The wind picked up on day three of the Sailing World Cup Qingdao as marks were missed and misjudgements made in the unforgiving waters of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
Cloud cover and current played havoc with on water decisions in China as sailors continued learning the tricky elements Qingdao has to offer. It wasn't just about the visiting sailors either as fleet leaders and home nation competitors were not exempt from mistakes cutting point gaps at the top.
Croatia's Tonci Stipanovic remains top of the Laser fleet and holds off Giovanni Coccoluto who is keeping in close contact with the Olympic silver medallist.
Stipanovic scored a third and discarded fourth to end the day on 11 points and just one ahead of Coccoluto who is on 12. The Italian scored a similar second and fourth but a discarded tenth from the very first race of the regatta means he is under a bit more pressure to finish higher than his Croatian rival.
Moving up on to the podium is Cyprus' Pavlos Kontides who recovered from bad starts to finish with a second and fifth place. Talking through his day the Cypriot said, “First race was a good one, I finished second. I managed to pass Tonci [Stipanovic] and Giovanni [Coccoluto] in the last downwind so went from fourth to second and that was good to see that I had good race speed.
“The second race I had a couple of mistakes at the start and was low down the fleet. The current was really strong at the mark so a lot of people misjudged and I missed it the first time. I was down in maybe the twenties but had a great downwind and got up to fifth.”
The forecast was set for similar conditions to the previous days with a strong current and light winds, but out on the water that was not the case, “Today was the most windy day. It was nice conditions. A lot of current still. There was cloud cover overhead coming and going which dictated the wind shifts and the pressure going up and down.”
Kontides has now moved in to third with 20 points but only has a one-point advantage over Great Britain's Lorenzo Brando Chiavarini, so can the London 2012 silver medallist stay among the medals? “It will be interesting until the end as there are four of five of us close at the top but only three can make the podium. I've been on the podium before here so I don't see why I can't do it again.”
Chiavarini keeps in contention with a bullet and ninth place with the other bullet of the day going to Russia's Sergey Komissarov who is in fifth on the leaderboard.
It was a perfect day for China's Dongshuang Zhang as she took two bullets from two races and remains top in the Laser Radial with five points.
Second placed Monika Mikkola (FIN) finished behind Zhang twice on the day and has a comfortable 20-point cushion back to third overall, but the Finnish sailor has mixed feelings about her situation, “Normally I would be happy but the girl leading sailed so well. She is crazy good.”
Earlier in the regatta Mikkola expressed her concerns about the current as it is her first time sailing at a venue where it is such a big factor, so is she finally coming to terms with it after three days of racing? “Today was really confusing but overall I am starting to understand what is going on maybe 40% of the time.”
With lack of experience in current and sailing against a 'crazy good' sailor in Zhang, it is impressive when you learn that the young sailor came to the regatta on her own, “I just ended up doing this event myself. We don't have many coaches in Finland, my coach is Danish. But I thought I would come here on my own this time. I've learned loads this regatta. But of course you always learn when you sail.”
Mikkola is six points behind the leading Zhang on 11, but her nearest competition is Rubei Yuan (CHN), Min Gu (CHN) and Susannah Pyatt (NZL) who all sit on 31 points.
With two out in front and a group of chasing sailors closely bunched together behind there could be two separate races going on in the final few days of competition. The battle for gold and the battle for bronze.
When Hao Lan and Chao Wang (CHN) started the day their lowest score was a second place and they were beginning to look comfortable at the top of the leaderboard, but one bad day and that has all changed.
“We didn't sail well today,” said Wang, “we just made some bad decisions, chose the wrong course and made some mistakes.”
The bad sailing day for the Chinese pair was a ninth and discarded tenth, but due to their strong first two racing days they still sit top on 15 points.
They did sail badly by their own admission, but are they happy to be leading, “For sure we are happy to be top of the fleet, but we need to do more.”
Lan and Wang's lead has been cut to just two points with Liangdao Weng and Youjian Wen (CHN) scoring a second and a discarded 11th to sit on 17 points.
Completing the podium are Zangjun Xu and Wei Wang (CHN) who did have a good day and took a bullet and fourth place. They have 24 points total.
The second bullet in the Men's 470 went to Yong Chen and Chuantian Wen (CHN) who had a totally mixed day as they were disqualified from the first race. They currently sit in eighth on the leaderboard.
Mengxi Wei and Yani Xu (CHN) returned to winning ways with another perfect day. Two bullets from two races gives them top spot with five points and a nine-point gap back to Shasha Chen and Haiyan Gao (CHN) who are in second with 14 points.
Chen and Gao could only manage a 2,5 day and will need to do more to keep the pressure on their compatriots.
Sitting equal on 17 points are Shengnan Ni and Lizhu Huang (CHN) in third and Nan Zhang and Xiao Lu (CHN) in fourth.
Hongmei Shi (CHN) continues to open a gap on the rest of the field in the Women's RS:X with two bullets and a second place contributing to that.
Now on 12 points at the top of the fleet, Shi has a 17-point buffer back to Xiaoqing Yu (CHN) who has 29 points after a 3,3,4 day.
From second to fifth the points gaps are not as great as between gold and silver. Pei Ling Chen (CHN) holds third place with 32 points. Fourth is Manjia Zheng (CHN) who was helped out with a bullet and has 34 points.
Despite a good 2,4 from the first two races, Jiao Ma (CHN) let a good day slip through her fingers with a disqualification in the final race. She has 36 points in fifth.
Holding top spot in the Men's RS:X is Chunzhuang Liu (CHN) who picked up a bullet and two sixth place finishes. He discards one of the sixes to total 21 points.
Bing Ye (CHN) is currently in second place with 26 points from a 2,3,5 day and is only two points ahead of third placed Mengfan Gao (CHN) who is on 28. Gao was not helped with a disqualification in the first race, but got back on track with a third and fifth.
Other bullets of the day went to fifth placed Tao Li (CHN) and eighth placed Zhiwei Lin (CHN).
A bullet and a second place helped Lei Gong (CHN) remain top of the Finn fleet with six points.
Second placed is held by He Chen (CHN) on ten points who scored a 2,3 on day three racing.
With 12 points and an eight-point cushion over fourth placed Fusen Jiang (CHN), Xin Li (CHN) took a bullet and third place to sit in third overall.
Racing continues on Saturday 24 September at 12:00 local time with the Medal Race positions decided as sailors aim to make the top ten to ensure they are sailing the final day at Sailing World Cup Qingdao.
– Richard Aspland – World Sailing