Every aspiring Olympic sailor takes a shot at this ISAF series that travels to the far corners of the world, qualifying gold medal winners and top continent finishers to race at the finale that follows the five-race series. The next competition will take place at Hyères, France April 20-26. The finale will take place late in 2015 at Abu Dhabi, U.A.E. It's a mini-Olympics for sailors only. You won't see faces in Rio, 2016, that you didn't see on the road to Rio, this road. You won't see racing that is any more competitive. No, just sailors hardened in this crucible, playing for the highest stakes.
This is the proving ground. And as one winner put it, on to the next one.
The Laser Radials were the class where anything could happen at the top. Anne-Marie Rindom (DEN) took the gold, but going in, only three points separated Marit Bouwmeester (NED), Rindom and Evi Van Acker (BEL), in that order. And only Paige Railey (USA) was close enough to play the spoiler, if one of those three had a really bad, horrible, awful day.
And it almost happened to Van Acker.
"I put a move on her that forced her to the wrong gate," Railey said. "For a while she was looking dead last."
Which would have been enough to put Railey, who is recovering from a horrific bicycle crash, on the podium for the first time in a long time. "Then," said Railey, "a lefty came in, and that gave her a lane to the finish." So Railey settled, instead, for a win in the Medal Race and a smile on her face as she packed for the airport and a redeye to Rio.
Big smiles also for Rindom as she and her mother packed away a sail that had done its job.
"We were here two weeks ahead of the regatta," Rindom said, "and we've been here the last three years, so we know Biscayne Bay pretty well. And then, the regatta was totally different. Much windier, much shiftier than we would call normal."
As for going into a Medal Race second by one point, she said, "It's very hard when you have two opponents. You can't control both, so you have to sail to win the race, and that's what I did."
A sixth was good enough for a 47-point total. Van Acker was second at 53 points, Bouwmeester third at 54.
Home continent qualifiers for the finale at Abu Dhabi were Paige Railey (USA) and Andrea Aldana (GUA).
Nick Thompson (GBR) woke up this morning with a one-point lead over Philipp Buhl (GER) with neither of them at risk of falling below second. It was all to play for, and for openers, it was playing into Thompson's hands. And then, at the first leeward mark, what he had on his hands was a broken vang. Speaking a plain truth, he said, "You can't sail a Laser in 15 knots of wind with a broken vang." Thompson finished 7th and still had 12 points in the bank to hold onto silver.
"The most disappointing thing," he said, is that "I went into the race with a plan for how I was going to control Philipp, and I was executing, and it was working."
Thompson comes away with silver, not gold, to show for a hard-sailed week on Biscayne Bay. But, he said, "O a positive note, I'm delighted with how I sailed this week, and things are certainly moving in the right direction for Rio. A lot of guys had finishes that were up and down. I was pretty consistent."
On a racecourse not characterized by consistency, extracting consistent results was a bigger than average challenge for everyone.
The Medal Race went to Argentina's Julio Alsogaray, and the bronze to Australian Matthew Wearn.
Home continent qualifiers for the finale at Abu Dhabi were Charlie Buckingham (USA) and Julio Alsogaray (ARG).
Austria's Nico Delle-Karth and Nikolaus Resch came out victorious in a top of the table duel between Joel Turner and Iain Jensen (AUS).
A point separated the pair coming into the Medal Race meaning it was all to play for. However the Austrians were comfortable on the race course and kept their in spite of an early close call against their rivals, "We had a decent start and went to the left. Fortunately the Australians dropped to our stern and they had to tack away so that gave us a leading position.
"There was a left shift and from there we managed to covere the Australians. We didn't really feel the pressure because we are really happy with the way we've sailed this week. We wanted to continue the nice flow we had and it worked our perfectly fine."
The Austrians sealed the deal with a third place with Turner and Jensen holding on to silver with a seventh.
Delle-Karth and Resch's victory gives them a spot on the World Cup Final start line in November, ensuring a stress free season, "We are happy about qualifying because it takes a lot of pressure off. We won't always need to be at the top of the fleet so we can test a few things ahead of Rio and Abu Dhabi. It will make things a bit easier for us.
"We went to Abu Dhabi last year and it's a huge event already. I expect it to be even bigger this year. Everybody will be there and we're looking forward to a nice final."
Jonas Warrer and Anders Thomsen (DEN) claimed the Medal Race bullet, promoting them up into bronze medal position.
Home continent qualifiers for the finale at Abu Dhabi were Brad Funk and Trevor Burd (USA) and Marco Grael and Gabriel Borges (BRA)
You can't win a regatta on the opening day, but you can certainly damage your chances.
