On the penultimate day of racing at the 2016 Para World Sailing Championships in Medemblik, the Netherlands, Poland's Monika Gibes and Piotr Cichocki took a massive step closer to being the next SKUD18 world champions.
While the Sonar and 2.4 Norlin OD fleets remain close, the SKUD18 has been torn apart by a rampant Polish team. Slowly clocking up results in the top three all regatta, Gibes and Cichocki hit the competition hard with a perfect double bullet day to be the stand out performers in the class.
Monika Gibes and Piotr Cichocki took two first places from two races in the SKUD18 to take a healthy 12-point lead in to the final day over nearest rivals Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell (GBR) and Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch (AUS).
With consistent sailing all regatta Gibes and Cichocki have quietly gone about their business, but current world champion Tesch has figured out why they are so far in front of the rest of the fleet, “All of us are so busy fighting each other and Poland are just out on the water enjoying themselves having a great ol' time.”
Tesch, with helm Fitzgibbon, has certainly been fighting her team mates and training partners Amethyst Barnbrook and Brett Pearce for Australian national selection. Currently ahead, Tesch may have to concede her world championship title to the Polish team, but Paralympic Games selection should help ease that blow.
Even if Tesch does lose her title, she is as gracious as ever in her assessment of her rivals and speaks in glowing terms of the champions elect, “They have had an absolute cracker of a regatta. It's the last big event before the Paralympic Games and this guy [Cichocki] has just come out of the woodwork. He is such a gentleman and such a beautiful sailor as well.”
Gibes and Cichocki approached this regatta with the aim of having fun and not thinking about being world champions. They will both have to start thinking about it at some point with the lead they take in to the final day, but still, Cichocki resists, “There are still two more races and we will focus on them. In sailing anything can happen.”
True, anything can happen in sailing, but barring a total disaster it is hard to look past the Polish team winning, especially in their current form. Reflecting on his two bullets, a seemingly always relaxed Cichocki said, “We thought we could get some good places, but today was really nice for us. We had good boat speed and we are still enjoying our time on the water.”
If they are enjoying their time on the water right now, then tomorrow they could be enjoying their time off it as well when they pick up a medal, more than likely the gold.
Seemingly fighting for the silver medal, Rickham and Birrell and Fitzgibbon and Tesch both scored a 2,3 on the day and go in to the final race day equal on points. With Rickham and Birrell already selected to represent Great Britain at the Paralympics they can solely focus on their final day racing while Fitzgibbon and Tesch have to think about their national selection battle, something which could tip the balance in favour of the Britons.
2.4 Norlin OD
With a seven point advantage over the rest of the fleet, Germany's Heiko Kroeger can also start thinking about gold, but only just. Yet again Kroeger posted a 1,2 on the day, however, with a tenth and a discarded 20th earlier in the regatta the German can ill afford another low finish with a top class field trying to hunt him down.
Sitting in wait behind Kroeger is current world champion, France's Damien Seguin. It was a day of mixed fortunes for Seguin as he took a bullet and a discarded 11th to sit on 27 points to Kroeger's 20.
Talking about his races Seguin said, “A very bad one and a good one. I know I am good when it is above 10 knots and the first race was a very light one. I made a lot of mistakes, but that's the game. It's not over yet.”
It certainly isn't over yet for the Frenchman, and a determined and defiant Seguin will fight until the end to hold on to his title, “He [Kroeger] has had a really bad result earlier on in the regatta, a 20th, so there is hope. For me, I just have to hope it's a really windy day over 10 knots. Both together, anything can happen.”
Another sailor hoping anything can happen is Australia's Matt Bugg. Scoring a 4,8 for the day Bugg goes in to the final races holding bronze medal position on 29 points.
Sitting in fourth on 36 points is London 2012 Paralympic gold medallist, Great Britain's Helena Lucas. The Briton would have hoped to score better than the 3,10 she did but as current Paralympic champion she knows she has the pedigree to climb in to the medal positions come the end of the regatta.
USA's Dee Smith in fifth overall and Norway's Bjornar Erikstad in sixth will still have ambitions of taking a world championship medal as they are also within touching distance of the bronze.
The top of the Sonar fleet remains tight with USA's Alphonsus Doerr, Bradley Kendell and Hugh Freund leading the way thanks to a bullet and a second place on day 4.
The American's lead on 19 points with second place occupied by Great Britain's John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas on 23 points. The two teams seem to be trading first and second on the leader board race to race and day to day, but with the Britons scoring a 2,7 the pendulum seems to have swung in the American's favour heading in to the final day of racing.
Dissecting the races for the American's was trimmer Kendall, “Today's good performance began with our starting. We found our correct timing, and found our spot both times. We accelerated at the right time as well.
“On the first race, it was all about sailing our own race. We were hitting all the shifts and had a clear lane all the way through. I was just telling the guys that we were sailing smart, and to keep it going.”
With a bullet in race one the American's began to think tactics for the championships as a whole, with one eye on their rivals, as Kendall explains, “We had a pretty good comeback in the second race. We had to cover the Germans and British since they were close to us overall. We stayed with who we had to, and pounced at the end to take second.”
Kendall may have been thinking about the Germans and the British, but he will know also have to factor in the Australian team of Colin Harrison, Jonathan Harris and Russell Boaden. While the American's were covering to take second, the Aussies took the second bullet of the day. That added to a fifth and it moves the team up to third overall sitting just one point behind the British team.
Still in medal contention are Germany's Lasse Klotzing, Jens Kroker and Siegmund Mainka who will be disappointed with a third and a discarded eighth. Norway's Aleksander Wang-Hansen, Marie Solberg and Per Kristiansen also stay within touching distance with a 4,6. The German team are in fourth overall on 26 points and the Norwegian's are fifth on 28.
All three of the Paralympic fleets finish their Para World Sailing Championships with two races on the final day of competition. While Poland's SKUD18 team can see a title within their grasp, the other two classes are set to come down to the wire.
The 2.4 Norlin OD will be decided first from the International Sailing Center Medemblik as they begin racing at 10.00 local time. The Sonars commence racing at 12.30 local time and SKUD18 at 13.00 local.
– Richard Aspland – World Sailing