Drama Filled Day Decides 49er Gold Fleet and Olympic Contention
The 49er Story
(49erFX to follow after their racing)
The qualifying series could not have been more challenging for the teams vying for Gold fleet inclusion, Olympic berths, and Olympic selection. Starting the day, the teams vying for Olympic berths were huddled at the top of the 49er leaderboard, with 4 of the top 6 teams looking to qualify their nation. By the end of racing today, 7 nations are looking for the 3 (and possibly up to 5 Olympic berths) with Argentina and Poland both having 2 teams in the hunt.
The real fleet depth in the 49er is on display here in Buenos Aires as only Championship favorites, Burling and Tuke (NZL), are sailing to expectation and at the top of the leaderboard. Many of the rest of the presumed top 10 had to fight hard, right down to the final race just to make gold fleet with Fletcher/Sign (GBR), Outteridge/Jensen (AUS), Seaton/McGovern (IRL), Dyen/Christidis (FRA), and Warrer/Thomsen (DEN) all in danger of falling out of the Gold fleet split in the final race of the day. Of the bunch, the Brits and Outteridge proved clutch, with Fletcher/Sign winning the final race while Outteridge/Jensen pulled off two second places to close out the qualifying series.
Local young guns, the Lange brothers, looking good in their yellow leaders jerseys, sailed a decent day only falling a few places to fourth overall. With their home club looking on, their double-Olympic medalist father in a spectator boat they have proved up to the pressure so far. The first 3 days of the championship have been really unstable, especially for the 49er fleet, and their local knowledge may have come in handy at the most important time.
In the hunt for Olympic berths are the two favored nations, Germany and Poland. German’s Erik Heil and Thomas Ploessel did not compete together in Santander 2014 due to a last minute injury to Thomas, but have come through so far at this years qualifier. They won the first race of the day by a wide margin and followed through with two solid races to move up into third. Poland sees both top crews in the gold fleet, with Lukas and Pawel (POL) comfortably in sixth while Thomas and Jake are back in 18th but still able to contribute to the nationality fight. The Japanese team of Makino and Takahashi were back in 27th with one race remaining of the series but pulled off a 3rd place to keep in contention for their 3rd straight Olympic appearance.
The two more surprising teams in the gold fleet still in the hunt for berths are Croatia and Belgium. The Croatians have been running a much lower key campaign than usual, both sailors being family men now. Their years of experience allow them to keep competing at a high level and they’ll be looking for their third straight Olympic berths as well. The Belgians have been at the 49er game for years, and the pair of Lefebre and Paelsmaker only recently teamed up, and to good effect so far. They will certainly be under huge pressure in their first gold fleet as a duo to maintain their position.
In the fight for country selection, the Brazilian 49er berth has been locked up today by Marco Grael and Gabriel Borges. The duo had a comeback win over Dante Bianchi and Thomas Lowbeer last week at the South American’s to score the first one on one point and sailed very well today with a 6, 4, 14 to slip easily into Gold Fleet in 14th. With their Brazilian rival missing the gold fleet by just a couple places, they have now secured 2 of 3 victories and so have been selected for the Brazilian berth at their home games. Marco is the son of Torben Grael, one of Brazil’s most famous sailors, and was under huge pressure for the past two weeks. He’ll join his sister Martine at their home Olympics. Great for sailing and the 49er Class as there will be huge interest by the Brazilian media during the Games.
The British trials have been thrown for a loop here, with only Fletcher and Sign making gold fleet. Peters and Sterritt seemed certainties for a few moments, but got bumped down to 26th when a scoring error to Phillips and Phillips was discovered. Further down is a surprising Pink/Bithell who got stuck on a start line collision for the first race today and could not put a series together. They had been front runners in the British system with their Silver in the Europeans in Porto. While the British keep their system secret it likely relies on scoring points at major events, with accelerating points allocation to medal performances. Fletcher and Sign will be working all they can to claw back into the race.
The day started out boisterously, with 14 knots of wind and a reasonable chop as the system breeze had been flowing all night. As racing began, however, it dropped so the first race finished with only 8 knots of breeze and sailors working the waves hard downwind to surf whenever they could catch something. The wind continued to die with a 7 to 10 degree right shift through the first race, before picking up for the third and final race to about 7 knots and ‘Good skiff racing conditions,’ according to Will Phillips (AUS).
49erFX Summary to follow their racing.
The 2016 49er & 49erFX World Championship is in Buenos Aires, Argentina from November 16-21, 2016. The event website including results is http://49er.org/event/2015-world-championship/ and the event is sponsored by Seiko, SAP, and Magic Marine.
There will be live tracking with commentary for the gold fleet racing, the Magic Marine Daily Show, Daily Photos, and Daily Video Highlights.