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Dutch duo Annemiek Bekkering and Annette Deutz (NED) won a dramatic 49erFX medal race today after Austria pair of Tanja Frank and Lorena Abicht (AUT) capsized in a huge wind shift.

The 49erFX was an unexpected third gold for the Netherlands – they have already won both the men’s and women’s RS:X before the medal races – who are leading the World Championships medal table. Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark, the patron of the event and himself a keen sailor, chose the most dramatic day to visit and was on hand to give out the medals.

Denmark’s Bay of Aarhus has tested all its champions in the last week but perhaps saved the biggest challenge for the 49erFX and not for the first time these flying skiffs have seen an upset, again literally.

“We still can’t believe what just happened, it feels strange, but we are so happy,” Deutz said after they finally got to land – they saved their capsize for after they crossed the finish line. They have never won a world championship medal and were seventh in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Frank and Abicht had started the medal race 11 points clear of Britain’s Sophie Weguilen and Sophie Ainsworth and 14 ahead of the Dutch in third place. The equation was simple: the Austrians only needed to finish sixth or better to be guaranteed gold.

If Frank and Abicht were slightly slow out of the blocks, but showed the type of pace and patience that got them into the overall lead. With better speed in the light and a willingness to stick with their plan, they soon blasted their way through to round the top mark 40 seconds ahead of all their rivals for gold. They held that downwind but the whole race was upturned on the second beat.

The forecast low-pressure system came rolling over early a little early.  The Austrians rounded the leeward mark in extremely light winds, but continued offshore, on Starboard, like they had the first beat intent on staying patient.

Then the weather interviewed… the thousands of spectators on the harbour promenade witnessed a dark cloud and wind line moving rapidly across the water. Bekkering and Duetz saw it too and immediately headed for it while the Austrians continued away from the newcoming wind.

The Dutch were one of three crews in the 10-boat field that spotted how to exploit, heading to the right of the course as a massive shift of over 40 degrees and wind speed leap from 6 to 18 knots swept across them.

“There were light winds in front of us and we decided to tack out and that’s when we noticed that the wind was building up,” Bekkering said. “After 20 seconds we saw so much pressure coming, so we decided to take the risk and stay away from the fleet. In the end, we didn’t know that the shift was so big, but it paid out big time.

“We’ve been sailing together for five years. We won in Palma this year and now the World Championships – this is our year.”

The change was so great that the Dutch sailed 200-300 metres less than the boats on the left over the 1km beat. The Austrians could have absorbed that, but not a capsize. They went from first to last and ran out of track to fight back as the skiffs completed the last “downwind” without their spinnakers up, so severe was the shift.

“On the second upwind, there was a 180-degree shift hit us so hard that we capsized immediately,” Abicht said. “We were quite quick in getting back up and into the game but we lost eight boats.”

Weguelin and Ainsworth finished sixth to take bronze. The Rio 2016 Olympic champions, Martina Soffiatti Grael and Kahena Kunze, finished third in the race to take fourth overall. Grael’s disappointment will have been softened by the fact that she has only had 20 days of training after coming back from a year in the Volvo Ocean Race.

Tanja Frank and Lorena Abicht – Austria – 49erFX (silver)

Abicht:
“It was a frustrating moment for us and even more challenging trying to find our focus again. We were disappointed at that moment because we had the thought of winning the Championships, but we are so happy with silver. We’ve only been sailing in the FX for two years and we already have the World Championship silver medal.”

Frank: That’s the sport, and we are going to have another chance, and next time we will be better.”

Abicht: This is our first medal in a World Championships, so we are happy with our result.”

Sophie Weguilen and Sophie Ainsworth – Great Britain – 49erFX (bronze)

Ainsworth:“It’s been very hard for us and coming away with a medal is a blessing. We are so happy, especially after those challenging conditions.

“We remained consistent during the week and climbed our way up. The medal race went well for us and we’ve won bronze. We’ve been following our set processes like getting to that boat park at a certain time and practicing a certain way, and that was the key for our consistency.”

Nations Qualifying for Tokyo in 49erFX
1.    Austria
2.    Australia
3.    Brazil
4.    Denmark
5.    Great Britain
6.    Netherlands
7.    New Zealand
8.    Norway

The 49erFX fleet had 26 nations represented across 60 boats.

In six years of 49erFX sailing there have now been six different worlds champions… and they’re all still racing! The fight to Tokyo is going to be fierce!

The 2018 Hempell Sailing World Championship in Aarhus. Follow all the action via the event website – 49er.org – nacra17.org

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