ISAF World Sailor of the Year, Matt Belcher’s feat of winning his 18th consecutive regatta in the 470 class, has outshone the other results on the penultimate day of the ISAF Sailing World Cup Melbourne.
ISAF Sailing World Cup Melbourne 2013
For Belcher’s crew, Will Ryan it was his 10th win, two of which were as a stand-in crew for his predecessor in the boat, Malcolm Page. For the most successful coach in sailing, Victor Kovalenko (AUS), it was another episode in a long successful career.
While the spotlight was firmly on the Men’s 470, today was also a day of personal achievement for Swedish Finn sailor Bjorn Allansson.
Allansson exclaimed after the race to the on the water crowd, 'I might have a serious face, but I am very happy today. This is my first win in a World Cup event!'
At which point he leapt out of his Finn and performed a somersault more worthy of an Olympic diving event.
Conditions on Port Phillip were near perfect for Medal Race sailing – which was held directly off the Sandringham Yacht Club balcony, allowing the fans a perfect vantage point to view the five medal races. The remaining five will be sailed tomorrow on the final day of the regatta, which has attracted 580 competitors.
Medal Racing got underway on time in a light south-westerly breeze in the Laser Radial, the Olympic Women’s Single hander. The Gold medal winner had been virtually decided before race with Tatiana Drozdovskaya (BLR) going into the race with a substantial points lead. The only way she could lose was through a disqualification. She did incur a downwind penalty for an illegal sailing technique, but that was sufficient to only set her back a couple of places to finish fourth. The Medal Race winner was Dongshuang Zhang (CHN), who placed second overall for the Silver Medal, with double Olympic representative Krystal Weir (AUS) finishing second across the line to secure the Bronze medal.
Zhang led first three place getters in the race from start to finish and was never really threatened for first place, maintaining a 50 metre lead over second and third – who again were never seriously questioned by the chasing boats.
'It’s difficult conditions for me today', said Gold medal winner Tatiana Drozdovskaya. 'I did not have a good start, but winning here is a much better feeling after China, where I was beaten in the medal race. I like strong conditions and the results reflected that.'
Australia’s Krystal Weir was a little annoyed with herself, commenting after the race, 'I made a mistake at the top mark the first time, I gybed at the top mark to get some extra speed but that did not work out and it cost me dearly.'
Australia’s Ryan Palk had his turn in the spotlight, winning the Medal Race. But as with the earlier Women’s single-hander, the Gold medal winner had been largely determined on the basis of racing in the qualifying rounds.
Racing got underway in a 7-8kts breeze, which had now swung almost due south in direction.
Tom Burton (AUS), who has dominated the regatta all week, struck out strongly at the start of the Medal race. But he fluffed the game-plan coming into the windward mark for the first time, where he came in on port tack, and was required to give way to a group of yachts coming through on starboard, or right of way, tack. Dipping behind that group was a costly exercise and he dropped back into the middle of the fleet.
Burton recovered well to lift back into fourth place at the end of the downwind leg and eventually finished third in the Medal race, making him an easy winner of the Gold medal by a 27-point margin. New Zealand’s Thomas Saunders won the Silver medal, with Matthew Wearn (AUS) taking the Bronze.
A spate of retirements from the final race of the qualifying round played havoc with the overnight points table and cost Ashley Brunning (AUS) a bronze medal. Eight of the 18 competitors voluntarily retired from the final qualifier after they realised they had sailed the wrong course. Most were able to drop that result as their discard, but not Brunning, who had been disqualified from Race 3 of the regatta.
That opened the door for Saunders, who placed a rather leisurely seventh in the Medal race to take the Silver. Wearn also did not make the course error and eighth place in the Medal race was enough for him to take the Bronze.
After the race, Burton said he was disappointed with his 2013 Laser World’s results, 'The aim was to get back atop the podium. So I am happy with today’s results. The next stop is Miami, then the European circuit.'
Michael Blackburn, Australian Laser Coach commented, 'I’m pleased with Tom and the whole Laser squad. It’s interesting to consider that looking back at the 2009 Laser Worlds our best placed Australian was Tom Slingsby at 17th, so at this stage of the cycle we are well ahead of that.'
The Medal Race for the Finn class, the Olympic Men’s Heavyweight Single-hander, was the only one of the five Medal races in which the Gold medal was actually determined on the water, today.
Overnight points leader Bjorn Allansson (SWE) made a serious attempt at losing the Gold medal before staging a tremendous recovery to finish second behind Silver medal winner, Oliver Tweddell (AUS).
Allansson dropped his places after hitting a wall of starboard tack yachts on the final approach to the first mark, causing him to drop back down the fleet as he dipped behind the crossing boats. He started his recovery to catch race leader Tweddell by splitting with the fleet and slowly climbed his way back.
However, Tweddell was not finished with the Swede, allowing him to close up on the final leg to the finish, and then initiating a match race. Luffing hard, right on the finish in an attempt to get the on-water judges to penalise Allansson for not keeping clear. The trap failed and Tweddell was forced to cross the finish line in first place, with Allansson content to cruise across for second place, which was sufficient to win the Gold Medal by just one point.
