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Spain's Joan Cardona clinches 2020 eSailing World Championship title

by Liz Owen, World Sailing 7 Nov 23:03 PST
Joan Cardona (ESP) - 2020 eSailing World Championship © World Sailing

An exhilarating eSailing World Championship final, contested by nine eSailors over an eight-race series, was won by professional sailor Joan Cardona (ESP).

Cardona, an Olympic Finn sailor and real-life member of Spain SailGP Team, held his nerve to win the Medal Race and take the title by a solitary point.

His compatriot ramon732@541TOP, who sailed alongside him in the eSailing Nations Cup Final on Friday 6 November, had led going into the Medal Race, but finished second overall.

British eSailor @dejavusailing, a double champion in 2020 with both the eSailGP Championship and Nations Cup titles, placed third, another point behind.

The third ever eSailing World Championship final was held virtually for the first time, following last year's final in Bermuda and the first ever final in 2018, which took place in Sarasota, USA.

Eight of the finalists qualified through the three-day PlayOffs in early October, with inaugural eSailGP champion Déjà Vu joining them in the grand finale.

Completing the line-up was Donnie Gillies, also part of the Great Britain side which won the Nations Cup on 6 November; previous finalists Kaan Mazlumca (TUR) and Miguel Cruz (ESP); French duo MCES valentinelisa and MCES pepitõ; and number one PlayOff qualifier StipecoachCROATIA (CRO).

Seven qualifying races were held, with one discard available for the eSailors. Ahead of the double-points Medal Race, five sailors could mathematically all win the title.

Going into the final race in third place, Cardona knew a strong finish would give him the best chance of clinching the title - and with nearest rival Ramon only able to place sixth, Cardona stormed to a dramatic victory.

The Finn sailor is currently training in Lanzarote, Spain ahead of the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games next year, with his nation still yet to qualify.

And he was joined by a group of his fellow sailors, including last year's Ready Steady Tokyo gold medallist Zsombor Berecz of Hungary, to celebrate his title triumph.

"I struggled a bit at the start," Cardona admitted.

"But I knew everything was going to be decided in the Medal Race, if I was consistent enough to be close in points, so I tried to do my best race.

"It's awesome! They [the Finn sailors] said if you win the race, we will have some beers at your place - and they are already here! Amazing support."

The Medal Race was gripping from the off, with leader Ramon taking an early penalty and dropping down the fleet. Cardona started well, leading British duo Déjà Vu and Donnie Gillies.

All eyes were on Ramon - if he could finish sixth or above, he would still do enough to take the title. Any lower, and it went to Cardona.

After trailing in last place for a brief period, Ramon worked his way up the fleet, while Cardona and Déjà Vu, level on points before the race, battled away.

MCES pepitõ of France, who had made a brilliant start to the final and was sitting second overall ahead of the Medal Race, was scuppered by a penalty and could only finish eighth, knocking him down to fifth overall.

It all came down to the final downwind. As Cardona fended off the Brits to breeze over the finish line in first place, Ramon's position fluctuated between sixth and seventh. The drama ran until the final seconds, as Frenchman MCES valentinelisa beat him over the line to sixth. Seventh place for the Spaniard was not enough, as countryman Cardona began to celebrate.

It hadn't all been plain-sailing for Cardona; despite a win in Race 2 in the Nacra 17, he was sitting in fourth place after six races.

Instead, it was Pepitõ who set the early tone, with a win in the Star in Race 1, a second place in Race 2 and a fourth in the Laser fleet in Race 3.

But Spaniard Ramon soon began to show his skill. After winning Race 3, he sealed back-to-back victories with victory in the J/70 in Race 4, taking full advantage when initial race leader Pepitõ was hampered by a penalty.

The fifth race, a pacey affair in the virtual 49er, saw two Spaniards battle it out at the front of the pack. With StipecoachCROATIA breathing down their necks, Ramon and Miguel Cruz duelled to the very end, with Miguel just pipping his compatriot to pick up his first win of the final.

An unforced penalty leading to a last-placed finish in Race 5 had suggested that the pressure was getting to Pepitõ, but he bounced back in Race 6.

With the eF50 making its appearance, all eyes were on real-life SailGP sailor Cardona - but a poor start hampered his race, with fourth the best he could manage after a strong recovery.

Pepitõ, on the other hand, kept his cool and tore ahead, managing the tricky eF50 perfectly to beat Miguel to the finish. Kaan Mazlumca, the only eSailor to compete at all three World Championship finals, clinched his series-best finish of third.

The penultimate race, another outing for the Laser, saw a tactical battle unfold, as the frontrunners sailed with targets on their backs. Déjà Vu in particular made life difficult for Ramon, with Pepitõ also under threat. As Stipecoach took the race victory, Ramon finished third and Pepitõ came seventh.

An enthralling seven races set up the Medal Race perfectly. Ramon held a five-point lead over Pepitõ, with Cardona a further six points behind the Frenchman. But ultimately, it was the professional sailor who held his nerve under pressure and sailed the race of his eSailing career, to claim the virtual gold medal and write his name in the eSailing World Championship history books.

Joan Cardona is the first Spaniard to win the title following L1 of France claiming gold in 2018 and Italy's Velista71 taking the honours in 2019.

The next edition of eSailing World Championship will commence in 2021.

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