The weather forecast for the second half of Skandia Sail for Gold has been a hot topic of conversation for a while. The wind pick-up this morning, and by the afternoon it was a challenging twenty knots and change for most race courses. Once again, the stamina of the athletes was tested to the limit and it’s just going to get windier.
The RS:X Men raced in the morning in the more moderate conditions, and it’s still all about the one-two double act from the last world championships, Julien Bontemps and Nick Dempsey. Bontemps had another steady day with a third and a fourth to hold onto his lead, while Dempsey used up his discard with a 13th in race five, but then won the second race of the day. The gap between them is now seven points – it was only two at the end of the World Championships – racing between the pair is very tight. Threatening to split up the dynamic duo was Dorian van Rijsselberge, only one point behind Dempsey.
In the RS:X Women it was another extraordinary day for Poland’s Zofia Noceti-Klepacka – with two first places to add to her tally – making four wins and two seconds. Noceti-Klepacka is now discarding a second place and has a significant jump on her long-term rivals. Trailing her by 13 points in second place is Spain’s Marina Alabau, with Lee Korzits of Israel in third, another eight points behind.
Zofia Noceti-Klepacka’s enthusiasm is perhaps one of the reasons she is doing so well. 'I am training really hard and I have some really good training partners who include a world champion and I am really seeing the results from this. I will continue to train hard in the hope that at the Olympic Games I do well. I love Weymouth, the conditions are great, the wind is great so I sail slalom for fun in the evenings! I really like the people here, it is like Poland.'
The Paralympic course got a full day of racing in, and it was another blistering performance from the British Skud pair of Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell. They followed up yesterday’s hat-trick of race wins with another brace of bullets today to scorch into a five point overall lead from the Qingdao bronze medallists, John McRoberts and Stacie Louttit. Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch hold third another three points behind.
The Sonar’s matched them with another two races and it was another British team on top – John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas scored a second and a third. Combined with the discard coming into play and allowing them to drop their 12th place, they passed Dutch overnight leaders Udo Hessels, Mischa Rossen and Marcel ven de Veen. There are only a couple of points in it though, with Canadians, Bruce Millar, Logan Campbell and Scott Lutes in third, seven points adrift of the Dutch.
Almost completing a British hat-trick in the Paralympic classes was Helena Lucas. After scoring a third and a fifth today and discarding a 17th from the first race, Lucas pulled up to tie level with the Netherlands Thierry Schmitter, who has an edge in the tie-break thanks to a first place. Schmitter only managed a sixth and an eighth, discarding the latter, and commented, 'I didn’t do as well today, it was a very hard wind to sail in and I had a few difficulties which meant I was unable to keep an overview of the fleet and lost a little bit of control… It’s not so easy when there are four or five guys leading at the top, I sailed my discard today so I can’t make any more mistakes in this regatta, it’s getting tougher and tougher but we knew that before we started.'
In the 49ers, the three-time Skandia Sail for Gold champions, Australia’s Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen took control of the fleet after overnight leaders, Dave Evans and Ed Powys (GBR) had a poor day by their standards this week with a 10th and a 13th. Outteridge and Jensen scored two firsts and a fourth to climb into pole, now chased by the French team of Emmanuel Dyen and Stephane Christidis six points behind them.
Nathan Outteridge commented, 'Today was a good day, we had a fourth and two firsts. We always worry about Stevie (Morrison) and Ben (Rhodes) they are slowly creeping their way back up the leader board. They have a won a medal the last two times we have raced, so we would never count them out.'
It was still Australia’s day in the Lasers, with Tom Burton scoring a first and a ninth (which he discarded) to hold his overall lead. But countryman Tom Slingsby dropped from second after posting a sixth and a seventh. Burton commented, 'I have been doing a lot of training with Tom (Slingsby), as he is our representative for the Olympics. I’m sure he doesn’t mind that I’m beating him, but it is pretty good to get one on him!'
Also taking advantage of Slingsby’s unusually average day were German Phillip Buhl, up into second and Sweden’s Rasmus Myrgren, now third. But it’s desperately tight after Burton; with Buhl, Myrgren, Slingsby and then Croatian Tonci Stipanovic separated by just a single point.
But right now, the Laser Radials are the toughest contest at Skandia Sail for Gold – Evi van Acker led overnight, but only just and now it’s even tighter. A second and a ninth saw her slide to third, overtaken by Marit Bouwmeester of the Netherlands and Lijia Xu of China, who posted a first and a fifth. But with Sari Multala (FIN), Alison Young (GBR) and Gintare Scheidt (LTU) also having a good day, the result is that the top six are now separated by just two points.
