by Lindsey Bell
Strong winds returned to Semaine Olympique Francaise, the French Olympic Sailing Week, today (Thursday 26 April). Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson’s mast was a casualty but their misfortune wasn’t enough to knock the Star Olympic Champions off the top of the leaderboard heading into the final medal races on Friday.
John Robertson, Stephen Thomas and Hannah Stodel, Sonar - Semaine Olympique Francaise 2012
The Skandia Team GBR duo had a comfortable lead and were around 200m from the finish of their first and only race of the day amid 18-22 knot conditions and big waves off Hyeres, when their mast broke and forced them out of the race.
Just 12 of the 25-boat Star fleet managed to complete the race though, with Percy and Simpson’s closest rivals Richard Clarke and Tyler Bjorn of Canada among the number who didn’t, so in spite of the British crew’s damage they are able to discard Thursday’s result and head into Friday’s ten boat double points-scoring finale with a five point lead over Sweden’s Fredrik Loof and Max Salminen.
John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas came through a ‘pretty full on’ race in the Paralympic Sonar class to finish second and maintain their spot at the top of the results table with one day to go.
'It was pretty epic,' said helm Robertson. 'It was pretty much near my limit I think really just for the wave conditions – it was a pretty short steep sea and wind driven.
'We sent it at the start, managed to get around the windward mark second, and just held on all the way round. The bear away was pretty epic but we managed to keep hold of it and then just surfed down the waves at 15 knots.'
'It’s a great place to be,' commented Robertson on his team’s overall first place, with one day of the regatta left to go.
'Unfortunately the Norwegians pulled out of that race with some boat damage so I don’t know if they’re going to sail tomorrow, but the French are also pretty close so it’ll be good to get another race in tomorrow and see if we can finish it off.'
Alison Young remains in the podium positions in the Laser Radial event, where Friday’s medal race promising to be a close affair. The Netherlands’ World Champion Marit Bouwmeester leads by just one point over China’s Xu Lijia – winner of the only race of day – in second, with Young just two points behind her in third.
'It wasn’t that bad out there,' said Young of their afternoon’s race, after an earlier aborted attempt to start them in the morning. 'The course area was quite sheltered so it was a good solid race in the end. I ended up fifth – there were opportunities there that could have made it better, but a fifth is solid enough.
'It’s been a week of hiking this week so good to stretch the legs out,' she continued. 'Fitness has probably been one of the key things this week to be able to keep going through all the races.
'The forecast tomorrow is for a bit of breeze again, so I’m looking for a breezy medal race with all to play for!'
Charlotte Dobson, who’s eighth in the overall standings, agreed that fitness had been key factor in today’s windy racing.
'It was quite interesting because I think day five of the event when it’s been really, really windy as well you can see people starting to switch off a bit and getting too tired, so It’s definitely been survival of the fittest. Clearly having finished seventh, I was about seventh fittest,' she said.
The women’s match racers continue to play catch up with their weather-affected race schedule, with organisers only able to complete one flight due to the harsh conditions on Thursday. Lucy Macgregor, Annie Lush and Kate Macgregor lost at the hands of Russia’s Ekaterina Skudina to sit fourth overall with a 70% win-loss record and will be keen to get racing on Friday to try and boost into the top three spots.
In the RS:X Women and Laser classes, the only other classes to see any racing on Thursday, Skandia Team GBR’s development squad sailors saw a respectable end to their regatta. Alex Mills Barton finished 15th overall in the Laser class, with Izzy Hamilton finishing 17th in the RS:X Women’s windsurfing fleet.
The 49er class no saw racing on Thursday, with Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes poised just outside of the medal race positions in fourth, on equal points with the third-placed Danish team. Protest decisions on Wednesday night improved the standings of Skandia Team GBR’s other 49er crews – John Pink and Rick Peacock make the medal race cut in tenth place, while Dave Evans and Ed Powys, although advancing their position as a result of other disqualifications, narrowly miss out on the medal race cut in 11th on equal points with their compatriots. Dylan Fletcher and Alain Sign end their regatta in 14th.
With the 2.4mR and SKUD Paralympic classes also confined to shore on Thursday, 2.4mR sailor Helena Lucas and the SKUD duo of Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell remain in the silver medal spot ahead of the final day.
Racing at the French Olympic Sailing Week in Hyeres is set to conclude on Friday 27 April. Strong winds are forecast once again for the final day.
Skandia Team GBR website
Semaine Olympique Francaise website