FIRST FX TITLE FOR SPAIN, FOURTH FOR THE KILLER KIWIS
by Andy Rice
Tamara Echegoyen and Berta Betanzos emerged from a snakes and ladders final day in Clearwater, Florida, to win the 49erFX World Championships, while Peter Burling and Blair Tuke cruised to their fourth consecutive victory in the 49er World Championships.
The Spanish team of Echegoyen and Betanzos went into the final day’s racing with an incredible scoreline from the previous two days of competition, having won four of the last six races and coming 2nd and 3rd in the other two. However the Spanish looked vulnerable in the flat water and lighter breezes wafting off Clearwater Beach, coming 10th and 17th and allowing the gap to the chasing teams to close to just 5 points. Meanwhile Giulia Conti and Francesca Clapcich were on a charge, the defending World Champions looking set to displace the Spanish from their perch.
There were plenty of other teams in the hunt too, and any of the top eight boats had a realistic shot at making the podium. The first goal of the day was to make sure they made the top 10 for the double-points Medal Race, and one of the high-profile crews to miss the cut were Ida Nielsen and Marie Olsen who had finished 3rd and 2nd in the previous two World Championships. Missing the top 10 by a single point was the end of their bid to win selection for Denmark at Rio 2016.
Launching off the start line of the final Gold Fleet race, the Spanish were above the Italians and Echegoyen steered fast and free to try to sail over the top of Conti, who responded by doing the same. “Unfortunately we hadn’t seen how close the Americans were below us,” said Conti. “It was our fault for sure, but the Americans kept on pushing high towards us and our boats came together.” Paris Henken and Helena Scutt capsized, and the Italians had no choice but to take a penalty turn, from which they never recovered, finishing 18th and handing a healthy lead to the Spanish going into the Medal Race.
After a break of a couple of hours, the top 10 teams were back out for a light-airs finale to a regatta which has seen all winds and all waves states this week. Finding the pockets of breeze was the key, and early leaders were Alex Maloney and Molly Meech who threaded their way through the small gusts up the first beat to the windward mark. The top three boats did a straight set out to sea, and even when the others gybed away, the Kiwis continued on their own, but fell into a hole as the Dutch team of Annemieke Bekkering and Annette Duetz surged to the front and up into a medal position. However by the top mark it was another team, Jena Hansen and Katja Iversen who took the lead and sailed fast down towards the finish.
The final 200 metres of the race course had now turned into a windless zone as a new sea breeze was fighting to overcome the old gradient wind. It looked like the race was going to start all over again as the middle of the pack caught up to the leaders. Somehow the Danes, Hansen and Iversen, held on to win the Medal Race and secure their selection for the Olympic Games. But there was another final shuffle of the pack behind them, and Maiken and Anne-Julie Schütt crossed the line in 5th, just enough to give the Danes the silver medal by a single point from Germany’s Victoria Jurczok and Anika Lorenz who took the bronze. Just a point away from the Germans were the Dutch and just another 2 points back were the 2015 World Champions, Conti and Clapcich, who were dealt a tough hand by the fickle breeze in that final race.
Such is the nature of short-course skiff racing sometimes, and there are so many good teams all operating a similar level. But this week it was the Spanish who had that little bit extra. “It will be a big celebration tonight,” said Echegoyen, the London 2012 Olympic Champion in the keelboat match racing. “Today was a gift for all the hard work we have put into our campaign, and after we have celebrated we go back to work, to try to sail even faster over the next six months before Rio.”
Pete Burling and Blair Tuke wrapped up their fourth world title with a Gold Fleet race to spare, and ended up winning by a massive 41 points. While the Medal Race was a formality for the victorious Kiwis, there was a very close battle for the silver and bronze. The start was very hard fought, and the individual recall flag went up, signifying that one or more boats had started too early.
The 2008 Olympic Champion Jonas Warrer turned back to restart, but still the flag stayed up on the race committee boat. Although they didn’t know it, reigning Olympic Champions Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen were the other early starters, knocking them out of the silver medal position and leaving the way clear for long-time campaigners from Austria, Niko Delle Karth and Niko Resch, to take silver after finishing second in the Medal Race. The Danes and the Poles also had a shot at the podium, but Great Britain’s Dylan Fletcher and Alain Sign seized their moment to win the Medal Race and clinch the bronze medal.
For Burling and Tuke, a fourth world title is the latest milestone on an incredible journey towards Rio 2016. The last time the Kiwis lost an international 49er regatta was at London 2012 when they took the Olympic silver medal. Now with an unbroken run of 23 regatta victories, the New Zealanders have shown themselves to be almost invincible, and will go to Rio 2016 as the firmest of favourites. Burling was typically modest. “Yeah, pretty happy to get the fourth one,” he said. “It was a tough start to the week but getting some early wins in qualifying made it easier for us.”
Many teams did enough this week to win their national selections for the Olympic Games, but for many others the road to Rio is over. The younger crews will lick their wounds and look towards Tokyo 2020 as their next opportunity to become an Olympian. Meanwhile the racing circuit moves back towards Europe, and for the 49er and 49erFX class, the next big event on the calendar is the European Championship in Barcelona this April.