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49er & 49er FX Europeans & Nacra 17 Worlds at La Grande Motte, France - Day 5

by 49er and Nacra 17 Sailing 11 May 14:07 PDT 7-12 May 2024

Ruggero Tita and Caterina Banti are too professional to admit it, but a strong performance in Saturday's light airs races has all but secured the Italian defence of the Nacra 17 world title.

After scoring the best set of results of the day, 6,2,2, on a very light day out on the Mediterranean, the reigning World and Olympic Champions have stretched their advantage to 18 points over the British in second place. That gives John Gimson and Anna Burnet a mathematical possibility of still winning the world title if they manage to win the double-points medal race on Sunday - provided the Italians cross the finish line in 10th and last place.

So it's understandable that Tita and Banti refuse even the hint of a celebration this evening. Instead Banti kept it business-like with her response in the late summer evening in La Grande Motte. "We are really happy, we had quite a consistent day," she said. "Tomorrow we just want to focus on putting in a good performance." Which means we don't know whether they will sail their own race or go for an all-out match race against the British.

The latter option might seem brutal - a sledgehammer to crack a nut - but it's a common strategy in medal races and this World Championship in some ways is also the dress rehearsal for the upcoming Olympic Regatta. So the British will go out tomorrow very aware of the possibilities of an Italian offensive from ITA 26.

Swedish Selection battle

What makes life even more difficult for Gimson and Burnet is that breathing down their necks and just a few points back are another Italian team - Gianluigi Ugolini and Maria Giubilei - along with two Swedish teams. So any unwanted attention from ITA 26 could jeopardise the British hold on silver.

The Swedish selection trials are still going on and all week Ida Svensson and Marcus Dackhammar have been ahead on the scoreboard. A race win was a useful way to start the afternoon but then Emil Jarudd and Hanna Jonsson responded with a bullet in the last race of the day and close to just four points behind on the scoreboard.

With Jarudd and Jonsson holding the upper hand from previous trials regattas, Svensson and Dackhammar can't take their slim advantage in La Grande Motte for granted. In a subjective selection trial decided not be pure points but by selection committee, none of the sailors can yet be sure of their Olympic destiny.

49erFX Europeans: Belgium in the box seat

Steph Roble and Maggie Shea sailed a stellar day in the 49erFX, the USA team winning three of the four races in gold fleet. This lifts them just inside the top 10 and gives them a place in Sunday's medal race.

Further up the field, Freya Black and Saskia Tidey also performed well, the British duo sliding up into bronze medal position. They have a useful 11 point buffer on the Polish crew in fourth, Aleksandra Melzacka and Sandra Jankowiak, who are still engaged in an Olympic selection battle with their teammates in sixth, Gabriela Czapska and Hanna Rajchert.

It's a measure of just how difficult the light-airs day was that Sarah Steyaert and Charline Picon only slipped to second overall despite their last three scores showing as 16,18,16. Even so, these two French veterans always seem to be having fun, and they'll need their sense of humour for Sunday's medal race. "We are the arse between two chairs," laughed Picon of their piggy-in-the-middle predicament, sandwiched between the Belgians now with a 15 point lead and the British just four points behind.

Similar to the Italians in the Nacra 17, Belgium's Isaura Maenhaut and Anouk Geurts find themselves in the strong position of having secured a minimum of the silver medal and able to focus purely on their only threat in second, the French team. If Belgium decide to match race the French, the British could well slip past and claim the silver medal. It's a medal race scenario that critics argue breaks the rules of natural justice while defenders of the medal race format say it's just part of the game.

49er Europeans: Uruguay extend

In seemingly random conditions Hernan Umpierre and Fernando Diz appear to be rock solid aboard their Uruguyan 49er. They stretched their advantage to 12 points over the British in second, James Peters and Fynn Sterritt. However, there is also one last gold fleet race scheduled on Sunday morning before the medal race decider in the afternoon, so the South Americans aren't counting their chickens quite yet.

"We just keep focusing on what we are doing," said Umpierre but acknowledged that even if they were trying to keep a lid on their emotions that the excitement back home in the southern hemisphere was starting to build.

While Peters and Sterritt might be a little disappointed to have lost their lead from earlier in the week, to be in second place has been a vital boost to British confidence in the lead-up to the Olympic Games.

"We're pretty happy, especially how we sailed the first two days when there was a bit more wind. It feels like the last few days has been a great opportunity to look at the different techniques in the fleet.

"To be honest, we've been a bit off the pace in this lighter stuff. And then we've been able to make a few changes and today the boat speed felt a lot better. This is a great opportunity with all the best sailors in the fleet here to go through our paces and make those adjustments to see what works."

Just back from the British in third are the Uruguayans' training partners from Switzerland, Sebastien Schneiter and Arno de Planta, with the USA's Ian Barrows and Hans Henken moving to fourth and within striking distance of the podium thanks to finishing this afternoon with scores of 2,1.

While today marked the end of the regatta for most, and for some the end of their Olympic careers, Sunday is the day when the medals will be decided across the three high-performance fleets.

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