The host nation China continues to deliver some fantastic results, particularly in the men's and women's RS:X events.
Steady winds filled in across the race course, with the crowds on the harbour wall able to enjoy the racing on the courses adjacent to the wall where the Laser, Laser Radial, 49er and RS:X fleets were out racing.
Athens Olympic gold medallist Faustine MERRET (FRA) had a terrific start in only her third ISAF Graded event in the RS:X, winning the day's second race to move into a tie for the lead with China's Peina CHEN. In fact all three Chinese sailors enjoyed a good start in the first day of racing in the Women's RS:X fleet, with Limei SUN (CHN) third overall after 2,5 scores and Athens silver medallist Jian YIN (CHN) fifth having posted results of 11,3.
The first race for the women began in a light south easterly wind just over five knots, with the fleet lined up in front of a mass of spectators out on the breakwater overlooking Fushan Bay. It was the perfect example of the growing Chinese enthusiasm for Olympic sailing, which has received plenty of coverage in the Chinese media all week long. Without doubt the regatta has benefited from its status as the first Test Event for any of the summer Olympic sports, and the increased exposure within China can only be good for the sport. The Chinese success so far here in Qingdao is also a great plus for the organizers aiming to bring the crowds to Qingdao in August 2008.
Whilst the main body of the fleet played it safe up the middle of the windward-leeward course, Jannicke STALSTROM (NOR) immediately went right at the start, found some pressure and took a winning lead to the first mark. Formula Windsurfing World Champion Allison SHREEVE (AUS) started well and rounded the top mark in second, but in the lighter winds was overhauled by SUN, CHEN and MERRET to eventually come in sixth. With an eleventh in race two, the Australian lies seventh overall. STALSTROM followed up her bullet with a 19th and is ninth overall.
Not such a great day from Israel's windsurfing star Lee KORZITS. KORZITS hit the headlines when she stormed to victory at the 2003 ISAF Sailing World Championships, but for the moment she is still finding her pace and enjoying the new Olympic equipment. 'The board is great - I really enjoy sailing it,' remarked KORZITS before today's race. KORZITS is not however worried by the challenge from team mate Maayan DAVIDOVICH who recently took the silver medal at the Volvo Youth Sailing ISAF World Championship in Great Britain. 'We are a team and we train together. There is no rivalry. Together we can get better and better, and one of us is then more likely to get the gold medal.'
It was a great day for China in the Men's RS:X fleet, with Feng HE (CHN) and Zhennan FANG (CHN) both posting bullets to move up to first and second overall. The south easterly of around seven knots with a strong current made for challenging pumping conditions in the RS:X fleet, but the two relatively unknown Chinese sailors were more than up to the task, with HE posting 3,1 scores to move top in the overall standings, two points ahead of FANG who was 1,4 for the day.
The relatively small frame of double ISAF Youth World Champion Lukasz GRODZICKI (POL) is also clearly suited to the light conditions, and he maintained his consistent form with 7,5 scores to lie third overall.
Knocked off the overall lead, GRODZICKI reflected on the performance of China's sailors, 'The Chinese athletes are really very good. They are pretty strong. I didn't expect that they would be so fast and such good competitors! They did not come to the RS:X European Championship, so they are real a surprise to me.'
A little further down the scoreboard but looking equally dangerous is France's 2004 Olympian Julien BONTEMPS, who posted another two second places today and is waiting for race five after which he can discard his OCS from race two.
It was another difficult day for pre-event favourite Nick DEMPSEY (GBR), who posted scores of 21,15 and drops outside the top ten to twelfth overall. Meanwhile Olympic Champion Gal FRIDMAN (ISR) tumbled down the leaderboard after he failed to compete in either race today.
After nearly a year out of the Finn, Olympic Champion Ben AINSLIE (GBR) continued his remarkable comeback today, taking bullets in both races to establish a 19 point overall lead. His closest rival yesterday Emilios PAPATHANASIOU (GRE) was less successful, after being disqualified in race three and then posting a ninth in race four. AINSLIE was again imperious in the light south easterly winds and strong current. In race four he was able to pick out pressure whilst playing a mostly central line on the upwind track to round the top mark in first and eventually go on to take his third race victory.
