by Ben Remocker
At the 49er and 49erFX World Championships, New Zealand dominated in Marseille with a dazzling display of confidence and maturity by three young teams all in their early 20s.
Teams in action
First up was the 10-boat, three-race short-course final for the FX women, and Alex Maloney and Molly Meech hammered home their points advantage with a straightforward victory. Behind them was a much tighter battle for silver and bronze that wasn’t settled until the final few seconds of the final race. Brazil’s Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze clinched silver by less than a boatlength from France’s Sarah Steyaert and Julie Bossard.
Immediately afterwards the men raced their three 10-minute heats, and when Peter Burling and Blair Tuke won the first race by a big margin, it looked unlikely any other crew would threaten them for gold.
However, they had a poor second heat with a ninth place finish, while their younger team mates Marcus Hansen and Josh Porebski won the race, moving to just 10 points behind the Olympic silver medallists. If they could get four boats between them in the final heat the world title would go to NZL-6 rather than NZL-two, but in the end Burling and Tuke did enough to win the Worlds by 12 points.
Burling and Tuke have won silver at the past two 49er World Championships, plus Olympic silver, and now the gold. 'Great to take the win,' said Burling, who also won the Red Bull Youth America’s Cup a month earlier in San Francisco. 'Good to give the NZ yachting community a bit to cheer about after what happened with the Cup earlier in the week. For us, we were feeling for them, we know them well, but it was good to just get on with our own little thing and get it on.'
Alex Maloney and Molly Meech capped off a successful first season in the new women’s Olympic skiff with an impressive win in Marseille. 'Pretty awesome, especially with the guys winning too,' said Meech, who was also mindful of the tough time for her compatriots in San Francisco. 'I think Dean Barker did an amazing performance, and we're all proud of what Emirates Team New Zealand achieved. But hopefully today’s win will put a smile on a few people's places. We’ve put a whole lot of hard work into this year, and it's all paid off. But this is all just one stepping stone to Rio 2016, and it will get harder over the next few years.'
While Kiwi gold was virtually assured going into the final double-points race, the battle for silver and bronze was a tightfive-way battle between Germany, Great Britain, Italy, France and Brazil. It was close all the way to the finish, with the Dutch winning the race, but crucially for the Brazilians, a second place just enough to secure silver ahead of the French who took bronze. Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze were delighted to win silver, the same colour they won at the Europeans in Denmark two months earlier. 'It was great,' said Grael. 'Early this morning Kahena had all her belongings stolen from the hotel. She was very, very mad! But I think it helped. We’ll go to the police to report it, but first we celebrate!'
Marseille is the training base for France’s strong 49er and FX squads, and the cheers were loud across the bay as the home team won bronze in both fleets. Manu Dyen has taken most of the last year off since the Olympics, becoming a father for the first time. But today he and crew Stephane Christidis scored their first ever Worlds medal.
Even more impressive was a bronze for Sarah Steyaert and Julie Bossard who only started sailing the 49er FX less than three months earlier. 'When we found out we had won the bronze medal, it went crazy. We’re really happy because we have only sailed together since July. We still have a lot of room for improvement. This bodes well for the future.'
Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen relinquished their world crown after winning four of the last five 49er World Championships. They had a shocking start in the first race today, but kept on chipping away and finished fifth overall. Bearing in mind they haven’t raced since winning gold at last year’s Olympics, the opposition know that the Australians remain one of the hot favourites for Rio 2016.
Just ahead in fourth place were Dylan Fletcher and Alain Sign who had led for much of the week but suffered in the strong winds of Saturday. The British team still had their sights set on a medal today, but missed out to the French by three points. 'Pretty hard to take,' said Alain Sign. 'We’ve been working all season for this moment. We've been sailing well all week, starting and speed is good, but it’s such a fine line in this fleet, and dropping the mainsheet out of a tack in the first race was the difference that cost us a medal.
That mistake probably took us from being first or second around the top mark, to being last.
We thought we would get across the French boat that won bronze but we had to do a penalty turn. He took a bit of an aim at us, but that's going to happen in this racing where it's all about inches.'
No nation is nailing the Olympic skiff like New Zealand right now. Blair Tuke was savouring the moment. 'Pete and I haven't won a world champs since our junior days and to do it here in the 49er, and to have our Kiwi training partners in second place is a dream come true. And to have the girls win the first FX World Championships - a good day for Kiwi yachting.'