Then the Swede cut loose shouting for joy at his first ISAF Sailing World Cup win, punching the air, calling on nearby photographers to get his moment of ecstasy and then performed the somersault off the side deck of his Finn.
After the race, Allansson said he tried to focus on wind shifts, 'The wind is always the biggest competitor out there, especially when it’s light and shifty.'
'I managed to make a big gain on the second beat. I have good downwind speed and I have good balance on the boat, so I was in control of the situation,' he added.
One of the future hopes of Australian Finn sailing, Jake Lilley (20) won the Bronze after placing third in the medal race. He had led the points-table for much of the regatta and is definitely a sailor to watch.
Shasha Chen and Haiyan Gao (CHN) were on course to win the Gold medal, after topping the points table following the Qualification rounds.
Uncharacteristically, they trailed the fleet around the first mark, but in a remarkable display of sailing, they had worked their way through the fleet on the next leg to lead and were never headed.
Second on the water and also winners of the Silver medal, were sisters Sasha and Jaime Ryan (AUS) with a second Chinese, crew Nan Zhang and Yixiao Lv, finishing in fifth place in the medal race and missed winning the Silver by just two points.
Zhang and Lv had been lying second on the points-table throughout the series and had won three consecutive races prior to the Medal Race day.
The Croatian crew of Sime Fantela and Igor Marenic, had the chance to cause a major upset in the 470 sailing world by preventing crack Australian crew of Mat Belcher and Will Ryan, from winning Belcher’s 18th consecutive 470 regatta. They got off to a good start and had sailed Belcher and Ryan back into the fleet, but broke away first to head for the windward mark on port tack, only to come across a wall of starboard tack boats heading for the mark.
In a deft move, seeing the Croatian crew forced to dip behind numerous boats, Belcher and Ryan picked their course perfectly and were able to cross ahead of the group and the Gold medal and 18th win was largely secured.
The Croatians, who were the 2009 World Champions in the 470 class and have medalled in three World Championships, finished in seventh place in the double points scoring Medal race.
A second Australian, crew Angus Galloway and Tim Hannah won the Bronze medal.
After the race, Matt Belcher commented: 'It’s good to finish as we started. It’s pretty special the last 12 months.'
'Today’s medal race was a difficult race, the Croatians are tough competitors. They and all our competitors are getting closer.
'It’s been an amazing year for myself. We have won every regatta - then having a son; completing three quarter of a Master’s degree; and then becoming ISAF World Sailor of the Year.
'We are expecting to see much more competition next year, with the top 25 sailors likely to be here in Melbourne with the revised World Cup format.
'A lot of countries are investing in 470, we don’t have anywhere near the funding, and the Chinese have. There are other countries doing well, including the Spanish, French, and British. So we will have our work cut out keeping up this winning sequence,' he concluded.
Team China’s 470 coach Kevin Burnham, multiple Olympic medallist, (Gold Medallist, Athens 2004 and Silver Medallist, Barcelona 1992) and 28-year veteran of the class commented, 'Belcher is on fire. I’ve always had admiration for his work ethics. He is winner, a winner. I don’t think people realise how strong the competition is in the 470 class - it’s strong and deep.
'The 470 class is very competitive in China, we have 40 boats training at Hainan Island with an elite squad of seven, racing twice a week against the fleet.
'We started with my Athens rig and sail setting and that has pushed them up the results already.'
Chuakun Shi (CHN) leads by and eight-point margin over Chunzhuang Liu (CHN), with another Chinese sailor Zhennan Fang in third place overall, five points behind Liu. They sailed four races today and Liu has only an outside chance tomorrow of winning the Gold medal, needing to beat Shi by five places to win the Gold.
Manja Zheng (CHN) has an 11-point lead in the Olympic Women’s Windsurfing event ahead of Qiaoshan Weng (CHN) with Peina Chen (CHN) third, a further eight points behind. Those places are expected to be the final result for the event.
Australian crew of Darren Bundock and Nina Curtis have just a two point lead in the Olympic Multihull. They are expected to have a tight tussle with second placed crew, Euan McNicol and Lucinda Whitty (AUS), with just two points or one place in the double scoring medal race separating the two crews. The New Zealand crew of Gemma Jones and Jason Saunders are third overall, six points behind McNicol-Whitty.
The Kiwis will be more concerned about the fourth placed crew of Jason Waterhouse and Lisa Darmanin (AUS) who are just three points behind, or two places in a Medal race – to protect their chances of winning Bronze.
Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen (AUS) have a health 15-point lead in the 49er Mens skiff class, ahead of Stevie Morrison and Chris Grube (GBR), who are the fast improvers in this regatta – notwithstanding that Morrison is a former World Champion in the class. The have a four-point margin over David Gilmour and Sam Phillips (AUS) and the battle is expected to be for Silver and Bronze tomorrow.
The points-table in the Women’s 49erFX is the tightest of all the classes with four crews being separated by just seven points, ahead of the Medal race tomorrow. Three Australian crews will take on Ragna and Maia Agerup (NOR) for the Gold, Silver and Bronze medals.
Racing is scheduled to be held in five events tomorrow – the 49er, 49erFX, Nacra 17, RS:X Men and Women.
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