The Skandia Sail for Gold 2012 got underway today, featuring nearly all of the medal contenders for the upcoming Olympic Games. Over 700 athletes from 59 nations poured out onto Portland Harbour and Weymouth Bay, with the cream of world sailing ready to put a marker down for the coming Olympiad.
But conditions were tough, the forecast was for a transitional day, with a new wind arriving and strengthening throughout the rest of the week. So while Portland Harbour and Weymouth Bay delivered racing, it did so in fits and starts.
The 470 race course got the best of the deal, with two races for everyone and a relatively early finish. In the Men’s competition, some familiar names popped out in front. Early race winners were British Olympic representatives Luke Patience and Stuart Bithell, along with the all-conquering Aussie duo of Mat Belcher and Malcolm Page, winners of the last three world championships. Belcher and Page won their second race as well, and lead overall at the end of the first day. But it was also a return to the water and an immediate return to form for Britain’s double World Champions, Nic Asher and Elliot Willis who scored a second and a third to hold second overall.
Asher and Willis have been kept out of sailing through illness since a below-par World Championships in Perth last year, and this was their first regatta in 2012. In the meantime, rivals Patience and Bithell got the British Olympic slot for the Games – a bitter disappointment to double world champions that have yet to go to the Olympics. Asher commented, 'I would like to carry on for Rio but we will make that decision after Skandia Sail for Gold with Sparky (Stephen Park; Skandia Team GBR Olympic Manager). I see other options are stepping into the Skiff or 49er. But it is fantastic to be back and we have some unfinished business here.'
The Women’s 470 fleet got underway in the afternoon and also completed two races – winners were the new British World Champions and Olympic representatives, Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark. They posted a first and a fourth to lead from Elise Rechichi and Belinda Stowell from Australia. This is a rivalry that will go all the way to the Games.
Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark - © Richard Langdon/Skandia Team GBR
The story out on the Finn and Star race course – the furthest from the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy – was more typical of the day. They went out in the morning, were sent back to the beach for lunch without any action, were then hauled back out on the water again in the afternoon to finally get a race in. After all that, it was Michael Hestbaek who took the win in the Stars with four-time medallist (two gold and two silver), Robert Scheidt in fourth.
The USA’s Caleb Paine won the Finns, with another four-time medallist (three gold, one silver), Ben Ainslie in fifth. Paine commented, 'It feels great to have won today obviously not being selected to represent [the USA] in the Olympics, so to beat the other guys who will be there feels great.'
But for Ainslie it wasn’t so much about the results, 'My focus for the week is learning, especially the equipment in the boat; the results aren’t important this week it is just about getting the preparation right and learning as much about the venue as possible.'
The Paralympic course was one of those that raced in both the morning and the afternoon – starting with one race each for the Sonar and the Skud in the morning. The Sonar’s were won by Udo Hessels and Mischa Rossen of the Netherlands from Sven Reiger and Edmund Rath of Austria. In the SKUD 18, Qingdao bronze medallists, John Scott McRoberts and Stacie Louttit from Canada took the honours from Australia’s Qingdao silver medallists Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch.
Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch,(AUS) racing in the Skud class on the day 1 of the Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta - onEdition ©
John Scott McRoberts commented, 'It was great to be first today and we are looking forward to the rest of the week and the windy conditions which we prefer; particularly as we already had lots of practice at the Delta Lloyd regatta in light air.' The 2.4mR fleet got out on the Paralympic course in the afternoon, and managed two races in the light conditions. Some very familiar faces were out the front, with both the Netherlands Thierry Schmitter and Megan Pascoe of Team GBR scoring a second and a third to tie for the lead overall, ahead of France’s gold and silver medallist, Damien Seguin in third.
Getting the toughest deal were the men on the Laser course, it was very late when they finally got going, pushing on towards seven o’clock. Unsurprisingly, they only got one race in, and it was won by Simon Grotelueschen, beating countryman Philipp Buhl. The Women in the Laser Radial did better, with two races completed by a reasonable hour. It was Dongshuang Zhang of China that took a first and second place to lead overall from Canada’s Isabella Bertold and Spain’s Fatima Reyes.
It was also a very long day out on the Women’s Match Racing course, they started at 10:00 and finished their eleventh flight at 20:20 – almost ten hours later. The only unbeaten teams at the end of the day were Australia’s Olivia Price who won six from six and Silja Lehtinen with four from four. And with Russia’s Ekaterina Skudina only losing one from six, these three currently top the standings, but there is a long way to go in this competition.
The 49ers took all day to get through it, but they finished three races for both fleets. At the top at the end of the day was Britain’s Dave Evans and Ed Powys with two wins and a third. It gives them a solid jump from Austria’s second-placed Nico Luca Marc Delle Karth and Nikolaus Leopold Resch. Evans commented, 'We like the breeze so we are looking forward to the rest of week. Today was a condition we are ok in, but we don’t really do that well in; so getting a good result was great for us.'
The RS:X Women got two races in today, and it was Poland’s Zofia Noceti-Klepacka that had the best of the day, with a first and a second, edging Britain’s Bryony Shaw who had a solid couple of thirds, and Spain’s Marina Alabau with a second and an eighth. It wasn’t a surprise to Bryony Shaw, who commented afterwards, 'We had a couple of light wind specialists up there in the first race and then the two girls who I see as my main rivals from Poland and Spain were there in the second race, really showing their experience when everyone was tired and a bit worn out after the first race, so it was a good little battle with those two.'
