The sun shone for the penultimate day of racing at Sailing World Cup Miami presented by Sunbrella as the scene set itself for Saturday's live Medal Races.
Following a week of grey skies, the sun finally made an appearance as Paralympic racing came to a close and fleet racing across the ten Olympic fleets concluded.
Sailors were treated to a northerly breeze that started up at 12 knots to enable the fleets to get underway on time. Every fleet, minus the RS:X's, had an extra race added to their schedule to catch up on those lost over the week.
Dog fights played out across the fleets as the 711 athletes from 64 nations fought tooth and nail for the podium spots, a place in the Medal Race and for sailors from North and South American, a Rio 2016 Olympic Games berth.
With a full compliment of racing completed and the top ten locked in, the stage is ready for Saturday's live Medal Races that will be played out on the World Sailing TV YouTube Channel and on ESPN3 in the USA.
49er and 49erFX
Alex Maloney and Molly Meech (NZL) defended their title in the 49erFX with a day to spare.
They held a firm advantage before the final fleet race and in true style, they won it by a huge margin handing them a 30 point lead that can not be touched in the Medal Race.
“We're pretty happy to come away with a win this week,” explained Meech. “We haven't looked at the results this week so we are kind of surprised. Last year we came away with a win in Miami so it's nice to do it again.”
Maloney and Meech won the inaugural 2013 49erFX World Championships and whilst they remained in the top bunch of racers last year, they were off the heights they were used to. Meech continued, “We had a pretty up and down season in 2015 so it's nice to start this one off on top again so hopefully we can continue.
“We've had a pretty good summer back home in New Zealand and then coming over here we've felt fresh. We've been working on a few things and it's another step forward for us.”
The interviewer of Meech had the privilege to break the news to the young Kiwi and after obtaining the quotes the news was broken to Maloney.
Keeping her professional head Maloney said, “Ahh nice, but it's before the protest time so we'll have to wait to make sure. It's been great though, we kept it at one race at a time and just had fun.”
As the clock ticked onto 18:55, no protests had been received so their gold was confirmed.
Lisa Ericson and Hanna Klinga (SWE) and Jena Mai Hansen and Katja Salskov-Iversen (DEN) are tied on 97 points in second.
Diego Botin and Iago Lopez (ESP) are poised to take the 49er title following four final gold fleet races. The Spaniards recorded a 2-3-17-9 scoreline and are 12 points clear of Portugal's Jorge Lima and Jose Costa.
In the past, Botin and Lopez have struggled in the gold fleet, fading down the pack after a strong qualifying series. They changed the trend in Miami remaining at the front of the pack to sustain their lead.
They have guaranteed themselves a medal but the colour will be decided on Saturday.
Sweden's Carl Sylvan and Marcus Anjemark hold the final podium position but five chasing teams have a chance to overthrow them in the Medal Race.
Men's and Women's 470
The breeze has been quite variable this week. But today was perhaps the most challenging day when it came to predicting what would happen to the wind speed and direction.
“It was very shifty with holes with no wind,” said 470 skipper Panagiotis Mantis (GRE.) “Most of the fleet expected the wind to bend to the left because of the land, but the wind always going to the right.”
Or to put it another way: “It was a hard day, there was a lot of randomness in the breeze,” said Stu McNay (USA) a two-time Olympian. “You make your best guess at the first shift. Sometimes you get it right. Sometimes you get it wrong.
“Over the last couple of weeks we've had a number of days like this. But just because you know it's going to be random and chaotic doesn't mean you know how to deal with it.”
McNay and partner David Hughes came out on the wrong side of a few shifts today, scoring a 12-1-13. Their worst race result coming into the day was a fifth. But the good news for McNay and Hughes was they were hardly alone among the top five. With the exception of Panagiotis and Pavlos Kagialis, who finished 2-6-2 on the day, every Men's 470 team in the regatta had at least one double-digit result.
The net result is that McNay and Hughes, Panagiotis and Kagialis, and Onan Barreiros and Juan Curbelo Cabrera (ESP) are all virtually tied going into tomorrow's medal race. And while the fourth-place boat, Matthias Schmid and Florian Reichstäder (AUT), is mathematically alive for a medal, it's really a battle between the top three to see what color bauble they take home after tomorrow's medal race.
Because all three are on equal footing entering the double-points race, there isn't really an opportunity to match race. Both Panagiotis and McNay were unequivocal in how they will approach tomorrow's race.
“Win the race,” said Panagiotis. “That's it.”
McNay added: “The other guys who are leading are quite good and we will need to be at our best, just as they will try to be at their best. Too much variability [to try to match race at the start], first you have to look forward.”
The Austrian team of Lara Vadlau and Jolanta Ogar has been the steadiest performer in the Women's 470 fleet and that consistently has given them a slight, 4-point advantage going into the medal race. Today, in conditions that caused a few of their chief rivals to falter, Vadlau and Ogar were solid, with a 4-5-1. Fernanda Oliveira and Ana Luiza Barbachan have led the reagatta since winning both opening races. But a black flag disqualification in Race 8 and an 8th in Race 10 dropped them to second, one point in front of Shash Chen and Haiyan Gao (CHN). Marina Gellego and Fatima Reyes (ESP) are fourth. Sydney Bolger and Carly Shevitz are fifth, mathematically alive for a silver medal, but only barely.
