With one day of Finals competition left at the Trofeo Princesa Sofia before Saturday's Medal Races finale it may be too tight to call at the very top of several of the ten Olympic classes, but in many cases tomorrow, Friday, should conclude the quest for the many of the remaining nation qualifications for August's Olympic regatta.
For certain when Saturday's triumphant winners are crowned, each will enjoy an emotional high, a burst of pleasure for an overall victory from a tough, high level series in the Olympic year.
But there is little doubt that those sailors who finally secure one of the last remain national spots in the respective Olympics classes at this last chance regatta will be equally, if not more jubilant. But Friday will leave no margin for errors as several showdowns come to a head.
Stronger breezes today, up to 17 or 18kts at times on the outer courses, produced fabulous, physical racing. In the Men's 470 Class the starting of the Australians Mat Belcher and Will Ryan, they admitted later, was not their best. But their steady climbs in both races up to a fifth and third for the day keeps them a comfortable 18pts clear of Greece's Panagiotis Mantis and Pavlos Kagialis.
“We just did not get off the start lines that cleanly.” Will Ryan reported, “Conditions were quite challenging and we were not that pretty at the first mark in both races. We made a few silly mistakes. It does happen! But we are happy to have come back in both races.”
The Greek 470 pair, who tune and train with the Americans Stu McNay and Dave Hughes, did start well and that was enough for them to get a clear lead early on, ensuring that both winning guns were theirs.
Mantis and Kagialis were overlooked for selection in 2012 and the helm says that has spurred them to work doubly hard this time to cement their place in Rio.
“Our speed is good and we stayed clear of the fleet. We were far enough clear. It is good to have a day like this at this stage in the year. We have good speed across the conditions. We missed out on the last trials in 2012, the guys who went did well in the selection. We quit for a while and then came back with a much clearer focus all the way through.”
The race for the remaining nation berth in the Men's 470 class remains very close with Ukraine's Boris Shvets and Pavlo Matsuyev lying in 15th leading Italy's Matteo Cappuro and Matteo Puppo by two points. The Italian helm is just 19 whilst Italy's 2003 World Champion helm Gabriel Zandona and Andrea Trani, who finished fourth in the 2012 Olympic regatta, are fighting to keep their Olympic dream alive from 20th place.
Correspondingly in the Women's 470 fleet, among the as yet non qualified European nations there are just five points between Finland's Niki Blaser and Mikaela Wulff and Israel's Noya Bar-Am in 19th and 22nd respectively with Estonia's Marjalisa and Elise Umb a further 12pts further back. Theirs will be just one of the engaging battles on Friday.
After four Finals races the Women's 470 fleet is lead by the Brazilian duo Fernanda Oliveira and Ana Barbachan, but their scoreline took a hit today when they were scored UFD for breaking the start line early, a penalty they discard but which might yet hurt their final scoreline. Top scoring 470 Women's crrew today were GBR's Amy Seabright and Anna Carpenter whose pair of fourth places return them to third overall. Australians Carrie Smith and Jaime Ryan remain in medal race contention in eighth place.
The 49er Gold fleet could not be closer at the top but the remaining European nation's spot in Rio has been secured by Sweden. After today's four races all three top crews share exactly the same points tally, Germany's Eric Heil and Thomas Ploessel elevate their German selection chances with two wins today. Austria's Nico Dell Karth and Nikolaus Resch lie second on countback with Ireland's Ryan Seaton and Matt McGovern third.
A sportsmanlike act by the 13th placed British pair James Peters and Finn Sterrit – lending a boat to Germany's 9th placed – Justus Schmidt and Max Boheme after they broke their mast in the second race of the day – kept the unlucky duo in the German 49er selection race against the regatta leaders. Asked by the Germans' coach if they would help out, the British pair had no hesitation and swapped immediately allowing them to sail the next two races.
James Peters explained: “For them this is the finals of their selection trials and effectively the culmination, so far, of their four years of hard work whereas for us it is a warm up for the Europeans and Hyeres. They are good mates of ours and if the situation were reversed you hope others would step up for you. It felt the right thing to do.”
Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen scored another race win (their fourth of the series) but a ninth and a tenth dropped them to fifth place overall, 20 points off the lead.
Just as Spain's Diego Botin and Iago Lopez have been giving the Spanish selectors food for thought after they have not been selected and are 19 places ahead of the brothers, so in the FX class the Netherlands' Annemiek Bekkering and Annette Duetz are knocking on the doors of the Dutch selectors as they lead the FX fleet by eight points after three back to back wins in today's brisk breezes.
“The country is qualified but our selection trials dont finish until May. It is a bit of a funny situation because we are depending on the other Dutch team who are not here but they have to finish top in the top eight countries and if they don't then we can go. Only Hyeres counts. We are really focused on what we are doing and love the big breeze.” said Bekkering, “We are a good team and enjoy sailing with each other.”