The Women’s Match Racing completed their initial round robin, and the top six went through to the Gold Group, skippers; Lucy MacGregor (GBR), Claire Leroy (FRA), Olivia Price (AUS), Ekaterina Skudina (RUS), Silja Lehtinen (FIN) and finally, Anna Tunnicliffe (USA) pulling it out of the bag to take the last place. The Repechage Round got underway with first blood going to Renee Groeneveld, Stephanie Hazard and Tamara Echegoyen – all with three wins each. They will complete the round in the morning. The Gold Group also started racing and Ekaterina Skudina put her nose in front with three early wins – again, the Group will complete their racing in the morning.
The Stars saw a fabulous return to world class form for Iain Percy and Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson. They scored a first and a second to move to the overall lead, with just a one point advantage from long-term Brazilian rivals, Robert Scheidt and Bruno Prada. Dropping to third and two points behind were the Irish pair of Peter O’Leary and David Burrows, with Richard Clarke and Tyler Bjorn from Canada just another point behind the Irish.
The Finn class saw another dominant performance from Giles Scott, but today it was almost matched by Ben Ainslie. Scott won the first race, with Ainslie digging himself back from a poor first beat to score a third. Then Ainslie blew past Scott to win the last race, leaving him to score a second. USA Olympic representative Zach Railey is third, ten points adrift of Ainslie.
The 470 Men’s class saw a rare sight, the dominance of Australians Matt Belcher and Malcolm Page over-turned – worse, it was by trans-Tasman rivals Paul Snow-Hansen and Jason Saunders. The Kiwis delivered two first places compared to Belcher and Page’s first and a third. The discards also kicked in today, and when the New Zealanders dropped their ninth they went to the top of the fleet. In third place are the British Olympic representatives, Luke Patience and Stuart Bithell.
The 470 Women also saw the overnight lead overturned – and again it was the reigning World Champions that got pushed out of first place. The British pair of Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark had a poor day by their standards, with a 13th and a 14th. It dropped them to third behind the French pair of Camille Lecointre and Mathilde Geron, who scored a seventh and a second to maintain their five point advantage over the New Zealanders Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie, who had an equally good day with an eighth and a first.
Nick Dempsey; RS:X Men Great Britain 'I had a really difficult first race today, it was the first time we had sailed in the bay in a little while. I was pretty sure that the left was going to be quite favoured but the problem was that I lost my lane and I had to tack out so the separation was massive. The course was big which meant the separation was big, so I was caught out today; it didn’t do what I thought it was going to do which is unfortunate.'
'The good thing is that I learnt quite a few lessons in that first race and I was able to put them into practice in the next race and I sailed well. There wasn’t anything different in the second race, I don’t think, it was pretty obvious you had to go left and so I did everything possible to be in that situation. I made sure I had a safe start which meant I wasn’t at the favoured end of the line but I was safe and I just went fast and the right way. That is why the first race was so frustrating because I was fast but I just couldn’t get to where I wanted to be.'
'But plenty of lessons learnt and it was great to have done so well in the second race. The conditions were pretty similar to yesterday’s. There was a little bit more wind in the second race, we did have waves and swell though as well a bit of chop and current and a different race course so it was quite interesting.'
Zofia Noceti-Klepacka; RS:X Women, Poland 'I am training really hard and I have some really good training partners who include a world champion and I am really seeing the results from this. I will continue to train hard in the hope that at the Olympic Games I do well. I love Weymouth, the conditions are great, the wind is great so I sail slalom for fun in the evenings! I really like the people here, it is like Poland.'
Alexandra Rickham; SKUD 18, Great Britian 'We have had a string of silvers at this regatta, which has always been tough to take, but we are sailing consistently at the moment. Today was really hard for everybody, there was a lot of work, it was probably the toughest conditions for us in terms of the crew and helm. It was gusting anything up from 23-26 knots and Niki was having to think pretty hard because the wind was shifting all over the place.'
'We were really happy with the results today in such difficult conditions. To get two bullets was all we could ask to come away with really. This is giving us a lot of confidence that the training we are doing is paying off now we are in the run up to the Games. But at the same time we aren’t going to rest on this, we are nit-picking on everything so there is always tons to work on. I’m sure that our coach will whisper a few things in our ears at the end of the regatta ready for the next few training sessions.'
Mischa Rossen; Sonar, Netherlands We were second coming into today’s races, but now we are third now. It was very difficult out there, it was very shifty especially at the windward mark it was a 20/30 degrees shift, which was very crazy but this is how it is out there. In terms of preparing for the summer it is great to have different winds everyday so we can really get out there and practice all of these. Today is much better than yesterday, finally it stopped raining; we were completely soaked yesterday! We hope to stay in the top three for the rest of the week and maybe even more up a few places. But who knows there is a lot of wind forecast for tomorrow so I am not sure if we are even going out tomorrow. The light winds aren’t great for going downwind, so the stronger winds are better for us.
