by Lindsey Bell
Semaine Olympique Francaise de Voile 2012, the French World Cup Regatta, concluded in a strong wind finish in Hyères, France. Britain’s sailors claimed four medals with golds going to Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson after an impressive medal race, and to John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas in the Paralympic Sonar class.
Iain Percy-Andrew Simpson, Star - Semaine Olympique Francaise de Voile 2012
Helena Lucas in the 2.4mR event and the SKUD crew of Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell, added two silver medals to the Skandia Team GBR haul, although no racing was possible for the Paralympic classes in Hyeres on Friday due to the breezy conditions.
The Sonar class, was the only one of the three Paralympic classes to leave the dock, but the 22 knot conditions, couple with big waves were deemed unsuitable for racing, allowing Robertson, Stodel and Thomas, who went into the day with a three point lead, to keep hold of their gold medal position.
'We’ve won, and had an awesome week but sadly no sailing today,' said helm Robertson. 'It was a bit disappointing not to get sailing and surf around out there for a bit, but that’s the way it goes unfortunately. It was getting a bit too fruity and the waves were huge!
'It’s a good result for us for the week – not that it was so important for us to win here. It was more of a process thing for us to get everything ticked off for [the Paralympics in] September.
'We’re quite pleased with how everything is going– it’s all good.'
Percy and Simpson however did have to race to keep hold of their gold medal position, and in some top end wind and wave conditions. The Olympic Champions had gained the medal race lead by the time they reached the first windward mark, and then sailed a conservative race to win by 1m20 while others around them battled with the tough conditions.
'After breaking the rig yesterday whilst leading we obviously didn’t want to make the same mistake twice – well, it wasn’t a mistake, the rig failed – so we were a bit more cautious today than we maybe would be normally,' Simpson explained.
'Iain did a great job and we managed to get into the lead at the top mark and sailed pretty conservatively from there, let everyone else wipe out a bit, go on their side and fill up with water! We managed to get round without too many issues, so it was great.
Percy and Simpson will race their World Championships at the same venue starting on 5 May, and while they have learned lots about the venue and their equipment, they also admit that their eyes are on Weymouth rather than adding a World Championship title to the one they won in 2010.
'The Worlds is obviously very different to the Olympic format, so we’re more focussing on how we’re going at Weymouth and focussing there. We probably wouldn’t have done the Worlds if we hadn’t had the injury to Iain’s back in Perth, so we’re here to try and make amends for that, and we’ve learnt a bit this week.
'It could be a completely nice sunny, light winds regatta rather than the breezy regatta we’ve had here, but it will be great learning and probably a bit of speed testing mainly as part of that event.'
The SKUD duo of Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell were disappointed not to have had the chance to try and reel in the Australian leaders Dan Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch, but were content with their silver and their overall progress towards the Paralympic Games.
'We came here to the goal of getting a medal so we’ve ticked that box,' said Rickham.
'We’ve learnt a lot of lessons. We’ve made some quite rudimentary mistakes this week so I think the good thing is that we’ve had that reminder, it means that we’ll go back, reassess our processes and everything, and the battle will continue at Skandia Sail for Gold!
'It was really close racing and we slipped up races five and six and gave them the option. If we’d had more races then the result may have been different, but [the Australians] sailed well and we can’t take away from them.'
In the 2.4mR class, Helena Lucas adds a second World Cup silver to the silver she won at the Palma event earlier this month, and although disappointed to not have the chance to go racing on Friday, she is also happy with her performance amid testing conditions this week.
'The first two days we had pretty big breeze and I was going really quick, and really quick downwind so that was encouraging to know I’ve got the speed now in all conditions. It’s good to know and is like a little secret weapon to have in the armoury!
'If I can keep on my game and keep medalling now at Delta Lloyd and then Skandia Sail for Gold it would be great and would put me in really good stead hopefully for selection and then going into the Paralympics. If you can keep popping them in in the top three than that all bodes well for the real thing.'
After a promising week, there was disappointment for Alison Young in the Laser Radial event as she missed out on the podium spots by one point to the Netherlands Marit Bouwmeester, with gold going to China’s Xu Lijia and silver to Belgium’s Evi Van Acker. Charlotte Dobson finished ninth.
Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes, poised fourth but on equal points with the third-placed Danish boat, were denied the chance to improve on their position when racing for the 49er class was called off.
Lucy Macgregor, Annie Lush, Kate Macgregor, Women’s Match Racing - Semaine Olympique Francaise de Voile 2012
Lucy Macgregor, Annie Lush and Kate Macgregor finish fourth in the women’s match racing event - strong wind conditions meant race officials were unable to complete a potentially decisive final round robin match for the GBR trio against USA’s Sally Barkow, meaning the medals were decided on percentage wins.
'After the mixed and light wind regatta World Cup regatta in Palma, Hyeres has proven a windy weather contrast for the majority of the week,' said RYA Olympic Manager Stephen Park.
'Despite this playing havoc with the race management plans, the outcomes have been promising for Skandia Team GBR. It’s particular pleasing to see all three of our Paralympic classes on the podium and being in a position that we were realistically racing for gold in the Laser Radial. Following the silver for Percy and Simpson in Palma, taking the gold by a comfortable margin here provides confidence that they’re on the right track.
'It’s been a particularly frustrating week for the 49ers and women’s match racers where the programme has been curtailed by the strong winds. One more race in both fleets would have given the match racing girls and Morrison and Rhodes a good chance of being on the podium in their respective classes.
'Unfortunately that’s just the way it goes sometimes, and is just another justification for why we need to be competitive in all our events.'
Skandia Team GBR website