Kiwis find their wings in stronger winds, while the Olympic Champs plummet

Day 4  Seiko 49er & 49erFX World Championships, Marseille, France

An increase in breeze elevated young Kiwi team Alex Maloney and Molly Meech to the top of the leaderboard at the Seiko 49er & 49erFX World Championships in Marseille.

With the top 20 women’s teams now competing in Gold Fleet Semi-Finals, the New Zealanders put in a solid set of scores in four races in moderate breeze, racking up 6,2,6,1. “Nice to win the last one,” said Meech. “It was a good day out there, and great to stretch the legs at last after three light days. We’re expecting more wind tomorrow too. It was quite tricky, shifty wind and a really nasty chop, so it was nice to finish on a good note.”

It’s tight at the top of the standings in the 49er FX fleet, with the New Zealanders moving 3 points ahead of yesterday’s series leaders from France, Sarah Steyaert and Julie Bossard, who sit just a point in front of Italians Giulia Conti and Francesca Clapcich.

Although the FX boat is new to all 53 teams racing here in Marseille, Steyaert and Bossard’s progress is particularly impressive considering they only started sailing the Olympic skiff in July. Both women have a good racing pedigree, with Steyaert winning the 2007 Laser Radial World Championships, but no one is meant to get the hang of skiff sailing quite this quick. “We have a lot of improvements to make,” said Bossard, “and we have a lot of things to work on this week and in training for the coming months. But we are making good starts and good first upwind legs, then it gets a bit more difficult.”

The 2008 Olympic Champion in the Laser Radial, Anna Tunnicliffe, would agree with that. Sailing with crew Molly Vandemoer, the American team sits in 10th overall. “I guess you could say we’re having moments of brilliance,” said Tunnicliffe. “If you look at the first two minutes of the race, we won the day. But when you look at the finishing scores, we didn’t win the day! It’s about time in the boat, we’re still too new to the boat to understand what it’s doing. Every day you’re out there you get better and better. More time in the boat means you get more comfortable about how the boat feels, making sure you’re in the right mode, not having to talk to much about it, doing it automatically.”

This was also the day the top 20 of the 97-boat men’s fleet moved into Semi-Finals racing. As they came ashore, yellow jersey holders from Great Britain Dylan Fletcher and Alain Sign hoped they had done enough to stay in the top five, maybe even top three. In fact, being such a high-scoring day for everyone, the Brits had done enough to retain the yellow jerseys for another day, staying just 2 points ahead of Jonas Warrer and Peter Lang from Denmark. “Starting at the pin end didn’t work out as well as we hoped,” said Sign, “because with these short courses we didn’t have enough runway to be able to tack and cross the fleet. But we had some good comebacks, and we were able to get out of the leeward gates quickly. We were able to move forwards from some bad positions.”

Young newcomers to the fleet, Benjamin Bildstein and David Hussl, continue to impress in their first ever 49er World Championships. The Austrians sit in 3rd overall just a point in front of French Olympic representatives Manu Dyen and Stephane Christidis. For the defending World Champions and 2012 Olympic gold medallists it was an uncharacteristically tough day. Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen were black flag disqualified in the third heat, and their other scores of 18,14,17 weren’t much better.

The Australians got caught up in the congestion of the leeward gate roundings, with multiple collisions ensuing. The 2012 Olympic Champion was pressing ahead with a protest against the 2008 Olympic Champion, Jonas Warrer, claiming he was infringed by the Dane. “There must have been about five boats involved [in collisions] at one mark, but we were the only one to do turns, and that’s quite disappointing. People just get away with whatever they can and until you protest they just keep going until they realise you can’t do it any more. To do a penalty turn takes you from 5th to 15th, it’s a big loss.”

The Aussies can’t afford any more big losses if they’re to hold on to their world crown. The top 20 of the 49er and 49er FX divisions continue racing in the Semi-Finals tomorrow, before the top 10 showdown in the Finals on Sunday. Racing will be live streamed on from 10am local time on Saturday.

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