The tears rolled down Zsomber Berecz’s face as he crossed the finish line in Denmark’s beautiful Bay of Aarhus on Thursday to win the Finn and Hungary’s first ever medal in one of these quadrennial sailing world championships. It was the first gold medal to be awarded at these Hempel Sailing World Championships Aarhus 2018 and Berecz’s emotions were heightened by the fact that it has been a long time coming - for him and his country.
“I’m a human being and I know what it means for me, my team and my country. It is a big achievement,” Berecz said.
However hard it was for Sweden’s silver medallist, Max Salminen, who had led by eight points going into today – day 8 - after an exhausting victory in the storm late on Wednesday evening, it was hard not to feel that there was some kind of karma behind Berecz’s gold.
The 32-year-old Berecz had been lying second after only made his comeback six weeks ago following four months out with a thumb he broke in a freak accident whilst doing a good deed for a fellow sailor.
“I had a great day training in Cadiz (before the Europeans in March),” Berecz said. “I was so pumped up and on the way home, I saw some hiking (wetsuit) pants fall off the van in front of me. I stopped with my bike, I grabbed it and I saw they stopped at the next roundabout, so I was going full speed to reach them to give it back, and the leg of the wetsuit got caught in the front wheel and stopped it completely and I made a front-flip, and I broke my thumb.
“If you would’ve said at the start of the Championship that I will win it, I wouldn’t believe you. I had four months off, and it was a tough four months. I only had one and half months of training before these worlds, but I spent it really well and it worked out.”
Berecz is fast rewriting Hungary’s sailing records. He won silver at the 2016 Europeans in Barcelona and that was only the second medal ever for Hungary at major Finn championships.
The equation for gold had been simple for Salminen; he led by eight points and if he finished fourth or better was guaranteed gold (and to defend the Finn Gold Cup he won in 2017), but he could only finish seventh and was never above fifth.
Berecz and the Netherland’s Pieter-Jan Postma were a class apart in this battle of the giants – the biggest sailors at the World Championships at 6ft 2in up and between 95-110kg. They escaped during the first beat and were never caught as the rest of the fleet fought for air. The front two – training partners for the last fortnight in Aarhus - pulled away in the nine-knot south-easterly breeze and Postma leapt from sixth overnight to take bronze from New Zealand’s Josh Junior.
After only making his comeback from retirement two months ago, Postma, 36, was almost as happy as Berecz. It will have been doubly sweet because he won his national battle within the battle against Nicholas Heiner, 29, who started the day fourth but could only finish eighth in the medal race. Heiner will have to console himself that he finished sixth overall and thus inside the top eight that the Netherlands strict selection criteria laid down to keep selection for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics open.
There was greater heartbreak for Sweden in the men’s 470. The Swedish 2018 European Champions, Anton Dahlberg, and Frederik Bergström, had led by six points overnight – after leading all week - and third place or better would have guaranteed gold. They came last and slipped out of the medals entirely.
Having started the day third overall, France’s Kevin Peponnet and Jermie Mion finished third in the medal race and that was enough for gold. Tetsuya Isosaki and Akira Takayanagi – one of nine Japanese men’s 470 teams in Aarhus and one of three in the medal race – started the day second (albeit level on points with the French) and took silver by finishing fifth. Spaniards, Jordi Xammar Hernandez and Nicolás Rodriguez Garcia-Paz, who had started the day in fifth, 14 points behind the Swedes, took a surprise bronze after a magnificent second-place in the medal race.
“It was so intense. My heart is still beating so hard. That was the hardest race I’ve ever sailed in my life,” Peponnet said. “The hardest bit of the race for me was to catch the other guy. To focus on your speed, with all the waves and chaos around you, it’s very hard.
“The goal (this week) was to be less than 10 points from the leader, for a chance to win the title. We managed to keep that distance between the first place and us all week long. When an opportunity comes, you can grab it and that is what we’ve done, and we’ve won the title.”
The Swedes were understandably disconsolate. “We didn’t execute the medal race we wanted and…yeah…as bad as it could get probably,” Dahlberg said.
Australians Mat Beclher and Will Ryan finished fourth in the medal race and fifth over-all.
The women’s 470 – the third medal race of the day - had smaller surprises. Japan’s Ai Kondo Yoshida and Miho Yoshioka underlined Japan’s strength in the 470 class by winning a relatively comfortable gold. They started the day top and finished fifth in the medal race but they had done their maths and kept France’s Camille Lecointre and Aloise Retornaz, bronze medallists at the 2016 Rio Olympics ahead of the Japanese crew in fifth, behind them. The French slipped to seventh – in the end, sixth would have been enough for bronze, so close were the margins.
“We were very nervous at the beginning of today because we were in first place,” Yoshida said. “I felt a lot of pressure, but finally I got a gold. The medal race was the hardest of the week, it was very close, but we weren’t worried when the British passed us because we had worked out the mathematics.”
Hannah Mills, the Rio 2016 Olympic champion and her new crew, Eilidh McIntyre, took bronze but it could have been silver had they not lost around 15 seconds after confusion over who had been OCS at that start. The Slovenians were over the line, but the two British teams, uncertain of their status, went back when they did not need to.
Mills and McIntyre powered back to seventh at the top mark and fourth at the finish, but the Spaniards Silvia Mas Depares and Patricia Cantero Reina, who had started the day in fourth, led from start to finish and took silver to make it an unexpectedly great day for Spain.
In the men’s Laser, Pavlos Kontides (CYP) holds the top spot, discarding his last race. Matthew Wearn (AUS) seemed to have a bad day but finishes the day in second. Elliot Hanson (GBR) moves up to third.
