Open Europeans Helsinki 2011 experienced shifty and tricky weather conditions which added to the mix as the 49er class concluded its Europeans and the final races for the Finns decided who would move into the medal race. The 470s managed three races in anticipation of the forecasted light winds on Thursday.
Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen (AUS) came and conquered the Seiko 49er European Championship over the 64 four boat fleet from 21 countries.
The duo stayed consistent from the start, qualifying second going into the gold finals and taking the lead mid-way through. Jensen’s comment on winning the Europeans was 'this was lighter than most regattas we do in Europe and we’ve struggled a little in the light stuff, so it was good to win this one.'
The gold fleet held one race in the morning setting the medal race contenders for the afternoon race held just off the shore side. On their medal race performance, Outteridge said, 'We were over at the start, so was Dylan (Fletcher) so we both went back and we managed to keep just ahead of him and then we pulled back through to fourth so we’re pretty happy with that.'
Dylan Fletcher and Alain Sign (GBR) were happy with their silver medal and claimed European champions as the first top European boat. Sign credited their earlier Sail For Gold performance as a learning lesson saying that 'a consistent series will get you inside the top three.'
Simon and Emil Toft Nielsen (DEN) moved into third overall following a good medal race. 'We were pretty close with the Austrians in the fight for the bronze and some pressure from the Alonso brothers (ESP) who were just behind, so we couldn’t go into the medal race with any other ideas than to focus on our own race,' commented Simon Nielsen.
He further added, 'As it developed we could see that we had gained some distance on the guys we needed to be ahead of and we were able to play it safe on the last round and win the bronze. We bought a new boat and this is our first 49er medal at this level.'
James Peters and Ed Fitzgerald (GBR) won the forty boat silver fleet.
In the Finn class, the Croatians ruled the water on the final full day of racing in Helsinki. Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic (CRO) won race nine and then Marin Misura (CRO) won Race 10 by nearly a minute. Josip Olujic (CRO) also took the lead in the Junior European Championship for the first time this week.
This leaves Kljakovic Gaspic with a six point lead going into Thursday's medal race over Giles Scott (GBR), who picked up a fourth and a third today. Third placed Andrew Mills (GBR) scored a 12th and 34th today so is out of contention for the top spot but has an 11 point lead over fourth placed Thomas Le Breton (FRA) and both are far enough ahead of the rest to have their own battle for the bronze medal.
In the Junior European Championship, Josip Olujic (CRO) built an 18 point lead over Egor Terpigorev (RUS), who is 29 points ahead of third placed Julian Massler (GER). Thursday's final race will finally decide who gets the medals.
Scott said, 'I think I made four places on the last downwind, but so did Ivan. I think we have both been sailing pretty quick downwind this week, so if you go round the top mark together, you think you can make three or four boats, but then so can he.'
'I am looking forward to the medal race. We are both 20 points clear so it's going to be good fun.'
Kljakovic Gaspic said, 'If I have a chance to gain then I am going to take it, but I am going to try to stick to Giles. It's going to be really shifty and really tricky, but for sure it's going to be fun and I am looking forward to this because I like medal races to be demanding and I like pressure.'
The final race for the rest is scheduled for 11.00 out on the sea course, with the medal race for the top 10 inside the harbour at 12.00. The forecast is for very little wind, so it could be a nerve wracking finish to a great championship.
Anticipating light winds on Thursday, the Race Committee decided to run three races for each of the 470 fleets today, which means that there is now only one race to be held tomorrow to determine the top boats going through to the 470 Medal Races on Friday.
Continuing to sail in a league of their own and in first overall are the Mens 470 world number one team Mat Belcher/Malcolm Page of Australia, who delivered another race win to make it five wins from the eleven races so far. Anticipating Thursday's race 12, Page commented, 'Looking at the prediction it is meant to be light winds. I think we will just concentrate on ourselves and sail that race.'
Belcher continued, 'The great thing about the class is that we have very strong competition. Two races to go and plenty can happen, which has been proven at past events.'
Behind them in second overall and chasing hard are the world ranked number four pairing of Luke Patience/Stuart Bithell (GBR) who have been steadily climbing up the leader board, as Page acknowledged, 'They are very, very good sailors. They are pushing us a lot and are one of the main contenders. This week they have sailed very well and we will see how things go tomorrow.'
Sime Fantela/Igor Marenic (CRO) move up into third overall after a safe showing of 11,6,7 and position themselves safely to progress through to the Medal Race.
Defending European Champions, Panagiotis Mantis/Pavlos Kagialis (GRE) are going to have their work cut out to even make it through to the Medal Race from their current position of 14 on the leader board. Despite coming second in race 11, they are sitting on 103 points and even a race win tomorrow will not guarantee qualifying to the top ten. They can only hope that some of the teams currently ahead of them have a disastrous day.
The same three teams head up the 470 Women fleet – with Spain first, Brazil second and Denmark in third – and have yet again extended their lead over the fleet. Today's performance has guaranteed them all qualification through to Friday's Medal Race and a shot at the Championships title, regardless of where they finish in tomorrow's race 12. They are the only ones assured of that privilege, due to the massive points margin between them and the rest of the fleet.
The battle at the front of the 470 women swung back in favour of world number eleven team Tara Pacheco/Berta Betanzos after race 10 when they moved into the overall lead ahead of Brazil's Fernanda Oliveira/Ana Luisa Barbachan.
These two teams are familiar with each other's racing styles as they train together and are clearly enjoying the rivalry. Catching up with a smiling Betanzos as she put their boat away, 'It has been a hard day because it has been windy and three races and also we wanted to race well, so we did all the best we could and it is tiring.'
Sailing brilliantly in Helsinki are world ranked number five team Henriette Koch/Lene Sommer (DEN), who seem to have pumped their sailing up to another level over recent months. Their worst case scenario tomorrow in terms of results is a sixteenth, so they know that the lowest position on the leader board they will be going into the Medal Race on Friday is third overall.
'The plan is just to go out, make a good start and see what happens because it is really hard to predict what is going to happen in a race. So you just have to make sure you don't make big mistakes and that is what has got us so far already. So we will stick to that plan,' Koch reflected. 'We were fifth last year at the Europeans and hopefully it's going to be even better this year.'
When you look at the results so far for this series the 11 race wins are shared amongst nine different teams, really demonstrating the depth of talent in the 470 Women fleet.
Racing is scheduled to get underway at 1155 hours on Thursday 14 July with the 470 Women first, followed by 470 Men Gold and then 470 Men Silver.
Open Europeans website
Top 3: Simon & Emil Toft Nielsen (DEN), Iain Jensen/Nathan Outteridge (AUS), Dylan Fletcher/Alain Sign (GBR) - Open Europeans 2011 - Fried Elliott?nid=85899