Zofia Noceti-Klepacka reckons she will be stronger in the windier conditions forecast for the end of the week though – which may or may not worry Shaw. 'I prefer it when the conditions are windier so I am looking forward to the rest of the week; the forecast looks great so it will be more fun,' said Noceti-Klepacka.
The Men’s RS:X got one race done in the morning and another in the afternoon. The day belonged to 2012 World Champion, Julien Bontemps of France, with a first and a third. It was just a one point better performance than Toni Wilhelm of Germany who scored a first and a fourth.
Nick Asher; 470 GBR - 'Today was a wacky race, the wind was shifty with big holes; it would go from lots of wind to no wind very quickly. It is great to be back out competing at this is our first regatta since Perth. We have been out for seven days before this regatta to get practice we are hoping for a top three finish this week. In terms of plans post regatta, it is all about ploughing forward, I would like to carry on for Rio but we will make that decision after Sail for Gold with Sparky (Stephen Park; Skandia Team GBR Olympic Manager). I see other options are stepping into the Skiff or 49er. But it is fantastic to be back and we have some unfinished business here.'
Matt Belcher; 470 AUS - 'Good to be out on the water in Weymouth, despite the tricky conditions we were happy with the results. We know that expectations are high, but we have plenty of experience behind us now in winning the last three worlds. Currently we are working really hard and focusing on ourselves, we aren’t too worried about the others; however we do keep an eye on what is happening. With two months to go until the Games, we can still raise the bar and we are confident with coming away with what we would like from 2012. Today was only our third day sailing in the UK, it is extremely cold for us, which isn’t easy, so it is taking a while to adapt, we have the next two months based in the UK to do this.'
John McRoberts; Skud NED - 'Today’s race was tricky, we were very good with the upwind beats, however with the downwind beats and the wind behind us it meant the guys at the back got the wind first so the pack became forced together. It was great to be first today and we are looking forward to the rest of the week and the windy conditions which we prefer; especially we had lots of practice already at Delta Lloyd in light air. Training for this year is going well, we know we can sail the boat and now we need to work on keeping the team together. The key for us is to make the communication stronger, we need to think like one person in the boat, but it should come as we are working on this currently. We are now based in Weymouth and looking forward to this summer.'
Dave Evans; 49er GBR - 'This morning’s race was great, we just kept it simple. It was one of those races when it is simple if you’re in the front but hard if you’re at the back, so we managed to get clear. We like the breeze so we are looking forward to the rest of week. Today was a condition we are ok in, but we don’t really do that well in; so getting a good result was great for us. Hopefully when the wind fills in we will have lots more boat speed. Training wise this summer we are being training partners for Ben Rhodes and Stevie Morrison, but Sail for Gold is a big regatta for us in terms of funding.'
Bryony Shaw; RS:X GBR - 'I was really happy with how I was going in the light winds, I was a bit shy on both start lines but I was very wary of getting an OCS as anyone over in the last minute could be penalised. It wasn’t very punchy but I managed to hold my lane and play the shifts pretty well. In both upwinds I was inside the top seven and I think my downwinds were my real strength today – they really pushed me through the fleet.'
'A couple of things that need work are my speed upwind on port tack, and really putting a bit more power into the pumping in the rail, these are a couple of nice bits to work on between now and the Games. The girls at the top of the fleet are most definitely the competitors who I would expect to be up there. We had a couple of light wind specialists up there in the first race and then the two girls who I see as my main rivals from Poland and Spain were there in the second race, really showing their experience when everyone was tired and a bit worn out after the first race, so it was a good little battle with those two.'
'Yes I’m very comfortable in both light and breezy conditions, I would say we are the all-rounders of the fleet who showed a good day today, so it’s just whether the big girls who might be counting high scores today can pull it out the bag later in the week or whether us all-rounder’s can hold on!'
Zofia Noceti-Klepacka; RS:X POL - 'Today was really hard conditions, very light winds at four to ten knots… but it is great for training. For me this regatta isn’t important, it is a check to see where I am at in terms of the Olympic Games. I prefer it when the conditions are windier so I am looking forward to the rest of the week; the forecast looks great so it will be more fun. My training for the Olympic Games is going really well; currently I am really tired so I will now rest so I hope the Olympic Games will be good. I am dreaming about a medal.'
Caleb Paine; Finn USA - 'Racing today was good, my first beat was good and I made the biggest gain on the downwind and after that the race became pretty easy. The conditions were fairly difficult today, the wind was very up and down and shifty and the current was definitely a huge factor. You just had to sail with what you had in front of you and make the gains from there. The wind forecasted for the rest of the week will be good, I will get the pumping flag up and get all these other guys; it will be great. It feels great to have won today obviously not being selected to represent in the Olympics so to beat the other guys who will be there feels great. For the rest of the summer I am heading back to California to do some sailing and some coaching oh and back to school!'
Ben Ainslie; Finn GBR - 'It was a long day for everyone today; we managed to get a race in, in the end which was pretty difficult. There were some pretty big holes out there, so it was a difficult race. I had a fifth which was kind of all right considering I had a few difficult spots in the race, but I am sure we are going to have more wind tomorrow and for the rest of the week. My focus for the week is learning, especially the equipment in the boat; the results aren’t important this week it is just about getting the preparation right and learning as much about the venue as possible.'
Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta website
by Jo Grindley
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9:21 PM Mon 4 Jun 2012GMT
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