Cautious to predict the regatta outcome AINSLIE remarked, 'It's still a long way to go in any regatta - especially here. The conditions are proving to be very difficult. Now I am just taking one race at a time.' Looking ahead to 2008, he continued 'I would love to be here in 2008 and love to win a medal. So we will see!'
With PAPATHANASIOU slipping up, the opportunity was there for another competitor to take the challenge to AINSLIE and initially it looked like his British team mate Ed WRIGHT (GBR) would step up. However after a second in race three, WRIGHT was way over the line and scored OCS in race four. Johan TILLANDER (SWE) was more consistent with a 10,3 scoreline for the day putting him second overall, two points ahead of Gasper VINCEC (SLO), who scored 10,3 today and is in third place.
Mandy MULDER, Brechtje VAN DERWERF and Janneke HIN (NED) enjoyed a fantastic day in the light conditions out on the Delta course today, posting 2,1 scores to move into a seven point overall lead in the Yngling fleet. MULDER and DERWERF were runners up at the recent European Championship on their home waters, but usual helm HIN has moved to take a crewing position as part of the Dutch experiment to find the perfect Yngling team for Athens. Rather than take the conventional approach of forming a set of trios and then competing against each other for the Olympic berth, the Dutch Yngling teams have consistently moved around in order to find the best mix. So far in Qingdao the MULDER, DERWERF and HIN combination is producing the goods, and today they were never far off the first place.
Reflecting on today's move to the top of the scoreboard MULDER said, 'Today's competition was great. We are first now. The team is a new combination for us and we are doing well. Our team co-operation gives us success. We just want to be on the top. Our goal in coming here is to test for the Olympics.' Remarking on the conditions, she continued, 'The conditions here are really good. The expectation of no wind was bad, as we have sailed everyday. It's really good and nice for sailing.'
In the opening race today, race four of the series, their closest challengers Xiaqun SONG, Xiaoni LI and Chuanshuang ZHANG (CHN) just managed to hold them off on the final downwind leg, crossing in front of them just 30 metres from the line to take victory. However in race five, SONG, LI and ZHANG were caught out with a bad start leaving MULDER, VAN DERWERF and HIN to fight it out with Helena LUCAS, Annie LUSH and Lucy MACGREGOR (GBR) for the lead. The race was tight again but this time the Dutch team held on to take the bullet, whilst an eleventh place for SONG, LI and ZHANG saw the gap on the overall leaderboard widen to seven points. The second place for LUCAS, LUSH and MACGREGOR means they remain third overall, just two points behind the Chinese.
Reigning World and European Champions and World number one crew Monica AZON, Sandra AZON and Graciela PISONERO (ESP) continued to struggle on the Qingdao waters, posting 14,8 in the day's two races to remain eleventh overall.
Roman HAGARA and Hans Peter STEINACHER (AUT) are looking untouchable in the light conditions so far experienced in Qingdao, with the Austrian pair extending their overall lead to double figures after another bullet and a fifth place today.
It was a story of deja-vu as the 2004 Olympic Champions lead to the top mark in today's opening race four, rounding having already established a big lead over Xavier REVIL and Christophe ESPAGNON (FRA). From there they scored their third consecutive bullet of the opening series with REVIL and ESPAGNON coming in second. However the French World number two crew simply could not match the consistency of the leaders and finished race five in 13th, as the Austrians crossed in fifth. Yesterday's second place team, Olympic silver medallists John LOVELL and Charlie OGLETREE (USA) also struggled for form in the tricky conditions today, posting their worst series scores of 8,14 to fall back to fourth overall.
Commenting on their performance LOVELL said, 'It was very difficult sailing conditions today. We had a bad race in race 5 and made some bad decisions on the first leg of both races. The only team sailing better than anyone else are the Austrians. They are sailing very well and fast. We are not satisfied with today's results and hope to do better.'
Olivier BACKES and Paul Ambroise SEVESTRE (FRA) brought the Austrian winning streak to an end with a bullet in race five to put them third overall behind team mates REVIL and ESPAGNON. Further back some of the big stars of the class had an up and down day, with Darren BUNDOCK and Glenn ASHBY (AUS) eighth after posting scores of 13,4 and 2005 ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Award Fernando ECHAVARRI and Anton PAZ (ESP) enjoying their best scores so far, but still only managing 10,7 for the day.