Sam Meech (NZL), and Australian, Tom Burton both dropped positions after being protested, more information can be found on the online Noticeboard.
Belgium’s Emma Plasschaert leads the women’s Radial with an 11-point cover over Marit Bouwmeester (NED), who is second. Anne-Marie Rindom (DEN) didn’t particularly have a great day on the water but she holds third place.
Australian siblings, Nathan and Haylee Nathan Outteridge claim top spot overnight. Christian Peter Lübeck & Lin Ea Cenholt (DEN) are second and Santiago Lange and Cecilia Carranza Saroli (ARG) move down to third. Rio silver medallists Jason Waterhouse and Lisa Darmanin (AUS) are in sixth place.
The men’s RS:X races were live today, click here to watch the races. Dorian van Rijsselberghe (NED) tops the leaderboard, with Paweł Tarnowski (POL) in second, and Kieran Holmes-Martin (GBR) in third place.
The Dutch windsurfer, Lilian de Geus leads by 5 points ahead of Yunxiu Lu (CHN), in second. Zofia Noceti-Klepacka drops to third.
Sime and Mihovil Fantela lead in the 49er class, and Germany’s Tim Fischer and Fabian Graf hold second place. Erik Heil & Thomas Ploessel, also from Germany are third.
Austria's Tanja Frank and Lorena Abicht are first, and Great British, Sophie Weguelin and Sophie Ainsworth are second, Annemiek Bekkering and Annette Duetz (NED) are third in the 49erFX class. Australia's Tash Bryant and Annie Wilmot had a bad day, scoring 28, 28 and 26 to drop from second to 11th and miss the medal race.
Nicolas Parlier (FRA) leads in the men’s Kiteboard, with a 4-point lead ahead of Guy Bridge (GBR). Theo de Ramecourt (FRA) sits in third.
In the women’s Kiteboard fleet, Daniela Moroz (USA) holds top spot overnight, with Russian, Elena Kalinina in second. Alexia Fancelli (FRA) is third.
Zsombor Berecz – Hungary – Finn (gold medal)
“There was a changing point in my performance once I was in the gold fleet. I was the most consistent in the fleet and that really paid off.”
On the medal race: “I chose the race committee end. The Canadian and the Dutch were squeezing me out a bit. I went about 10 metres more to the right and I tacked back because I wanted to keep going further away from the shore, because the closer you were the less wind there was. And then I was just playing with the shifts and I had two great shifts and it was enough to be first at the upwind mark. Then on the second upwind I just followed the fleet. It sounds easy but it wasn’t.”
Max Salminen – Sweden – Finn (silver)
“Right now, it stings a bit. I was not thinking about silver until the final reach – so in that sense, it feels like a defeat. But I suppose it’s a good thing I’m not happy with silver. I thought I could make it all through the race but in the end, I just fell short. I couldn’t get in tune with the wind and on the first upwind it was a chase from there. I could have had two Finn Gold Cups in a row, so I’m gutted. It would’ve suited my bookcase at home. I can’t stand one more year without it.”
Pieter-Jan Postma – Netherlands – Finn (bronze)
“It feels amazing, it could not have gone much better today. We both (he and Zsombor) just got the gusts. Even when you’re all running so close together, on days like today you get different gusts, it’s hard to see them, but Zsombor and I spotted them and it made the speed difference. We trained together here for two weeks. I wanted top 8 so this is a huge bonus.”
Tetsuya Isosaki and Akira Takayanagi – Japan – men’s 470 (silver)
Isosaki: “There’s mixed emotions, we’re very happy to win silver, but the gold medal was close, so…next time. This has been a very close Worlds.”
Akira: “This regatta has been so shifty and quite difficult for us so we found out a lot.”
Jordi Xammar Hernandez and Nicolás Rodriguez Garcia-Paz – Spain – men’s 470 (bronze)
“At the end, we crossed the line and we didn’t know anything. We were unsure what position we finished in. We asked our coach, and everyone, but no one knew just yet. Then finally, they checked the results and we were just so happy when we heard that we’d won a medal.
“We were in fifth position and we had nothing to lose, so we tried to win one side in the upwind, at the end we were in third position in the top mark. It went well at the end. The French and the Japanese were fighting in the second upwind and it was really good for us. In the end, second place and a bronze medal – we’re happy.”
Ai Kondo Yoshida and Miho Yoshioka – Japan – women’s 470 (gold)
“During this regatta wind was light and shifty. Sometimes we had wait for long time on water. It’s tough. I think that it was very good the results came out with such a difficult regatta.”
Silvia Mas Depares and Patricia Cantero Reina – Spain – women’s 470 (silver)
“It was really good conditions, good winds which helped. We had an Oscar flag up and we had to be pumping all the way, but it was nice. We manged to sail well and stay in the front.
“We came into the medal race with nothing to lose and we already had fourth place secured, so we just had to give the maximum try and catch a medal. Our plan was just to try and maintain our calmness on the water, while watching the shifts and water pressures – as well as managing our pumping and not looking back.
“We’re super happy to win silver and it goes to show that all the training and events we have done this year has paid off.”
Hannah Mills and Eilidh McIntyre – Great Britain – women’s 470 (bronze)
Mills: “We’re so happy and relieved. We had a super tough medal race and we are just so happy to come away with a bronze medal.”
McIntyre: “I feel so knackered right now. It was really hard, and we made the decision to go back – I think we need to stand by that decision whether we were really close. We managed to claw back a few places and got back in the game.”
Mills: “The conditions were wacky and wild. Once you make that decision you find that all the nerves go, and you just think of what you need to do to get back in the race. It took me a while to get the maths right but once I did, we felt satisfied.”
By Matthew Pryor