Thierry Schmitter; 2.4mR, Netherlands 'I didn’t do as well today, it was a very hard wind to sail in and I had a few difficulties which meant I was unable to keep an overview of the fleet and lost a little bit of control. There were different guys up in the lead today which means now the results are very close, it’s a very competitive fleet, the top five are really fighting for places and you have to take care that the person in sixth doesn’t pass you. It’s not so easy when there are four or five guys leading at the top, I sailed my discard today so I can’t make any more mistakes in this regatta, it’s getting tougher and tougher but we knew that before we started.'
Nathan Outteridge; 49er, Australia 'Today was a good day, we had a fourth and two firsts. We always worry about Stevie (Morrison) and Ben (Rhodes) they are slowly creeping their way back up the leader board. They have a won a medal the last two times we have raced, so we would never count them out.'
Tom Burton; Laser, Australia I don’t know what happened between the first and the second race, I was really struggling for speed in the second race and I started to go backwards a lot. I finished around eighth so a solid day all round. I have been doing a lot of training with Tom (Slingsby), as he is our representative for the Olympics. I’m sure he doesn’t mind that I’m beating him, but it is pretty good to get one on him!'
Paul Goodison; Laser, Great Britain 'It was a much better day out there today for myself after a frustrating first couple of days. I was a little bit disappointed not to win the first race after leading round every mark except for the last one which is always a shame. But the second race I was a bit happier with because I was sixth or seventh around the windward mark so to finish second is really pleasing.'
'To be honest, overall I am pretty frustrated. On the first day in the first race I was leading all the way but the race was abandoned after 40 minutes when we were on the last run so I was pretty disappointed about that. So that wasn’t a great start and on the second day not being able to see the marks was tough and I was missing them by 200 or 300 metres which put me in the 20s when I should have been in the top three.'
'So I was really angry and frustrated with myself, but it cleared up and I won the last race and had a good day here so I am heading in the right direction. It would be nice if it was a level curve at the top but you have to deal with these adversities and it is how you come back really that you see what you are made of.
'I am still learning things out here. The positives from Tuesday, even though I look back and think it was a pretty disastrous day, are that we learnt quite a lot of important stuff whereas if that sort of stuff happens at the Olympics then we won’t make those sorts of mistakes again. We have picked up some things that we need to do differently too so hopefully it is all good from now on for next time.'
Jo Aleh; 470 Women, New Zealand It was ok today, our first race didn’t go so well, so we wanted to do better in the second one and then it all came together. We have finally got a race win so it is all great; it is our first race win of this regatta. The conditions are tough here but at least it isn’t raining so we are happy with that but it might be back in the next few days! Wind is all good fun, we like all conditions, whatever comes! The good thing about this regatta is that the whole Olympic fleet is here plus a few extras so it a perfect training regatta before the games especially as it has been so well organised.'
Paul Snow-Hansen; 470 Men, New Zealand We sailed really well today. It was tough, there are a lot of other good boats in our fleet that are pushing us and we’re really happy with the result. It’s our first time racing in Weymouth this season, so it’s nice to get accustomed to the conditions and everything seems to be suiting us quite well at the moment. It’s good to be going fast on the water and we’re doing much better than our expectations at the moment so we’re just going to keep sailing and try to come away with anything we can get.'
Ben Ainslie; Finn, Great Britain 'I had a nice final race to end the day. I haven’t been 100% at this regatta, but to be honest it is a great opportunity to get out on the water and see how the completion is doing and know more about the venue so it is completely worth doing and hopefully I will start to feel better towards the end of the week. I’m doing ok, but Giles is doing really well, he certainly has turned the pace up, especially upwind in these conditions. I am very lucky that he is my training partner.'
'The next three days are going to be good, I know there is a lot of breeze coming in but this has been a good competition. Having Giles taking me to this level just before the Games is undoubtedly great for me. It was great to have four guys in the top ten the other week at the World Championships and that wasn’t including Giles racing; it is very successful to work as a team and push each other along. Hopefully we are all benefiting from this; I know I certainly am in the run up to the Olympics.'
'In the remainder of the regatta and that split to gold fleet, I see it as an opportunity to sail on the waters, and nail set up and equipment. Hopefully come Saturday we will have another chance to race on the medal course which will be another good learning experience. Weymouth is a really difficult place to sail technically even if people might think we have an element of local knowledge, I can tell you sailing out here is very difficult. There are a lot of unusual things and you have to be prepared for everything and take the opportunity to make a gain; some people seem to get these more often than others. It is about hanging in there and getting some good results.'