An Exciting Finale As Medals Decided At Sail Melbourne
The opening regatta of the 2010-2011 ISAF Sailing World Cup, Sail Melbourne, has come to an end with close finishes and a number of upsets on the final day of racing. The best laid plans went astray for the New Zealand 49er crew of Peter Burling and Blair Tuke. They took a three point lead over Nico Delle - karth and Nikolaus Resch into the double-points Medal Race, meaning the Austrians had to beat them by at least two places to win the gold medal.
The New Zealanders put their rivals into trouble early, forcing them into a pre-start infringement and the consequent 720 penalty turn. This pushed the Austrians to the right hand side of the course and with the wind tracking left, that appeared to be the unfavoured side. If they had any ideas of coming back onto starboard, those hopes were dashed when the Australians, Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen nailed the start and forced them further to the right. Meanwhile, the Kiwis had decided that the extreme left was the place to be.
From nowhere, a big right-hand shift came down the course, the Austrians lifted and the race was effectively over. Outteridge and Jensen came back later in the race to finish fourth, but the Kiwis, furiously "going troppo" in the hope of a favourable shift, finished ninth.
"It was a really tough race," Nickolaus Resche said. "We had a small incident with the Kiwis and then we were lucky to get a good right shift. Then we just had to stay in the fleet. We are really happy that we won."
The Kiwis, though obviously disappointed, finished in second place in the regatta. "We had to play catch up the whole race," said Peter Burling. "Everything we did didn't work. We'll learn from it though."
Nathan Outteridge reported that the wind shifts were swinging through 55 degrees at various times during the race.
The second class away was the Finn, the heavyweight dinghy that features the big men of sailing, and triple Olympic Gold medalist and current World Match Racing champion Ben Ainslie was the one to beat. Ainslie went into the Medal Race six points ahead of compatriot Giles Scott who in turn was one point clear of Edward Wright. Frenchmen Jonathan Lobert and Thomas Le breton and American Zach Railey could technically still win, but a British victory was much more likely.
Dutchman Pieter-Jan Postma upset the British party by leaping to an early lead. As the British covered each other, Postma raced away to an easy win. However, this was all about final points and the master strategist Ben Ainslie had it under control.
"Ed was going right and Giles was going left," said Ainslie. He had to choose: "I went with Giles. It (the wind) was slowly clocking left but there was a big right hand shift which lifted Ed."
Wright, the World Champion, took advantage of the lift to finish second, ahead of Scott and Ainslie. This allowed him to leapfrog Scott in the overall standings, leaving Great Britain with all three podium positions.
The 470 crews were made to work for their medals. After a postponement, the first race was called off during the second lap, with World Champions Mathew Belcher and Malcolm Page leading by a considerable margin.
Belcher and Page went into the race in third place overall, but only two points off first. Among the top three whoever finished in front would win.
After the restart, it appeared that Belcher and Page were to be dealt a cruel blow. They went right while the Americans Stuart Mcnay and Graham Biehl went left, and a huge wind shift favoured the left. Belcher and Page were back in sixth and a long way behind.
However, you never write off true champions. Working back up to the fleet, they used superior speed downwind to hit the front and were never headed. Sam Kivell and William Ryan managed third in the medal race, which put them into third overall.
A relieved Malcolm Page described the tactical dilemma that faced the Australians. "We would have liked to stay a bit further left, but two of our main rivals went right and one went left so we played the percentages. We managed to close the gauge, got on the back of the top five. Then we hooked some good waves and got to the front."
The women's 470 was also wide open going into the medal race, with five crews having a chance to win. With no Australian crews in with a chance, a German crew was the local favourite as it featured Mat Belcher's wife Rike Belcher
Belcher and her skipper Kathrin Kadelbach needed to finish ahead of the Austrians, Sylvia Vogl and Carolina Flatscher, and hold off challenges from compatriots Wagner and Steinherr and two Chinese crews.
Ultimately, Huimin Feng and Lizhu Huang won the race from Kadelbach and Belcher, with the Austrians third. This meant the German pair won the title on a countback, the closest result of the regatta.
On paper, the Laser was going to be the easiest result to pick. Englishman Nick Thompson had a nine point lead over Australian Tom Burton and could win from seventh position. The real battle was going to be between Burton and another Australian, world champion Tom Slingsby. Burton had to finish second to advance from the Australian Development Squad to the Australian Sailing Team, and with only one Olympic place for each country, Slingsby naturally preferred to be the only Laser sailor in the team.
However, wind shifts, re-laid courses and general recalls in other classes meant that by the time the Lasers got onto the course the wind had died and there were holes all over the course. Shortly after the start, it was obvious that Thompson was in trouble. He was back in ninth place and in danger of losing his lead.
Fortunately for him, the two Toms were engaging in their own match race and were also near the back of the fleet. Ultimately, Dutchmen Roelof Bouwmeester and Rutger Van schaardenburg were the first two home, ahead of Josh Junior from New Zealand.
"It wasn't the nicest position," said Thompson, referring to his ninth place. "I started at the unfavoured end and sailed into a huge hole. But I could see a couple of minutes out that Slingsby and Burton were going at each other so the tactic was to stay as close as I could. I was OK from a points aspect."
From Burton's point of view, Thompson was too far in front on points so his objective was to finish second overall - which meant beating Slingsby. "I didn't want to let him get too far away. Pretty much from start to finish it was on."
Burton finished sixth and Slingsby eighth and the World Champion was philosophical about the defeat. When asked how Burton had been able to beat him, he replied: "Technique. I've been out of the boat a bit long and he had the edge in speed."
In the Laser Radial, the top positions were much closer to the script. Dongshuang Zhang of China was the overnight leader and although being beaten into third place in the medal race she was a comfortable overall winner. Nathalie Brugger of Switzerland won the Medal Race and moved ahead of world number one Marit Bouwmeester of the Netherlands for the silver medal.
By the time the RS:X fleets hit the course there was almost no wind. They have endured pumping races all week, with only one day when they could get up and plane, and the finals were no different.
Three Hong Kong and two Chinese men had been swapping positions throughout the event. Ultimately, Chan King Yin of Hong Kong prevailed over Aichen Wang of China, with Cheng Kwok Fai of Hong Kong third.
In the women's event, Australian veteran Jessica Crisp took a three point lead into the final and had the chance to break the Asian stranglehold. She finished in second place behind Huali Zhu of China and thought that this was enough to take the gold medal. In a cruel twist, she was judged to be OCS (over the start line) and dropped to fifth overall.
Sail Melbourne was a difficult regatta from a wind perspective, but the challenging conditions created an exciting final day. The Sandringham clubhouse was packed and visitors could view the races live on the course or follow them on the tracker.
The live blog was well supported, with nearly 4000 participants from all round the world. Anna Tunnicliffe the 2009 ISAF Roelx World Sailor of the Year sent in a message of support to her USA teammates and an insomniac Austrian enquired regularly about the progress of his countrymen and women, who performed extremely well in the regatta.
The ISAF Sailing World Cup now moves to Miami at the end of January.