Five Podiums Decided at Hempel World Cup Series Miami
The pin may have been the preferred end of the starting line for the 49erFX Medal Race, the first of Day 5 of the Hempel World Cup Series Miami, but in light air there’s a lot of risk in starting in a pack.
So while Martine Soffiatti Grael and Kahena Kunze (BRA) did two tacks just before the gun and carved out a wide lane to work with at the committee boat end, overnight leaders Alex Maloney and Molly Meech (NZL) found themselves spit out the back of a pack of five boats all battling for position at the pin end.
“For us our goal was to have a clean start because in this light wind it’s very easy to get caught by the boat to leeward and I think we did that successfully,” said Grael, the defending gold medallist in the class from the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. “It was pretty shifty, I was very happy with how the racecourse was set up.”
Light air usually means a lot of passing lanes and opportunities to atone for a poor start. At times, it appeared that Maloney and Meech would be able to grind into the top six, which would’ve guaranteed them the gold medal. But in the end Grael and Kunze hung on for second and Maloney and Meech came out on the wrong side of a tough battle on the final run with Stephanie Roble and Margaret Shea (USA) and Odile van Aanholt and Marieke Jongens (NED). The Kiwis finished ninth and dropped into silver. Charlotte Dobson and Saskia Tidey (GBR) were fourth in the race to earn the bronze medal.
“It was a hard decision which side of the course to go,” said Kunze. “We were just picking which shift [to tack on] and we did a really good race.”
The pin end was also the popular starting spot for the 49er class. In fact, there were so many boats starting at the pin end that fully half of the 10-boat fleet was over the line early. Among those crossing the line prematurely were Dylan Fletcher-Scott and Stuart Bithell (GBR) and James Peters and Fynn Sterritt (GBR), who started the Medal Race second and third, respectively. Only Fletcher-Scott and Bithell returned to start properly. But they were so far behind there was no chance of challenging pre-race leaders Erik Heil and Thomas Ploessel (GER) for the gold medal, even though the German team didn’t exactly have the greatest start.
“The situation before the race was we were quite a few points ahead of Dylan and Stu, so it was a quite an easy start for us in the race,” said Ploessel. “We wanted to just get in and stay calm a little bit don’t match [race] too much. Then we matched a little bit at the start, but did our own start and that was fine. It turned out that at the start there were so many boats over that it was actually over, the race for the gold medal, because Dylan could not put enough boats between us so we had a fun race.”
Heil and Ploessel crossed the line third to secure the gold. Winning the Medal Race was another German team, Tim Fischer and Fabian Graf. In fact there were a record four German teams in the Medal Race.
“We are really happy that we have such a strong fleet,” said Ploessel. “It’s the first time ever that there were four boats from Germany in the Medal Race in a World Cup. It’s just better for everybody if they’re more good guys around. Everybody’s got to improve and there’s a higher chance for a medal in Tokyo.”
Jason Waterhouse and Lisa Darmanin (AUS) quickly removed much of the drama from the Nacra 17 Medal Race, at least in terms of who would get the gold. In fact, the defending Olympic silver medallists took control of the race before even crossing the starting line.
“The points were almost equal,” said Waterhouse, noting that he and Darmanin started the double-points Medal Race just four points ahead of Samuel Albrecht and Gabriela Nicolino de Sá (BRA). “We had to keep an eye on Santi Lange (ARG), but really it was almost a match race [with the Brazilian team]. I saw an opportunity where they got a little high above the start line and thought, ‘This is our chance to really sort of control them.’ We just managed to execute quite well. It’s really hard in those variable conditions because a small puff can come from anywhere and it changes the game. Lisa did a great job today keeping us going the right direction and I just focused on the competition.”
Having gained the upper hand off the line, Waterhouse and Darmanin left nothing to chance, stretching away from the fleet for a wire-to-wire win and the gold medal. Albrecht and Nicolino de Sá were third in the race to hold on to the silver while Santiago Lange and Cecilia Carranza Saroli were fourth and claimed bronze.
While Waterhouse still feels that the Brazilian team has an edge in light air, he is pleased with the progress he and Darmanin have made addressing one of their weaknesses.
“That’s why we’re here at the Hempel World Cup Series Miami,” he said. “It’s pretty renowned for light winds, and that’s an area we really need to improve in. We struggled at the worlds in those conditions and took a big, hard look at ourselves and said, ‘What have we got to do to get better.’ and I guess the simple answer is, find a place with light winds. No matter the result, whether we won or got 10th, the goal was to learn as much as we could by coming here. We’re surprised with the win, but we actually sailed pretty bloody well.”
