by Craig Heydon
At the 470 World Championships Australian sailors have enjoyed a great day on the water setting up two exciting medal races in France.
Mathew Belcher and Will Ryan in the final fleet race at the 470 Worlds 2013
Mathew Belcher and Will Ryan have retaken the lead in the men’s fleet following a 10th and a win, while Elise Rechichi and Sarah Cook had their best day of the event so far with a first and a second shooting them up the leader board and into the medal race.
Belcher and Ryan began the day in second position with two final fleet races scheduled in La Rochelle. The pair began the day with a 10th position before finishing the final series in the best way with a win.
The Australians will head into Saturday’s double point medal race seven points clear of the second placed Greek team.
'We had two races today in some pretty difficult conditions,' said Belcher. 'We were in a great position in the first race and let a few opportunities slip but still managed to close the gap to the overnight leaders.
'The most critical race of the championships to date would have to have been the last one today,' he said. 'We had a heavily pin end bias but nailed the pin end and were able to cross the fleet on port. It was a pretty high-risk move but we’re happy it worked for us as the others really struggled.
'We’re looking forward to tomorrow’s race and will have to see what happens,' said Belcher. 'It’s not an unusual position for us to be in so it’ll be business as usual and we’ll just try and race as well as we can.'
Ryan said that there was plenty of drama and movement on the leader board packed into the two final fleet races.
'Mat told me before the event that a lot happens on the last day and he was right,' said Ryan. 'In the first race we were just in front of the main pack and managed to move into the top 10 but after a difficult second upwind we were behind our closest rivals. Mat found us a magic wave just at the end to round the final mark ahead of both the French and British to at least close the points gap to the French.
'As most of the boats in the top group had already had one bad race it would be an important final one to determine points and positions for Saturday,' he said. 'As we approached the final race a storm front began to slowly approach which promised to make it even more interesting! The finals series was certainly about being consistent more than anything so it was nice to have a better day after we struggled at times yesterday.
'As a new partnership the pressure of a medal race at the World Championships is new to us so it will bring with it challenges,' said Ryan. 'At the beginning of the week we wanted to be in with a chance to challenge for a title come the medal race so we’ll definitely go out there and do our best.'
Elise Rechichi and Sarah Cook went into the penultimate day of racing 12th in the women’s fleet, knowing that they would need two good races to force their way into the top eight and the medal race.
The pair did everything that was required of them with a first and a second seeing them jump up to sixth overall, qualifying for the medal race at their first World Championship together and securing themselves a position in the 2014 Australian Sailing Team.
'We had a great day today, finishing with a first and a second,' said Rechichi. 'We managed to improve our performance downwind today which meant we could capitalise on our upwind performance, particularly as the breeze built up. All in all we had a much more disciplined approach today tactically as we knew we desperately needed two good results and it paid off!
'Our goal for the event was to finish in the top 10,' she said. 'Given that Sarah has only been sailing for nine months we knew this would be a tough challenge, especially given the new depth in the field with all of the up and coming teams.
'We have worked incredibly hard for the last nine months hoping to make it happen but going into today we had a big fight on our hands, especially against some very strong teams. We could hardly believe it when we crossed the line in the final race today,' said Rechichi. 'Not many people thought it was possible to turn a rower into a sailor who could compete at a world level.
'Sailing is an incredibly complex sport and when I look at how Sarah can race now, and how we can race as a team, even I’m amazed,' she said. 'We still have such a long way to grow as a team, to make the medal race at our first World Championship is amazing, but this really is just the start now.'
Cook said that there was a lot of pressure heading into Friday’s two races.
'Our results have been relatively consistent in the finals series though we knew it would take something special today to make not only to qualify for the Australian Sailing Team, but also to make the top eight and the medal race,' said Cook. 'I think we’re certainly shocked that it went as well as it did with a first and a second. We knew we had all the pieces there and it was just about putting them together when it counted. As it turns out we’re both very cool under pressure, and even thrive on it, and we just didn’t let the pressure of the situation going into today get the better of us.
'Our aim for 2013 was to make the top 10, which was always going to be a long shot and a huge achievement after only learning to sail nine months ago,' she said. 'So to have surpassed that to make the top eight and the medal race is awesome and I think we’re just really proud of what we’ve managed to do so far. At the end of the day we’re both in this to win so we’ll be going into the medal race with that as our sole focus.'
Matthew and Robert Crawford finished the week 29th in the men’s fleet, one place ahead of fellow Australians Alexander and Patrick Conway, with both crews picking up their best race finish of the finals series on Friday. Scott Cotton and Tom Potter finished 80th overall.
In the women’s fleet Jacqueline Gurr and Amelia Catt finished in 26th position, ahead of Sasha and Jaime Ryan in 41st. Lucy Shephard and Aurora Paterson were 46th.
Full results here.
For more information on the Australian Sailing Team visit the team website.