'Rock and roll!' was how French Tornado sailor Xavier REVIL summed up conditions today after taking two bullets and pole position before tomorrow's Medal Race.
France also hold the lead in the Women's 470 and RS:X fleets, but it is the Brits who continue to dominate proceedings. Today Ben AINSLIE (GBR) joined Paige RAILEY (USA) as an assured winner in tomorrow's Medal Races, and the British team continue to hold top spot on four other leaderboards. Elsewhere, the hosts China lead in the Men's RS:X, whilst the Netherlands hold the top spot in the Yngling and Slovenia tie for the lead in the Laser.
After a week of racing in predominantly light conditions, the forecasted seven to nine knots became an 18 knot north easterly as the fleets left the Qingdao Olympic Sailing Centre for the scheduled 13:00 starts. With the wind gusting well over 20 knots and whipping up a big swell as the rain hammered down, it was not a day for the fainthearted.
The heavy weather gave a perfect opportunity for some of the big wind specialists to shine, and particularly in the windsurfer fleets, there were some new names regularly rounding the marks first. Across the fleets just two of the top spots changed hands, but several fleets have tightened up considerably, promising plenty of excitement in tomorrow's Medal Races.
Away first time, the Women's RS:X fleet was at the top mark and across the reach of their outer loop trapezoid class in what seemed like a matter of moments, with MERRET at the forefront of the action. European Championship runner up Antonia FREY (GRE) was having her best race of the regatta to date and took the bullet, whilst MERRET came in fourth with all the rest of the top five posting double figure scores.
Earlier in the week, MERRET had explained that whilst competing in Qingdao she is also trying to conserve her strength for next month's RS:X Worlds in Italy. However there was little sign of her holding anything back in race eight, as she stepped up another gear to record her third bullet of the series. Limei SUN (CHN) proved the Chinese windsurfers are more than just light air specialists by following her in second place, whilst Hong Kong's Wai Man CHAN (HKG) took her second third place of the day.
SUN's second moves her up into second place overall, eight points ahead of Volvo Youth Sailing ISAF World Championship bronze medallist Malgorzata BIALECKA (POL). BIALECKA lies just two points ahead of Olympic silver medallist Jian YIN (CHN) - 17,22 today - going into tomorrow's Medal Race.
In the Men's RS:X fleet, European Champion Nick DEMPSEY (GBR) showed the form that has made him the man to beat this season, obviously enjoying the strong breeze to post 2,1 scores for the day and ensure himself a spot in tomorrow's Medal Race. Conversely all the leaders struggled, with last night's top five only posting one single figure score between them. That went the way of Aichen WANG (CHN), who went 19,6 for the day to move into a tie for second place with double ISAF Youth Worlds Champion Lukasz GRODZICKI (POL).
China continue to hold the lead thanks to Zhennan FANG, who despite going OCS and then posting 16 in race ten, still extends his lead from two to six points.
Whereas the Asian windsurfers had ruled the roost up until today, the stronger conditions saw Europe's top sailors leading the way. Along with DEMPSEY, Julien BONTEMPS (FRA), heavy air specialist Casper BOUMAN (NED) and Olympic Champion Gal FRIDMAN (ISR) all had good days, although of these three only BONTEMPS makes the Medal Race. 22 year old New Zealander Tom ASHLEY also took the opportunity to show his skills when the RS:X gets up on a plane, posting 4,2 for the day to move up to seventh overall.
The 49ers went out on Course Area B today with three races scheduled before tomorrow's opening race. However with the wind gusting well over 20 knots and whipping up huge waves on Fushan Bay, the Race Committee were forced to abandon racing on the first downwind of their opening race. It was a frustrating end to the regatta for Olympic Champions Iker MARTINEZ and Xavier FERNANDEZ (ESP), who went into the race in eleventh place overall and were leading when the blue and white chequered flag went up.
Both British Yngling crews enjoyed a great day out on a very rough Fushan Bay today with Helena LUCAS, Annie LUSH and Lucy MACGREGOR (GBR) posting 3,3 scores to close the gap at the top to just five points. Meanwhile Athens gold medallists Sarah AYTON and Sarah WEBB, with new crew Katherine HOPSON (GBR), excelled in the breeze, with a second place and a bullet bumping them up to fourth place overall, just two points off the bronze medal spot.
Mandy MULDER, Brechtje VAN DERWERF and Janneke HIN (NED) seemed less at home and scored 6,7 in today's two races. For Chinese crew Xiaqun SONG, Xiaoni LI and Chuanshuang ZHANG the day began perfectly with a bullet in the opening race, but they severely dented their hopes of a gold medal when they were one of three teams OCS in race nine.