In a light breeze, the RS:X is the most punishing Olympic sailing discipline to sail. Sailors will pump their sail all the way around the track to generate boat speed. With their heart rate at its limit for the entire 30 minute fleet race and 20 minute Medal Race, they must also make tactical decisions based on the wind and keep track of their competition.
When Zofia Noceti-Klepacka (POL) was caught starting early in the Women’s RS:X, the equation was at least simplified a little bit: Three women for three podium spots. The question remained, who would finish where.
Yunxiu Lu (CHN) started the race in first and was determined not to let the gold slip through her fingers.
“Today the wind was light, everybody was working hard,” said Lu. “The start line was very competitive, it was difficult. The Polish girl got an OCS. I just thought ‘work hard!’ Just pumping, pumping, pumping. ‘Keep going, need to go faster than everybody.’ I tried to do my best and it worked.”
Chinese sailors swept the top three spots in the Medal Race. Hongmei Shi was first, Lu second and Rio 2016 silver medalist Peina Chen was third. But only Lu stood on the podium in Regatta Park. Katy Spychakov (ISR) won silver while Charline Picon (FRA) took bronze.
Pawel Tarnowksi (POL) took a risk at the start of the Men’s RS:X Medal Race and it cost him a spot on the podium. The Polish sailor carried a six-point lead into the Medal Race, but the 22 points he picked up from the early start allowed three sailors to slip past him in the overall standings. Bing Ye (CHN) was the primary benefactor, going wire-to-wire for the win, which ensured him the gold medal. Radoslaw Furmanski (POL) earned the sliver with Pierre Le Coq (FRA) grabbing bronze.
“It’s really exciting to be here at World Hempel Series Miami Cup for the first time,” Ye said. “The sailing is really challenging here, but it was a really great opportunity to race here.”
Ye won the world championship in the RS:X class in 2017, but struggled in the 2018 World Championships, finishing 40th. This was an impressive return to form for Ye, but he’s careful not to look too far ahead.
“I’m only focused on the present, to do my best each day,” he said. “But I can promise I will show you a better performance in Tokyo.”
Both the Laser and Laser Radial fleets were able to scratch and claw their way to a full series. Hermann Tomasgaard (NOR) had his first bobble of the regatta, with a 30th, but rebounded with a third in the final race and will take a stunning 65-point lead into tomorrow’s Medal Race. He has locked up gold, and by no small margin. Sam Meech (NZL) has secured silver, provided he finishes the race, while Tom Burton (AUS) will need to hold off a handful of sailors with an outside chance of winning bronze. Burton must finish fifth or better to ensure himself of a medal.
The situation isn’t much different in the Laser Radial class. Donshuang Zhang (CHN) leads Paige Railey (USA) by 13 points. Both of those sailors are assured of a medal, Zhang can do no worse than silver. Vasileia Karachaliou (GRE) is third and guaranteed at least a bronze provided she finishes the Medal Race.
The Finn class is set up for a very competitive Medal Race. No position in the top three is secure, with first through seventh mathematically alive for the gold. The class will put the live scoring algorithm to the test tomorrow. Max Salminen (SWE) has the lead by four points over Jonathan Lobert (FRA) and eight points over Luke Muller (USA), who won today’s only race. But just three points separate Muller from Oskari Muhonen (FIN) in sixth.
The top three boats in the Women’s 470 fleet are separated by just four points, setting up an intriguing battle for the podium positions. Frekerike Loewe and Anna Markfort (GER) are currently at the top of the standings with Hannah Mills and Eilidh McIntyre (GBR) second and Fabienne Oster and Anastasiya Winkel (GER) in third. Should any of those teams falter in the Medal Race, Fernanda Oliveira and Ana Luiza Barbachan (BRA) will be eager jump onto the podium.
The nature of the Medal Race, which counts for double points and as the tiebreaker, means that any two teams within two points of one another are effectively tied. Anton Dahlberg and Fredrik Bergström (SWE) may lead the regatta by a point over Spain’s Jordi Xammar Hernandez and Nicolás Rodríguex García-Paz, but it will be a who-beats-whom battle for gold tomorrow. Naoki Ichino and Takashi Hasegawa (JPN) and Balázs Gyapjas and Zsombor Gyapjas (HUN) are tied for third and technically alive for gold. But it’s given the 14-point spread from second to third, it’s probable those latter two teams will be marking one another in the race for bronze.
Racing commences at 12:00 local time and will be available to watch on World Sailing’s YouTube and Facebook.