Speed, excitement and five new champions at World Cup Series Miami
With five sailors in striking distance of the gold medal and seven mathematically alive for a podium position, the Medal Race for the Women's RS:X at the 2018 World Cup Series Miami, USA, was projected to be the most exciting of the five Medal Races scheduled for the penultimate day of the regatta.
And it delivered with abundant speed and excitement in champagne sailing conditions on Biscayne Bay.
When the spray cleared, Hélène Noesmoen (FRA) was zipping across the finish line in first in excess of 20 knots and, in the process, moving from fourth to first in the overall standings. Rounding out the medals were Flavia Tartaglini (ITA) and Blanca Manchon (ESP).
"Today was windy, and I think that is my strong point," said Noesmoen. "I tried to keep consistent during the week and really push myself in the Medal Race, and it paid off. I had a bad second day, I think that was due to the wind conditions, which dropped me to the middle of the [results] table. But I had an amazing third day, which kept me in the top 10 and allowed me to compete at the Medal Race."
The turning point in the double-points Medal Race came on the first downwind leg when Stefania Elfutina (RUS), the defending Olympic bronze medalist and regatta leader going into the day, caught the edge of her board after leaping off a wave and crashed into the water. It the time it took her to recover her sail and get going again, five sailors-and her medal chances-passed her by. One of those zipping past was Noesmoen, who rounded the second of five marks in sixth place. While the breeze velocity was quite steady, there were gains to be made by playing the shifts correctly. On the third leg, Noesmoen found an elevator to the podium, moving to second and then to first for the final two legs of the race.
"This race was going well for me until I crashed on the first downwind close to the gate," said Elfutina. "I'm not sure what happened. I'm trying not to feel disappointed with myself. I enjoyed this regatta and my races. I learned a lot of things on the water. I can't really say what I learned [about preventing what happened in the final race], it's just an instinct that your body adjusts to on the water, and it becomes a reflex."
For the first time, World Sailing employed a reaching start and finish for the RS:X divisions. For sailors that are used to parking close to the starting line and accelerating at the last second-typical of a start in the RS:X class-this America's Cup-inspired course format required a retooled starting strategy. But the course, which features four reaching and downwind legs and two upwind legs, was generally met with positive reviews.
As was the case with the Women's RS:X, no team in the Men's 49er fleet had secured a podium position of any color going into the Medal Race. But unlike in the RS:X division, the form guide held true with world champions Dylan Fletcher-Scott and Stuart Bithell (GBR) staying right in lockstep with Diego Botín le Chever and Iago López Marra (ESP) throughout the race and ensuring that the British team would emerge from the race with the gold medal. Holding on for third, though they did put themselves in a bit of trouble by rounding the first mark in ninth, were Federico Alonso Tellechea and Arturo Alonso Tellechea (ESP).
"It was brilliant fun out there," said Bithell, a silver medalist in the 470 class. "We had good breeze and plenty of sunshine. The Medal Race is pretty quick. It was really exciting, and we were just full of adrenaline. It's just incredible sailing [the 49er]. It was hectic but Dylan did a really good job.
"Our strategy initially was to start at the boat end, windward of the Spanish. But we got a little late at the start so we had to go to Plan B, which was to be a bit quicker so we just had to use our speed."
Though they were, effectively, as far ahead of third place as they were behind first, Botín le Chever and López Marra attacked the racecourse with the aim of getting a gold.
"We needed to put the boat between the British and us to win," said Botín le Chever. "So we went full-on in the start. The wind was really strong so we had to keep the boat upright. We found ourselves in second place. We needed to overtake the Austrians and we did it. We thought that we'd won the regatta, but then we found out that we were second. Congrats to the British."
Unfortunately for the Spanish duo, the Austrian team that crossed the line second in the race had crossed the starting line early and was disqualified from the race. But the silver medal is a strong result for this team, which was ninth at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
"It's a really good position for us," said Botín le Chever. "We have some of the greatest 49er sailors here. This event is motivation for us to keep on working hard. We have a lot of regattas ahead, we still have a long way ahead."