Australians Tess Lloyd and Caitlin Elks continue to send a strong message to the selectors, holding seventh position. This is the first time an Australian 49erFX crew has been in medal race contention in a major regatta. Haylee Outteridge and Nina Curtis are 14th and Olivia Proce and Eliza Solly languish in 18th after three races where they were not able to compete.
Feeling the pace
With a margin of no less than 43 points now after today's racing in the Nacra 17 class world champions Billy Besson and Marie Riou are charting their course to win, once again, with a day to spare. But Riou says even the top crews are finding the pace tough having sailed 12 races:
“It was physically hard today. We did three races and had a steady first and two fourth places. Twelve races make it a long regatta so far! For us this regatta is to work on different objectives. We want to improve our starts and our manouevres and so we are working on that. But, if we win, it will be great too!”
Denmark's world champion Anne-Marie Rindom made a 1, 10 today sharing the race wins with fourth placed compatriot Sarah Gunni Toftedal. Andrew Maloney of New Zealand and Argentina's Julio Alsogaray were the best today, both scoring 8pts, in the Laser class which Maloney leads by 14pts. In fifth overall five times Olympic medalist Robert Scheidt went 17,1 for the day and is in contention at seven points off second place.
GBR's Tom Squires held on to his lead in the RS:X men's fleet for whom business was brisk today and the fleet enjoyed a big increase in windstrength:
“We have not had wind like this for a while so everyone was happy today whether they were doing well or not. We had from 9-20kts. I am confident and it is good to be putting a regatta together. Ironically I am so tired I can't think about anything other than going in a straight line. I was in Rio and only came back a day before racing started and had a competition in the UK just before that and so I was pretty tired when I got here.” Squires commented.
A long, frustrating afternoon on the water, during which there were multiple start attempts tested the focus of the Finn class. World Champion Giles Scott took a fourth and a win to share the same overall points tally as second placed Josh Junior. Australian Jake Lilley holds on to fifth spot while Oliver Tweddell is also in medal race contention in 10th.
Scott said: “The wind was going right and early on they had a few issues getting the pin end to hold and once they got it to hold, the wind then shifted right which created the same problem again. The fleet was just not playing ball, and rightly so, They were just not prepared to start on a line that was 40 degree biased. So it took a long, long time to get away.”
The challenge for the nation spot in the Finn sees Turkey's Alican Kaynar leading CZE's Ondrej Teply by five points. Teply was granted redress after a protest against another sailor who is not in selection contention match raced him into the depths of the fleet. Russia's Egor Terpigorev is only seven points behind the Turkish sailor, suggesting a tense three cornered sea battle Friday on the Finn course.
Selected results: 470 Men: 1.- Mathew Belcher/ Will Ryan (AUS): 11pts, 2.-Panagiotis Mantis/Pavlos Kagialis (GRE): 29, 3.-Jordi Xammar/Joan Herp (ESP): 34; 470 Women: 1.- Fernanda Oliveira/Ana Barbachan (BRA): 24pts, 2.-Afrodite Kyranakou/Anneloes Van Veen (NED): 26, 3.- Amy Seabright/Anna Carpenter (GBR) : 29. 49er Men: 1.- Erik Heil /Thomas Ploessel (GER): 46pts, 2.- Nico Delle/Nikolaus Resch (AUT): 46, 3.- Ryan Seaton/Matt Mcgovern (IRL): 46. 49er FX Women: 1.-Annemiek Bekkering/Annerre Duetz (NED): 32pts, 2.- Jena Mai Hansen/Katja Steen (DEN): 40
3.-Tiba Lutz/Susann Beucke (GER): 66. FINN: 1.- Giles Scott (GBR): 24pts 2.- Josh Junior (NZL): 24, Tapiro Nirkko (FIN) 48pts. LASER STANDARD: 1.- Andrew Maloney (NZL): 26pts, 2.- Kristian Ruth (NOR): 40, 3.- Tonci Stipanovic (CRO): 42. LASER RADIAL: 1.- Anne-Marie Rindom (DEN): 27pts 2.- Tuula Tenkanen (FIN):32, 3.- Evi Van Acker (BEL):34. NACRA 17: 1.-Billy Besson/Marie Riou (FRA): 31, 2.- Thomas Zajac/Tanja Frank (AUT): 74, 3.- Allan Norregaard/Anette Vibotg(DEN): 82. RS: X Men: 1.- Tom Squires (GBR): 17pts, 2.- Pawel Tarnowski (POL): 19, 3.- Thomas Goyard (FRA): 24. RS:X Women: 1.- Olga Maslivets (RUS): 22, 2.- Maja Dziarnowska (POL): 25. 3.- Flavia Tartaglini (ITA): 26