by Craig Heydon
After four days of racing at the Semaine Olympique Francaise, Australian sailors sit at the top of the leader board in four classes. Laser sailor Tom Slingsby and 49er crew Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen took the lead in their respective classes on Wednesday while 470 sailors Mathew Belcher and Malcolm Page and Skud 18 pair Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch remain at the top of their fleets.
Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen on day four in Hyeres
After three days of strong winds, sailors were greeted with lighter conditions on Wednesday morning, keeping the majority of fleets on shore until the breeze picked up in the middle of the day.
Tom Slingsby started the day third overall in the Laser class, with the four-time World Champion continuing his consistent start to the regatta, with a pair of second place finishes moving him into the lead.
Slingsby hasn’t finished outside the top three in any of the eight races so far in Hyeres and takes a two point lead into the penultimate day of racing, with fellow Australian Tom Burton just five points behind in fifth overall following a seventh and a fourth.
'It’s been so close all week so it was good to finally get some points separation today,' said Slingsby. 'I had two seconds today and it was a real drag race to the right in both races, I was lucky in race one as I had a bad start and had to tack out to the right anyway and then in race two I got to the right when I wanted.
'I probably led both races but wasn’t extending away when out it front so I need to work on that a bit but it was still a good day,' he said. 'Again the racing was really close, I had a solid day and didn’t sail a drop which was a good thing, one or two guys sailed a bad one and a good one and a couple of them had two good ones so it’s all very tight with just a couple of points in it.'
Outteridge and Jensen started the first day of 49er gold fleet racing fifth overall with the Australian winning races when it counted, picking up two wins, a seventh and a fourth to move into the lead, tied on points with the French pair of Manu Dyen and Stephane Christidis.
'We had a nice day with two bullets and two other results in the top seven,' said Outteridge. 'It was much lighter than we’ve had all week and we sailed pretty well. We got a bit lucky in the last one and pulled back from almost last with a nice left hand shift to get into fifth at the top mark which was good for us.'
This is the first time that the pair has competed in Hyeres together with the regatta an important tune up before the 2012 49er World Championships in Croatia next month.
Mathew Belcher and Malcolm Page continue to lead the way in the 470 men’s with a fourth and an 11th from Wednesday’s two races giving them a four point lead overall.
'In race one we did quite well and got a nice shift to the right, it was really fickle and nobody had any real idea where to go, you just had to use the opportunity in front of you and hope for the best a bit, things went our way and we finished fourth,' said Belcher. 'We found ourselves pretty deep in race two but fought our way back from about 25th or worse at one point to finish 11th which was fantastic.'
Page said that the pair is happy with where they are three months out from the London 2012 Olympic Games.
'The focus is not always on the results, we’re just looking at our performances and certain key points and really focusing on that,' said Page. 'Results wise that broken rig hurt us but that’s life, you’ve got to take it on the chin and battle on, taken in perspective it’s all about how we develop ourselves and work towards the big one in three months’ time.'
Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch finished with the perfect scorecard on Wednesday, with two wins from two starts in the Skud 18 class.
The pair, who was last week named to represent Australia at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, is two points ahead of the reigning World Champions from Great Britain.
The Skud fleet spent most of the day on the water, with one race after a two and a half hour delay and then a second later in the afternoon, with Fitzgibbon and Tesch coming from behind to beat the British by just a few boat lengths, taking the lead close to the finish line.
Krystal Weir had a tough day’s racing but remains in a strong position, fourth overall and just four points off the lead. Weir finished with a 21st and a 13th in the lighter conditions.
Australia’s Women’s Match Racing crew of Olivia Price, Nina Curtis and Lucinda Whitty had a mixed day, finishing the round robin with eight wins and eight losses.
The trio finished their day on a high, winning the final two races but with a number of other crews still to complete the round robin it is unlikely that the Australians will progress to the quarter-finals unless other results go their way.
In the Laser class West Australian Matthew Wearn is well and truly in the mix in 15th overall after a 25th and a ninth, ahead of Jared West in 20th, Ryan Palk in 47th, James Burman in 60th, Ki-Raphael Sulkowski in 64th, Klade Hauschildt in 93rd and Ashley Brunning in 97th.
Brendan Casey is currently 19th in the Finn class with the Queenslander currently in a protest hearing regarding incidents on the water during racing.
Caitlin Elks is 45th in the Laser Radial fleet, ahead of Alexandra South in 75th. In the RS:X men’s Luke Baillie is 23rd, Patrick Vos 33rd and Jimmy Levy 49th.
Paul McKenzie and Philip Toth are 15th in the Star class after a 16th, 14th and seventh.
Semaine Olympique Francaise website
Australian Sailing Team website