Through five races the top six Finn sailors had been in virtual lockstep in the standings. Three races today finally put some daylight between them. Emerging from the fray was Jorge Zarif (BRA), who currently leads the regatta with 34 points, and Jonas Hoegh-Christensen (DEN), who is second, two points back. Those two will enter the medal race in a virtual tie since the race is worth double points and also counts as the tiebreaker in case two sailors finish with the same point total. While they have a slight edge over the third- through sixth-placed sailors, the emphasis is on the word “slight”. Caleb Paine (USA) is third with 40 points, followed by Jake Lilley (AUS) with 43 points, Arkadiy Kistanov (RUS) with 44 and Zach Railey (USA) with 45. Given the right set of circumstances—and the forecasted light breeze could certainly provide enough variability—anyone of the top six could find themselves atop the heap at the end of tomorrow. An interesting subplot to the medal race will be the battle between Paine and Railey as this is the first of two regatta that comprise the selection series for the U.S. Olympic Team in Rio. The selection series format counts each regatta as a single result and each will be pushing hard to start the second half of the series with the upper hand.
Laser & Laser Radial
Marit Bouwmeester's string of firsts was broken today. But the Dutch champion still sailed well enough to assure herself of at least a silver medal in the regatta. She will start the medal race with a 6-point lead over Evi van Acker (BEL), who has also locked up at least a silver medal. To claim the championship van Acker will need to put two boats between herself and Bouwmeester in tomorrow's medal race. A tough ask, but certainly not impossible, especially considering the caliber of the fleet. Sarah Gunni Toftedal (DEN) is currently third, with an eight-point advantage over Tuula Tenkanen (FIN) in fourth. Alison Young (GBR) and Emma Plasschaert (BEL) both have an outside chance at the bronze medal. In 10th place is Paige Railey (USA), who moved into the medal race after her best day of the regatta. This gives Railey at least 7-place advantage over Erika Reineke (USA), her primary rival for the U.S. Olympic Team. She has the enviable position of entering the medal race with nothing to lose. Any places she gains will add to her advantage in the selection series. But she cannot finish any worse than 10th.
More error-free sailing from Jean-Baptiste Bernaz (FRA) and Robert Scheidt (BRA) has put those two sailors into a virtual first-place tie going into the medal race. After dominating the qualifying series, Rutger van Schaardenburg (NED) faltered slightly today, and is now third, though within easy striking distance of the lead and with a 12-point cushion over fourth. Among the top 10 sailors are four New Zealanders, which could create a bit of a happy conundrum for that country's Olympic selection committee. Charlie Buckingham, the top U.S. Laser sailor, was 16th in the regatta. He will start the second half of the U.S. selection series with an eight-place lead over Erik Bowers, who finished 24th.
Men's and Women's RS:X
The ball is in Bryony Shaw's (GBR) court in the Women's RS:X as she holds an 11 point advantage over Lilian de Geus (NED).
De Geus had led since day one but when it mattered most, Shaw used all of her experience to pounce, overtake and extend. Shaw had the better of De Geus in all three races. Two fourths and a bullet compared to a pair of nines and a second allowed Shaw to grab the lead and she goes into the Medal Race 11 points clear.
China's Peina Chen occupies the final podium position on 55 points and has Flavia Tartaglini (ITA) for company six points behind.
Dutch London 2012 Olympic gold medallist Dorian van Rijsselberge has a firm grip of top spot in the Men's RS:X. The indomitable Dutchman has remained in the top five all week and Friday's racing was no different as he posted a 3-1-3. He leads compatriot, training partner and good friend Kiran Badloe by 15 points.
Nick Dempsey (GBR), three points off Badloe has a mathematical chance at gold but he will be looking to consolidate more so than attack in the Medal Race with Aichen Wang (CHN) and Pawel Tarnowski (POL) one and two points behind.
It will be a three way shootout for the Nacra 17 honours with the top three teams holding unassailable advantages over the fourth placed team.
Eight points separate the top three in what has been a high scoring week in the Nacra 17 with every team surpassing 100 net points.
Australia's Jason Waterhouse and Lisa Darmanin have remained the most consistent racers over the 15-race series. Going into the Medal Race the Australians have a six point advantage over Switzerland's Matias Buhler and Nathalie Brugger.
Mandy Mulder and Coen de Koning (NED) of the Netherlands remain in contention, eight points off the Australians so it will all be to play for on Saturday.
The race wins were shared across the Medal Race qualifiers on Friday with the Swiss picking up the first bullet of the day. Iker Martinez and Julia Roman (ESP), Santiago Lange and Cecillia Carranza Saroli (ARG) and Great Britain's Ben Saxton and Nicola Groves followed up with a bullet apiece and will sail on Saturday.
Racing commences at 11:00 on Saturday 30 January where the medals will be decided.
From 11:00 (EST), 16:00 (UTC) on Saturday 30 January, the Medal Races from Sailing World Cup Miami presented by Sunbrella will be broadcast live on the World Sailing TV YouTube channel as well as ESPN3 in the USA.
World Sailing TV YouTube URL – https://youtu.be/_V2YQYar0IU
Seven races will be broadcast live from the northern racing area on Biscayne Bay in Miami, Florida, USA. The schedule in EST is available below:
NORTH COURSE – LIVE
11:10 – Nacra 17
11:45 – Laser Radial
12:30 – Finn
13:10 – 470 Men
13:50 – Laser
14:30 – 49er
15:05 – 49erFX
11:40 – 470 Women
12:20 – RS:X Women
12:55 – RS:X Men
By Daniel Smith, World Sailing