That was seemingly the case in the 49erFX as Alex Maloney and Molly Meech's nearest rivals all used up their drop with a DNC or a DNF in the single race in Monday's big breeze.
"Winning the first race on the opening day, whilst many others failed to finish, definitely helped," said Maloney. "It gave us a bit of a point's buffer but anything could have still happened. It definitely wasn't over until it was over."
With a handsome buffer the odds were heavily stacked in their favour yet across the week, consistency was an unheard of commodity in the 49erFX. It turned out to be the highest scoring ISAF Sailing World Cup regatta ever as Maloney added, "The whole fleet had its moments. It was all about being consistent this week but no one quite found that consistency.
"But it's good to start the year with a win and it's great to secure our spot for the Abu Dhabi Finals. We won it last year. It's an exciting place to sail with really great weather and it's good for the future of sailing."
The pair had wrapped up gold ahead of the Medal Race and a ninth proved irrelevant at the end of the day as they ended up 34 points clear of Giulia Conti and Francesca Clapcich (ITA).
The real battle of the day was for the silver and bronze medals. It was fight between the Italians and Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze (BRA) who were separated by a single point. Conti and Clapcich remained in front of the Brazilians throughout the race and took out the bullet and with it, silver.
Defending champions Grael and Kunze settled for bronze.
Home continent qualifiers for the finale at Abu Dhabi were Erin Rafuse and Danielle Boyd (CAN) and Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze (BRA).
The 2012 Olympic gold medalists from New Zealand, Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie, wrapped up first place here on Friday. That made the Medal Day "enjoyable," Powrie said. "The pressure was off, so we just went racing and enjoyed the day."
For the 2012 Olympic silver medalists from the UK, Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark, there was more to do. "The gold was gone," Clark said, "and we had a nice gap over third [19 points] but the conditions were such that this was never going to be a simple race, and it was going to be hard to defend. At one point the Japanese team was way ahead, and that was a problem."
Ai Kondo Yoshida and Miho Yoshioka won the Medal Race and finished third, for a bronze, by five points. It's not their first time on the podium.
As obvious medal prospects for Rio in 2016, the duo look forward to "some local racing around Auckland," Powrie said, "enjoying the rest of the summer, and then getting ready for Hyères."
As in, the ISAF Sailing World Cup Hyères.
And always, always, Rio.
Home continent qualifiers for the finale at Abu Dhabi were Anne Haeger & Briana Provancha (USA) and Fernanda Oliveira & Ana Luiza Barbachan (BRA).
Luke Patience and Elliot Willis of Great Britain went into the Medal Race leading their Australian opponents and wrapped it up the same way.
Even among the regulars on this scene, Patience was unusual for finding the extremely shifty sailing conditions also, "Not unusual. We had lots of northwesterlies, and what was unusual was having that for a week. We go all over the world, and wherever you are, you have to adapt."
Patience and Willis arrived in Miami two weeks ahead of the regatta, "to focus, to treat this the same way we would treat a world championship." It worked.
To overtake the British team, a good race by Aussies Mat Belcher and Will Ryan was never going to be enough. For them to move into first, it was going to take that and a bad race on the part of Patience and Willis. Not a likely bet.
Belcher and Ryan in their turn had a cushion over third that made the strategic outlook, Belcher said, "Simple. Try to be in front; try to get as many points back as we could. When you get to this level of competition, it's about minimizing the risks. But it was a tricky day. There was more wind than we expected, 12 to 18 knots, and the water was chopped up by a lot of commercial boats.
"The fact is, this has been a difficult week for everybody."
Onan Barreiros and Juan Curbelo Cabrera of Spain entered the Medal Race third with only the New Zealanders, Paul Snow-Hansen and Daniel Wilcox, close at two points behind. A disappointing day for Snow-Hansen and Wilcox handed the Kiwi pair 20 points for a 10th-place finish, dropping them to fifth.
The Medal Race went to Sofian Bouvet and Jeremie Mion, the defending champions from France.
Home continent qualifiers for the finale at Abu Dhabi were Stuart Mcnay & David Hughes (USA) and Geison Mendes Dzioubanov & Gustavo Thiesen (BRA).
Although gold was confirmed, Vittorio Bissaro and Silvia Sicouri (ITA) stylishly concluded ISAF Sailing World Cup Miami, Presented by Sunbrella, with a bullet in the Medal Race.
The Italians put together several key top ten results throughout the testing 15 race series and that ultimately proved enough for a successful title defence.
Bissaro and Sicouri enjoy Miami, reasons behind it? "Well first of all, because we win," smiled Sicouri. "It's really nice, the sea is warm so it is very good sailing and it is very challenging because you never have the same conditions.
