Pete Burling and Blair Tuke have won the 49er European Championships, after dominating the final day of competition on the huge Atlantic swell off the coast of Portugal.
The Kiwis went into the day in 3rd overall, after coming off worse from a protest by Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen the previous evening. The Aussies were sailing upwind out of the leeward gate when the Kiwis, below the layline as they were dropping their gennaker, fouled the 2012 Olympic Champions. The Kiwis’ subsequent disqualification dropped them to 3rd overall, 7 points behind the Aussies who assumed the championship lead.
But Burling and Tuke rarely seem fazed by anything, and actually seemed to draw strength from adversity. They went out today with a determined demeanour and a clear game plan. As was the case on previous days, success on the race course was all about getting into the right-hand corner of the first beat, and never have so many 49ers started on port tack, prepared to give away the early advantage to the starboard tackers so as to claim the advantage later on the right-hand side.
Erik Heil and Thomas Ploessel did a carbon copy of the port-tack start by the committee boat, the strategy that won them the first race of the previous day. They replicated the move perfectly and led the race from start to finish. However, Burling and Tuke weren’t far behind and crossed the line in 2nd. Meanwhile, Outteridge seemed unable to get a clear lane over to the right and was forced to go left up the first beat. He never fully recovered from that tactical error and an 11th meant he was already behind the Kiwis in the overall standings after just one race.
In the next race Heil and Ploessel were again the early leaders but faded to 4th, while Burling came charging through for the win. With Outteridge again caught in traffic, the game was almost over before the final race. Burling could afford no slip-ups though, having burnt both his discards on disqualifications earlier in the week.
In the final race, Burling was again among the front runners, but was out-sped by John Pink and Stu Bithell, the Brits who had been disqualified in another protest involving Burling on the previous evening. The Brits got their revenge with a race win, but a 2nd place confirmed the Kiwis as emphatic victors on the big waves of the Atlantic. The time limit for a Medal Race had expired, but for the Kiwis it would have been a formality anyway, because they had won the fleet racing by 24 points.
The surprise silver medallists were Germany’s Justus Schmidt and Max Boehme who have had a meteoric rise up the rankings this season. The up-and-coming young team won Kiel Week a few weeks earlier, and now with a 2nd place in Porto they hold a useful points lead in the German trials for Olympic selection for Rio 2016. This was the first of three regattas that the Germans are using for their trials process.
The bronze medal went to John Pink and Stu Bithell who bounced back from their disqualification last night with a great performance on the water, edging Outteridge and Jensen off the podium by just 2 points.
Today’s victory marks an unbroken run of 18 regatta wins for Burling and Tuke who have been invincible since taking the Olympic silver medal at London 2012 behind arch-rivals Outteridge and Jensen. “We’re just so stoked to have come back and won the way we did today,” said Tuke, dripping wet in the live broadcast TV studio after coming off the water. “We didn’t feel affected by the disqualification last night. Looking back, maybe Nathan and Goobs [Outteridge and Jensen] would have rather been 7 points behind at the beginning of the day, because of the motivation it gave us for today.” Kiwi confidence is certainly riding high, and the rest of the fleet is still working out what it will take to topple Burling and Tuke.
Yesterday’s 49er FX European Championship title went to Italy’s Giulia Conti and Francesca Clapcich ahead of a strong Danish squad. The week’s competition has brought all kinds of sailing conditions and provided a very all-round test of sailing ability.
All of the Gold Fleet racing was live broadcast on YouTube and GPS tracked using SAP Sailing Analytics. To watch the replays, go to 49er.org, and to replay the tracking and gain valuable insights into the racing, go to SAPsailing.com
– Andy Rice