Thrilling races produce world champions

Peter Burling and Blair Tuke from New Zealand dazzled to win another 49er world championship, the sixth for the magic combo, which is a class record and two more than a pair of Australians – Chris Nicholson and more recently, Nathan Outteridge.

Meanwhile, in a thrilling Medal Race, the Spanish team of Tamara Echegoyen/Paula Barcelo and the British team of John Gimson/Anna Burnet owned the 49erFX and Nacra 17 top spots respectively.

Three Medal Races were held on Corio Bay in Geelong, Victoria, in a cool 10-14 knot south-westerly that built to 18 knots by the afternoon.

Medal prospects for Enoshima, the sailing venue for the Tokyo Olympic Games from July 24 to August 9, are a little clearer. There are surprise top 10 absentees, including Rio 2016 FX gold medallists Martine Grael/Kahena Kunze (BRA) and Rio Nacra 17 gold medal winners Santiago Lange/Cecilia Carranza (ARG).

49er – six world championship titles to Burling/Tuke
An integral part of the Emirates Team New Zealand America’s Cup defence team, Peter Burling and Blair Tuke went into the final double points Medal Race on Saturday with an 18-point advantage and posted a fourth to wrap things up cleanly.

Second by 20 points was the Spanish pair of Diego Botin/Iago Lopez Marra, and third by a margin of two points was the German crew, Erik Heil/Thomas Ploessel.

“We put together a couple of good ones this morning so we could be a bit more relaxed in that last one,” Burling said. “Being an Olympic year, it’s a good one to win.”

Tuke had this to say: “We’ve really stepped up in some areas this week. We’ll enjoy this win, as they don’t come that often.”

When asked how they will balance an Olympic and America’s Cup campaign for the second time, Blair commented: “We’ll just keep going as we’ve been going, and enjoying both. We’ve had more than a solid year of doing both campaigns. Before Rio it was the same.”

49erFX – Echegoyen and Barcelo win match race to secure gold
Tamara Echegoyen, a world match racing champion, and the 2016 49erFX world champion with a different crew, with Barcelo (ESP) and Charlotte Dobson/Saskia Tidey (GBR) locked horns throughout the Medal Race. Each team was well clear of any competition and only had to beat the other to secure the gold medal.

“We are so, so happy,” Echegoyen said. “You know this kind of course is shifting all the time. You have to think about what is the best plan. We tried just to be close to her (GBR); you have to be calm and keep going. If you do a split, you can lose control.

“Because of the Volvo Race, Paula and I started this campaign a little late. It’s a short time to try and get to the high level of this fleet. At the last worlds in Auckland, we had to abandon (due to an injury to Paula). Here we just tried to focus every day,” the beaming skipper added.

“Every moment it was so close and so stressful and finally we get the gold,” Barcelo said.

On the second upwind beat of the Medal Race, the British team made significant gains on the Spanish before tacking underneath them. Echegoyen tacked immediately on their line and Dobson/Tidey reacted. The Brits were locked in and made gains, but the layline forced both to tack back with the Spanish directly ahead into the windward mark.

The British looked to have a slightly better hoist, but capsized when their kite filled with water halfway up. The Spanish sped away, only looking back moments later to realize the pressure valve had been released.

The eventual silver medallists will be replaying the capsize in their heads for some time. “Our first reaction is we are a little disappointed,” Dobson said. “We could have taken it to the Spanish a little better in the Medal Race, but on the whole we have sailed a really good regatta.”

Outside the match race for Gold was an eight-team battle for the bronze medal. Almost all were in the hunt when drama hit at the leeward mark. Some teams overlaid, others rode forward in a puff and all arrived at the two leeward marks together. Chaos ensued, and Stephanie Roble/Maggie Shea (USA) pounced with a smooth rounding, which they road into the lead.

Critically for the Americans, their countrywomen, Paris Henken/Anna Tobias (USA) suffered in the leeward gate pileup and went from a leading position to deep in the pack.

Third overall was Lili Sebesi/Albane Dubois sailing for France.

Nacra 17 – Gimson and Burnet’s spectacular rebound
John Gimson/Anna Burnet (GBR) rebounded from their tiller extension breakage in the final of two morning races to put themselves into the gold medal position. The Brits led from the first work, taking advantage of the two Australian teams playing a cat and mouse overall game for country selection further back.

Gimson acknowledged back on the Royal Geelong Yacht Club hardstand, “We knew with the Australians trials still on, it would definitely help us. Our strategy was to get a clean start and stay on the lifted tack. Neither of us can believe it; after the week we’ve had we are unbelievably happy.”

“We just kept fighting this week,” Burnet added. “We knew from the forecast it was going to be building and it ended up being a bit breezier than we thought. It’s been amazing having Iain Percy here mentoring and helping us. We’ve been away since November 1; we’ll now head back home to get boats ready for Europe, then it’s all on for Tokyo.”

With country selection to be announced, there was everything at stake for Australia’s two top 10 Nacra 17 teams, Nathan and Haylee Outteridge and Rio silver medallists, Jason Waterhouse/Lisa Darmanin, who were first and second respectively in overall standings prior to the Medal Race. The Outteridges scooped the silver medal and Waterhouse/Darmanin the bronze and won the race.

“We are happy to have a win today, and also go home with a medal,” Darmanin said. “We have really developed as a team in this quadrennial, and I am proud of how we are sailing. In a medal Race like today, where there are so many things to think about and crews attacking you from everywhere, that is when the team comes together and really shines.”

Country qualification
US Sailing published their points system, so as of today, Riley Gibbs/Anna Weiss wrapped up Nacra 17 selection. Celebrations were noisy on the boat ramp as Stephanie Roble/Maggie Shea (49erFX) pipped their USA country mates with their Medal Race result. Both teams can now begin their preparations for Enoshima in earnest.

Australian selectors are expected to make an announcement on their Nacra team as early as next week, with Waterhouse/Darmanin widely tipped for the pick.

The Australian 49er sailing Phillips brothers, Will who drives, and Sam who crews, reached a benchmark in terms of internal selection for Tokyo 2020 with their sixth overall.

Another team that secured their first ever Olympic berth is Ida Marie Nielsen/ Marie Olsen of Denmark. The two-time European champions narrowly lost their domestic trials in 2016 and narrowly won their domestic trials this time, over teammates AJ Schutt/Iben Nieslby.

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