely on the red line in the whole of that race. There was a lot riding on it. Oli sailed a good event this week and this is part of our Olympic trials. Every race counts.”
Lilley versus Tweddell has been one of the great narratives throughout Sailing World Cup Hyères as their on-going fight for selection has received great interest.
When all is said and done, Lilley’s victory certainly sends out a message, proving he has what it takes, “Our trials have consisted over a lot of regattas over 18 months which started in Miami last year.
“It’s all inclusive and you have to get a baseline performance to auto qualify. That [baseline] is a top two at a European World Cup or top six at the Worlds. We’ve both done that now by being 1-2 here so it’s going to go to the board of selectors who will decide who the best medal chance is in Rio.”
Caleb Paine (USA) streaked away to take the race victory whilst France’s Jonathan Lobert completed the podium.
Fernando Echavarri and Tara Pacheco (ESP) completely dominated the Nacra 17 Medal Race, taking the race win by eight seconds to claim gold.
They grabbed the lead from the off and never relinquished it. “It’s an important win for us, ” said Echavarri, a Beijing 2008 Tornado gold medallist, “We’ve only had a short campaign and it’s important to be on top. We were already on the podium but to win is just super.
“We have a short time until Rio 2016 and we have to believe we can do it.”
Italy’s Vittorio Bissaro and Silvia Sicouri came through in second to take silver. Mandy Mulder and Coen do Koning (NED) completed the podium.
Overnight leaders Ben Saxton and Nicola Groves (GBR) went back at the start of the Medal Race as they believed they crossed the line early. They were up against it throughout and clawed their way to seventh. Unfortunately, it was not enough for bronze and they missed out via countback.
49er and 49erFX
Lisa Ericson and Hanna Klinga (SWE) took their first significant title in the 49erFX, holding on to the lead they grabbed on the opening day.
It wasn’t easy for the Swedes as a number of racers were in touching distance. They managed to edge ahead of their closest rivals for gold, Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze (BRA) by one place to seal the deal. The Brazilians followed in second.
Jena Mai Hansen and Katja Salskov-Iversen (DEN) moved up into bronze medal position after a third promoted them above Annemiek Bekkering and Annette Duetz (NED). Sarah Steyaert and Aude Compan (FRA) took the bullet.
Peter Burling and Blair Tuke (NZL) wrapped up gold with a day to spare in the 49er so the real story of the day was the fight for silver and bronze and British supremacy in their selection battle.
Jonas Warrer and Christian Peter Lubeck (DEN) sealed a silver with a second in the Medal Race. Will and Sam Phillips (AUS) dropped to third after a fifth.
Dylan Fletcher-Scott and Alain Sign (GBR) won the Medal Race but it was not enough for them to finish as the leading British team. That title was reserved for James Peters and Fynn Sterritt who finished fourth overall. The British selectors were out on the water, watching closely so as they make the right decision for Rio 2016. It’s anyone’s guess as to who will get that coveted Rio 2016 spot.
Men’s and Women’s RS:X
The Women’s RS:X Medal Race was won by Spain’s Marina Alabau Neira, but it was not enough to give her a medal as she finished the regatta in fourth position.
Poland’s Zofia Noceti-Klepacka walked away with gold after a second place kept her above eventual silver and bronze medallists Bryony Shaw (GBR) and Charline Picon (FRA).
Unfortunately for the Men’s RS:X fleet, they could only sit and watch the other Medal Races as the time limit expired to get them out on the water to complete their final race. It meant there was a Polish gold in both of the RS:X fleets.
Because of the delays and the cancellation, the leader board finished as it had stood the previous day with Poland’s Piotr Myszka taking gold on 52 points, team mate Pawel Tarnowski silver on 55 points and Great Britain’s Nick Dempsey in bronze on 61 points.
A number of sailors’ head to Rio for training and preparation for the Olympic Games and then it’s into Sailing World Cup Weymouth and Portland, the final showdown before the summer