Olympic silver medallists Nick ROGERS and Joe GLANFIELD (GBR) had a terrific day in the big seas and strong winds to move into a near untouchable lead in the Men's 470 fleet. Before racing began, Sunday's abandoned race six was reinstated, with the International Jury deciding to award average points' score to the seven boats who originally requested redress, rather than abandon the race entirely. This reduced ROGERS and GLANFIELD's lead over Daeyoung KIM and Sungahn JUNG (KOR) from 15 to six points, but the Brits extended it again with 3,6 scores today.
Despite poor starts ROGERS and GLANFIELD were able to work their way back through the fleet to pick up what look like being regatta winning scores today, whilst KIM and JUNG posted a pair of tenths to see the gap to the leaders head back up into double figures.
In the Women's 470, Ingrid PETITJEAN and Nadege DOUROUX (FRA) saw their lead slashed to just five points as they suffered from a nightmare finish in today's race. Approaching the line in the top ten, the ISAF World Sailing Games winners made a bad gybe and it cost them dear, as they eventually crossed in 17th place.
A frustrated PETITJEAN commented, 'I'm not satisfied with today's race for it's a bad race, especially as we like strong winds. We could have done better. At the moment I'm not satisfied.'
Their closest rivals, European Champions Stefanie ROTHWEILER and Vivien KUSSATZ (GER), capitalized with an eighth place, whilst third place Olympic bronze medallists Therese TORGERSSON and Vendela ZACHRISSON (SWE) came in first to move within eight points of the gold medal position, with just the Medal Race to come tomorrow.
World Champion Jonas HOEGH-CHRISTENSEN (DEN) finally put an end to Ben AINSLIE's (GBR) string of six bullets, but the British Olympic Champion immediately bounced back to win the next and give himself an insurmountable 20 point lead going into tomorrow's Medal Race. AINSLIE has simply to compete in and finish the Medal Race to wrap up a fantastic return to the Finn class, whilst behind him a solid day from Emilios PAPATHANASIOU (GRE) means he is hot favourite to take the silver medal.
AINSLIE's lighter weight may have given him a slight advantage last week, but in the 18 knot north easterly blowing across Course Area B he showed that his dominance of the regatta has been built on far more than kilograms. In race nine, when his winning streak came to an end, he managed to sail right through the fleet to finish second after taking a penalty for hitting another boat at the start. After the ten race series, he finishes on ten points in the 18 boat fleet, 20 ahead of PAPATHANASIOU and 33 in front of third place overall HOEGH-CHRISTENSEN.
'Today I was very pleased because I didn't think I would do so well in those conditions,' AINSLIE revealed. 'It was a lot of effort and hard work, but it was nice results today.'
In the battle for the Medal Race spots, Olympic silver medallist Rafael TRUJILLO (ESP) made the most of the breeze to post 4,6 scores and secure his place, whilst Ed WRIGHT (GBR) crossed the line third in the final race to secure the tenth and final spot.
AINSLIE predecessor in the British Finn slot, Iain PERCY claimed sole leadership of the Star fleet today with crew Steve MITCHELL. With the second Star race today abandoned, PERCY and MITCHELL top the leaderboard after a bullet in race nine. One point behind the leaders, Andy HORTON and Brad NICHOL (USA) know they just have to beat the Brits in tomorrow's race to finish above them. However neither team can afford to get into a match race, as world number one crew George SZABO and Eric MONROE (USA) wait in the wings after keeping tabs on the leaders with a third in today's race.
The Tornado fleet blitzed their way across Fushan Bay today, with world number two crew Xavier REVIL and Christophe ESPAGNON (FRA) making light of a 20 knot easterly and big seas to take two bullets and the overall lead. The French pair never looked like losing control of the day's opening race, whilst Darren BUNDOCK and Glenn ASHBY (AUS) and reigning World Champions Fernando ECHAVARRI and Anton PAZ (ESP) battled for second place.
After a week of lighter conditions ECHAVARRI and PAZ were clearly enjoying the breeze and starting to show the form that won them the 2005 ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Award. However two third place finishes were not enough to overcome some disappointing finishes last week and the Spanish pair miss out on tomorrow's Medal Race in eleventh place overall.
The Medal Race is all set to be a French shoot out for gold, with Olivier BACKES and Paul Ambroise SEVESTRE (FRA) just a point off the lead, whilst double Olympic Champions Roman HAGARA and Hans Peter STEINACHER (AUT) fall further behind after a 6,10 day which puts them third overall, twelve points off the lead.