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49er & 49er FX Europeans & Nacra 17 Worlds at La Grande Motte, France - Day 3

by 49er and Nacra 17 Sailing 9 May 12:31 PDT 7-12 May 2024

Lighter breeze launches young Germans up the FX rankings

A drop in wind strength brought huge changes to the 49erFX leaderboard on day three of the European Championship in La Grande Motte in the South of France.

Anna Barth and Emma Kohlhoff rocketed up the rankings after the young German team scored the best set of results across four races in light winds on the Mediterranean Sea. Scores of 7,5,1,2 have launched the Germans up into seventh place despite sitting out the windy race on the previous day. "It was super good fun today," said Barth, "and especially nice because two days ago I injured myself and we couldn't go out yesterday."

After nosediving and pitchpoling in Tuesday's big breeze and steep chop, Barth was hurled into the water and the boat landed on top of her, hitting her in the head. After such a nasty bang to the head she decided that taking a day out from competition was the wiser option. So after staying on the beach for Wednesday, to bounce back with such a strong performance in today's lighter breeze was the best comeback present they could have hoped for.

"We felt pretty confident because we're going super fast in these conditions," said Kohlhoff. "It was tricky racing but we stayed calm and pretty relaxed. When you're fast you just need to keep it simple."

Belgians keeping it simple at the front

Two of the front runners struggled to maintain such strong form from the windy weather, with the teams from Finland and Italy falling out of the top three and down to eighth and ninth respectively. Instead the top of the leaderboard is a close battle between Belgium, Poland, France and Canada.

Now three points in the lead are Belgium's Isaura Maenhaut and Anouk Geurts. "Keeping relaxed was quite tricky," said Geurts, "because we had three races and then the wind shut down before it fully switched to the sea breeze, so there was a lot of sitting around before the last one."

"We just tried to keep it cool," added Maenhaut. "We're trying to talk about the strategic and tactical priorities for when the breeze came in from the new direction, and then chatted about some random stuff." To win the Europeans, the last major event before the Olympics, would be a huge boost for the team selected for Belgium, but Maenhaut and Geurts said it was far too early to be dreaming of the top of the podium in La Grande Motte.

As for the Polish team of Alexsandra Melzacka and Sandra Jankowiak, they have yet to learn if they're going to the Games. Lying in second place just three points off the Belgian lead, they're doing everything in their power to prove to the Polish selectors that they're the right team to be sent to Paris 2024. "We try not to think about that," said Jankowiak. "We focus on the racing here and we hope that what we do will be enough [to get us to Paris]."

A good day also for the highly experienced French team going to the Games. A former Laser Radial World Champion Sarah Steyaert, combined with Charline Picon, the Rio 2016 Olympic Champion in windsurfing. "This is the first boat Charline has ever sailed," laughed Steyaert. "She picked a difficult one to start with but we're enjoying our sailing a lot in the FX."

Picon says she likes the change of pace from the strong winds to the lighter airs. "We managed to be very regular with our races today," said Picon. "We are making improvements to our technique and our equipment and we choosing some good priorities on the race course."

49er: Some surprise winners and some solid Brits

It was a long day on the water for the men racing in the last heats of the qualifying series. This evening the top 25 find out who moves forward into the gold fleet finals. The light and fickle breezes saw a number of less expected race winners including Oman's Musab Al Hadi and Waleed Al Kendi who scored a bullet in the final yellow group heat.

At the top of the standings James Peters and Fynn Sterritt came away from a difficult day with two solid scores from three races to regain the overall lead from fellow Brits, James Grummett and Rhos Hawes, who are down to second.

Nacra 17: Flying Dutch people

Laila van der Meer and Bjarne Bouwer surprised themselves with a spectacular day on the Nacra 17 race course. The young Dutch team scored 3,1,1 in blue group to move up to second overall behind the Italians Ruggero Tita and Caterina Banti. "It was nerve wracking out there," said a mightily relieved and elated Bouwer in the boat park.

"The wind was shifting a lot. It was up and down. So at some point you looked like you were very bad and then you got a gust and you squeezed through. So you couldn't really tell where you were until the top mark."

Van der Meer agreed. "Our heart rates were high while we weren't really doing a lot," she laughed. "It was a day were you had to change mode all day, from foiling to non-foiling, so you had to be eyes-out all the time."

John Gimson and Anna Burnet also scored some good races on the other side of qualifying with a 1,8,1 from yellow group. There are some specialists in the fleet who are good at one thing in one type of breeze, but not so good across the wind range. That's the real challenge for anyone with an eye on this week's world title or this summer's Olympic gold medal, to be a true all-rounder. "That's the hardest thing in the Nacra right now," said Gimson.

"It's kind of three different boats, because in no wind the Nacra goes from being pretty much a keelboat until you lift one hull and it becomes a catamaran, and then when you're fully foiling it's very different again. So we're trying to make ourselves as all-round as we can, which means you have to make compromises somewhere."

By the end of Thursday evening with all the protests resolved, the Nacra 17 Worlds and the men's 49er Europeans are re-flighted into gold and silver fleets, with the prospect of more light airs competition for Friday.

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