"You really have to use your mind to be at the top. The race area was so challenging and until the fourth day the top of the fleet was really close on points. It was just that yesterday, we managed to do what we did to win early."
Bissaro and Sicouri sailed cleanly in the Medal Race, taking a comfortable 16 second race victory. With ISAF Sailing World Cup Miami gold around their necks they have qualified for the World Cup Final and Sicouri was pleased to confirm their spot just two regattas into the 2015 series, "The World Cup Final is very important. Abu Dhabi is the goal for everyone. We are happy that we've started our season this way and hope to continue."
Ben Saxton and Nicola Groves (GBR) confirmed their silver medal with a fifth in the Medal Race. A second in the Medal Race promoted Billy Besson and Marie Riou (FRA) into bronze.
Home continent qualifiers for the finale at Abu Dhabi were Enrique Figueroa and Franchesca Valdes (PUR) and Samuel Albrecht and Georgia da Silva (BRA).
London 2012 Olympic gold medallist Dorian van Rijsselberge (NED) booked himself a spot at the ISAF Sailing World Cup Final in Abu Dhabi by taking a narrow victory in Miami.
The Dutchman held a ten point lead over Thomas Goyard (FRA) going into the Medal Race but a late surge from the Frenchman saw van Rijsselberge edge it by two points.
"I had a poor performance in the Medal Race," said van Rijsselberge. "I'm not super happy with how it went but I did just enough to win. I was lucky because I had enough places already for me to keep in the lead."
A sixth for van Rijsselberge and a second from Goyard was enough for victory and a spot on the World Cup Final start line, "We're going to the final," smiled van Rijsselberge, "We've tried to make qualifying as easy as possible so now the big thing ahead is the World Championship and Olympic test event before the final.
Looking at the points score, a winning score of 77 can be seen in two ways. Work to be done ahead of Rio or as the Dutchman put it, "The top guys are so good and anybody in the top ten can win a race. It was amazing as I don't think I have ever seen such a high scoring event. The fact that it's a high score event shows that everybody is so close together.
"There were a lot of ups and downs. Everybody seemed to get like a first and then a tenth or a 15th."
Byron Kokkalanis (GRE) won the Medal Race to put himself with a chance of pushing up the leaderboard but Goyard's second solidified his silver.
Home continent qualifiers for the finale at Abu Dhabi were Zac Plavsic (CAN) and Ricardo Santos (BRA).
Bryony Shaw (GBR) had gold in the bag in advance of the Medal Race and concluded her regatta with a fifth.
The race was on for the remaining medals and it was heartbreak for Flavia Tartaglini (ITA) who was on the course side and dropped out of the medals.
Lilian de Geus (NED) claimed a silver whilst Olga Maslivets (RUS) was a major benefactor of Tartaglini's OCS and a seventh pushed her up into bronze medal position.
Home continent qualifiers for the finale at Abu Dhabi were Marion Lepert (USA) and Patricia Freitas (BRA).
In a class that has so often produced a dominant player, Giles Scott of Great Britain is that dominant player of the moment. His 18-month winning streak continues without a crack. Scott wrapped up the gold position on Friday and went into the Medal Race with his position assured.
Nonetheless, the Medal Race was extraordinary. Following one postponement, the race went off in 15 knots and went to completion in 25 minutes. All ten boats finished within a 40-second window, with Scott taking second to Australia's rising star Jake Lilley, by six seconds.
Lilley won the start, boldly crossed the fleet and led all the way - by only one second, at the final weather mark. Yes, it was a heart-pounding contest.
Scott, winner of 5 of 11 races, won gold by a margin of 25 points and carried on with his usual, it's all about Rio, diffidence toward the result. He said, "I just had a good week, and we've been lucky to get some good racing in, especially after a bit of disappointing weather last year. Now, on to the next one."
Kljakovic Gaspic of Croatia captured silver, digging deep to do it. At 23 points behind he was never a threat to Scott, and a sputtering start to the week included a DSQ in race four. Over the second half of the week however, he matched Scott's points over the final six races. He served notice.
Meanwhile, the Medal Race win lifted Lilley into bronze. He served notice too.
Home continent qualifiers for the finale at Abu Dhabi were Caleb Paine (USA) and Jorge João Zarif (BRA).
Focus will now turn to the ISAF World Sailing Rankings release on 2 February 2015 where the top 30 competitors will receive an invitation to ISAF Sailing World Cup Hyères.
For the ones out of the top 30, their chance will come. The next ten invitations will come from the Princess Sofia Trophy regatta in Palma de Mallorca, Spain.
Hyères will host the world's top 40 Olympic class athletes from 20-26 April with Weymouth and Portland, Great Britain the next destination from 8-14 June.
Results will be available here - www.sailing.org/worldcup/results/index.php
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