by Craig Heydon
On the final day of Semaine Olympique Francaise, Round 4 of the ISAF Sailing World Cup in Hyeres, Australian crews will race for medals in six classes following a number of race wins on Thursday.
Belcher and Page battling the conditions in Hyeres - Semaine Olympique Francaise de Voile 2012
Strong winds returned for day five of racing, keeping a number of classes on shore, but for those Australians that went racing there were plenty of race wins shared around.
470 men’s crew Mathew Belcher and Malcolm Page won both of their races to open up an 18 point lead heading into the medal race while Tom Slingsby won the only Laser race to move three points clear at the top of the table.
Brendan Casey goes into the Finn medal race third overall after winning his only race of the day, with Krystal Weir fifth in the Laser Radials, currently seven points off the podium.
The Skud 18 and 49er classes were unable to race due to the conditions with Australian’s Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch leading the Skud 18s and Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen just a point off the lead in the 49ers.
The 470 completed two races in the challenging conditions with Belcher and Page continuing their great regatta with two races wins to be 18 points clear of second and third with just the double-point ten boat medal race remaining.
'470s can take on most conditions and the boats lived up to that today,' said Page. 'It was pretty extreme out there, though nothing we haven’t experienced in Australia and it was actually quite enjoyable, especially when you’re leading.'
Belcher said that the conditions made it quite tough to even get around the racecourse.
'We started quite well today and know that we have quite a lot of speed against our competition in these conditions,' said Belcher. 'They were such extreme conditions that anything could have happened like we saw on day one when our rig just exploded so we were definitely on edge the whole way to the finish line. We knew that if we focused on ourselves and got around the race course we’d be at the front and to get two wins today was fantastic.'
Tom Slingsby racing in Hyeres - Semaine Olympique Francaise de Voile 2012
Tom Slingsby extended his lead at the front of the Laser class by one point following a win, with second placed Philipp Buhl of Germany following him across the line.
The top six boats are separated by only 14 points with Australian Tom Burton fifth overall and well and truly in with a shot at a medal.
'It was sort of my conditions out there today,' said Slingsby. 'I was a bit sluggish off the line but once I got into a bit of a groove I was going nice and fast and was able to sail away for a win.
'Going into the medal race anyone can win, I can’t concentrate on just one boat but it was always going to be one of those series after everyone was having good scores,' he said. 'I’m happy that I sailed really well and have one more to go to try and win it.'
Brendan Casey picked up his first win of the regatta in the Finn fleet in a new boat, after having to switch boats overnight due to damage sustained in a collision during the final race on Wednesday.
'It was quite a long day as I had to replace the hull this morning then we launched, were sent back in due to the committee boat not being able to hold anchor and then eventually got one race in,' he said. 'I was lucky that I had the opportunity to go out and tune up for the race that we didn’t have as I was able to come back in and make sure everything was sitting well.
'When we eventually got racing we had quite a strong breeze and big waves but it went really well and I came away with the win and am in a good spot heading into the medal race,' he said.
The Laser Radial fleet was also only able to complete one race with Krystal Weir finishing ninth.
Weir will go into the final race fifth overall, seven points off the podium and 10 points off the Gold medal.
The Skud 18 fleet remained on shore due to the strong wind and big swell and with just one race remaining on Friday Australian’s Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch are first overall.
Fitzgibbon and Tesch, working with coach Tim Lowe, have had four wins and two seconds in a consistent regatta and a Gold medal will make it back-to-back 2012 ISAF Sailing World Cup round wins for the pair.
'We’ve been putting what we’ve been training into practice this week and have been executing those things really well,' said Fitzgibbon. 'We knew that yesterday was do or die and that we had to come away with two wins because of the forecast for today.
'We went out there and did exactly that, putting it all together when it mattered as we continue to build towards the London 2012 Paralympic Games,' he said.
Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen will be out to begin their 2012 campaign with a Gold medal in the 49er class, with the pair going into the medal race one point off the lead after the 49ers were not able to race on day five due to the conditions.
Outteridge and Jensen came ashore in the lead on Wednesday but a protest by the then second placed French team had the New Zealand crew of Peter Burling and Blair Tuke disqualified, moving the French into first on the leader board.
Jared West is 18th overall in the Laser class, ahead of Matthew Wearn in 22nd, Ryan Palk in 53rd, Ki-Raphael Sulkowski in 55th and James Burman in 65th. Klade Hauschildt and Ashley Brunning did not contest the race on Thursday and are 97th and 99th respectively.
In the 470 men’s fleet Sam Kivell and Will Ryan ended the week 18th overall, with Alexander and Patrick Conway 38th, Matthew and Robert Crawford 41st, Matt and Ben Taylor 73rd and Scott Cotton and Robert Size 78th.
Women’s Match Racers Olivia Price, Nina Curtis and Lucinda Whitty finished their round robin on Wednesday, with eight wins and eight losses, with the rest of the group unable to complete their races due to the conditions. Racing will resume on Friday morning.
The Laser Radial silver fleet did not complete a race on Thursday with Caitlin Elks remaining 45th overall and Alexandra South 75th.
Star sailors Paul McKenzie and Philip Toth are 16th with Luke Baillie 26th in the RS:X men, ahead of Patrick Vos in 31st and Jimmy Levy in 48th.
Semaine Olympique Francaise website
Australian Sailing Team website