The Laser fleet were sent out onto Course Area B for one race today, with Evagelos CHIMONAS (GRE) continuing his stronghold over the fleet. Despite posting an eighth place finish, he continues to own the yellow leader dot. 'I made some mistakes around the second mark,' he explained, 'I was fourth going around the first mark, and everything was going smoothly until I made a bad move on a shift.' Looking ahead he added, 'I am under a little bit more pressure. I am not very satisfied with my performance today, but it's OK. I'll try to not make any more mistakes and everything should be fine!'
It could be shortlived though, as the Olympic bronze medallist Vasilij ZBOGAR (SLO) improves his game to take second place in today's race 6 and close the points gap on CHIMONAS. This pair have established themselves some way ahead of the rest of the fleet on points, and with only four races remaining to determine the top ten contenders for the Medal Race they surely are certain of their qualification.
A new face appears in the top three, with Poland's Maciej GRABOWSKI streaking across the finish line to take the gun and with it move up into the bronze medal position. Aside from an OCS in race two, GRABOWSKI has posted some consistent results and his performance is today rewarded.
After an impressive opening performance, a continued downward slide for Maximilian SOH (SIN) as he posted his third successive double-digit result, with a 19 taking him to seventh overall.
TUNNICLIFFE Takes Second Bullet
Penny CLARK (GBR) will be pleased to return to the head of the Laser Radial fleet with a second place finish today. She led the series after races 1 and 2, but dropped out of the medal positions after a result of 18 in race 3, but the discard today brings her back up into contention.
But RAILEY will remain cautious as rival Anna TUNNICLIFFE (USA) yet again demonstrated her prowess to take the gun today. Unfortunately for TUNNICLIFFE she has so far lacked consistency and each top position she has achieved is knocked sideways by a poor performance and subsequent high scoring result. Clearly if TUNNICLIFFE can remain steady from this point forwards she will be on course for the Medal Race and more.
Larissa NEVIEROV (ITA) found herself crossing the line in third place, a surprise result to add to her scoreline of 23, OCS, 23, 30.
The points get closer at the top of the Women's 470 fleet, with the three podium places teams sitting on points scores of 20, 21 and 22 apiece.
Continued success for France, sees the World number two crew Ingrid PETITJEAN and Nadege DOUROUX (FRA) take the overall lead after results of 21, 4 in today's races four and five. With the discard (competitors may exclude their worst race score) coming into play after today's race five, they exclude the 21 points to count four top ten results.
Just one point behind are their rivals Camille LECOINTRE and Gwendolyn LE MAITRE (FRA) who swept through the fleet to victory in race five, and with it have secured themselves second overall.
A second place result in today's closing race five, gives Henriette KOCH and Lene SOMMER (DEN) sufficient points to maintain their hold in the fleet's top three.
With the exception of KOCH and SOMMER, all the teams currently in the top ten are counting two double-digit results. The fleet will take to the water again tomorrow, and as the cut-off for the Medal Race final draws closer none of the leading crews will want to place any more results out of the top ten.
Emmanuel DYEN and Yann ROCHERIEUX (FRA) maintain their overall lead in the series and will continue to wear sailing's equivalent of the yellow jersey, the yellow leader dot on their mainsail tomorrow, after posting an outstanding three bullets today. Extraordinary sailing from this pair who hold a World Ranking of 17. The duo have really ramped up their campaign in 2006, competing in numerous events, but until now their potential form has never translated to such an outstanding performance on the race course.
The 49er fleet is scheduled to sail a 15 race series, with the top ten boats then proceeding through to the Medal Race. If they continue at their current pace DYEN and ROCHERIEUX are going to be a hard act to challenge.
But there are plenty of crews not too far adrift who the French will be keeping a close eye on, including the 49er World Champions and the world's number one ranked team, Chris DRAPER and Simon HISCOCKS (GBR). DRAPER and HISCOCKS have leapfrogged team mates Stevie MORRISON and Ben RHODES (GBR) to sit in second overall, after placing a 4,2,2 to sit eleven points ahead.
With the top three teams posting some top results, the Greek team of Athanasios PACHOUMAS and Athanasios SIOUZIOS (GRE) who went into today in third overall now find themselves knocked back down to fourth.
Defending Olympic gold medallists Iker MARTINEZ and Xavier FERNANDEZ (ESP) put in their worst performance yet, and drop down one place in the leaderboard today to sit in fifteenth overall.