Victoria Jurczok and Anika Lorenz started the Medal Race in the 49erFX class with a comfortable cushion. But in the spicy wind and chopped wave conditions-and multiple capsizes-no lead was safe. So the German duo kept the pedal to the metal and finished second in the race behind Stephanie Roble and Maggie Shea (USA).
"It was a hard wrestle for us today," said Lorenz. "Our main focus on the boat was to make sure that all the manoeuvers were safe and that we didn't capsize. We were not really focusing on the other boats."
The Norwegian team of Ragna and Maia Agerup was one of the boats that capsized, but in the end it didn't cost them a place in the overall standings. They took silver with Tanja Frank and Lorena Abicht (AUT) in third.
Even for the sailors at the front of the Nacra 17 class, today's race was a learning experience. The 19-21 knots conditions, with 1-meter chop, were right on the edge of what the boats can handle, especially given the fleet's relative inexperience with the lifting foils, which were added to the class less than a year ago. Upwind, most teams chose to keep one hull in the water and go for height over speed. Downwind, however, it was a wild ride with both hulls riding a meter or more out of the water at times. One sailor was swept overboard when her boat crashed down into the water after foiling downwind at 25 knots. She was quickly recovered and her team finished the race.
Lisa Darmanin and skipper Jason Waterhouse (AUS) started the race with a 19-point lead, which meant they only needed to finish the race to ensure the gold medal. Instead they added one more victory to their scorecard, showing exceptional control in challenging conditions.
"We're from Australia," said Darmanin, a 2016 Rio silver medalist, "so we love the breeze."
Defending gold medalists Santiago Lange and Cecilia Carranza Saroli (ARG) were last around the first two marks, but showed remarkable speed on the final downwind leg, going from seventh to third and preserving the silver medal. Thomas Zajac and Barbara Matz (AUT) were sixth in the race and third overall.
With a second in the Medal Race in the Men's RS:X, Kiran Badloe broke up a potential one-two finish for France. But it would've taken a perfect race and quite a bit of help from the rest of the fleet to unseat Louis Giard (FRA) who started the final race with a 13-point advantage. Tom Squires (GBR) won the race. Pierre Le Coq (FRA) was sixth in the race, which was enough to keep him on the podium.
"Today the conditions were incredible, I really enjoyed the racing," said Giard. "A lot of the guys in the RS:X class are really good. So we had really close competition and all the time you have to constantly be looking out because if you open a small window someone will slip in.
"I can't really put my finger on [the key to my success], but I just try my best and I try to enjoy this competition."
The Finn, Laser and Laser Radial and Men's and Women's 470 sailed today and will have their Medal Races tomorrow.
In the Finn class, Giles Scott (GBR) holds first position with a 19-point lead over the Turkish sailor, Alican Kaynar. Caleb Paine (USA) sits third in the fleet.
Tom Burton (AUS) has an unassailable lead in the Laser class with a 30-point cushion over Nick Thompson (GBR). After the tough battle for second place with Thompson, throughout the week, Philipp Buhl (GER) lands in third place on the leaderboard.
Alison Young (GBR) climbed up the fleet and managed to gain first place in the Laser Radial.
Emma Plasschaert (BEL) had led for the majority of the week however she drops to second. The Rio 2016 bronze medalist, Anne-Marie Rindom (DEN) is third.
In the Men's 470, Luke Patience and Chris Grube (GBR) lead the fleet with 17-points ahead of Kevin Peponnet and Jeremie Mion (FRA). The Swedish, Anton Dahlberg and Fredrik Bergström hold third spot.
Tina Mrak and Veronika Macarol (SLO) move up from fourth to first in the Women's 470. Afrodite Zegers and Anneloes van Veen (NED) take second and Agnieszka Skrzypulec
Irmina Mrózek Gliszczynska (POL) third.
The dinghies will sail their Medal Races tomorrow with the racing scheduled to commence at 12:00. You can watch the remaining Medal Races live here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZcq-EHxZ3M