There are just fifty more days until the 2012 London Olympic Games opens, and the British weather made the occasion a notable one. The weather battered Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta causing cancellations, postponements and some full on racing for those classes that did get out there.
The racing schedule had already been moved forward to an early start to try to beat the inbound gale - forecast to arrive in the afternoon. But the weather system hit fast forward and by early morning it was already too windy for any Paralympic racing. The rest of the schedule was rejigged and in the end, all the Olympic classes except the Stars got at least one race in.
The Finns took to the water in the afternoon, having been moved from their normal distant offshore course to sail on the inner harbour. They got just one race done and it was won by Britain's Giles Scott. The chasing pack slipped further back, with Ben Ainslie scoring his discard with an eighth. The USA's Zach Railey was involved in an incident at a mark that ended in a capsize, and was subsequently rewarded redress to hold third place.
Giles Scott commented, "I managed to get a race win today which was good, Mark was second and I think Andrew was up there as well so it was a good show from the British boys, we love the rain… I seem to be sailing quite fast, so more of the same tomorrow. It's looking fresh so I think we might be on for an afternoon sail, but I'm sure we will get a race in."
The 49er fleet has now split into gold and silver, and it was the top half that took priority today. They sailed one race early on in the harbour course and it was won by the overall leaders, Australians Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen. That further increased their lead over second-placed Emmanuel Dyen and Stephane Christidis of France. Britain's Dylan Fletcher and Alain Sign moved up to third, pushing their countrymen and one-time leaders, Dave Evans and Ed Powys into fourth.
One happy 49er sailor was Portugal's Bernado Freitas - 23rd overall going into today but coming second behind the Australians today. "We have made some mistakes and we had a breakage on the boat, but we are still sailing in the gold fleet and doing well. Today's wind was perfect; it is how we love to sail in. Flat water and strong wind for us is great, the boat speed is fast and we were sailing without making mistakes at the front of the fleet to take second place."
The Women's Match Racing completed both the repecharge and the gold group round robin, with New Zealand's Stephanie Hazard, Jenna Hansen and Susannah Pyatt and Spain's Tamara Echegoyen, Angela Pumariega and Sofia Toro going through into the quarter finals. Stephanie Hazard commented, "We started the regatta pretty slow but we've built up momentum over the last three days, today especially we had to come out strong to secure our spot in the quarter finals. The conditions were tough, pretty wet and pretty cold but it's just a case of keeping it simple and keeping it fast on the track."
The Gold Group was won convincingly by Russia's Ekaterina Skudina, Elena Oblova and Elena Siuzeva - who were unbeaten. Sharing the honours in second were France's Clarie Leroy, Elodie Bertrand and Marie Riou, and the USA's Anna Tunnicliffe, Molly Vandemoer and Debbie Capozzi returning to their normal form.
In the Laser it was a return to the top for the man who is so far unbeaten at the Olympic venue - Tom Slingsby (AUS). He posted a first and a fourth to breeze past his countryman, Tom Burton, who dropped to fourth, leaving Germany's Phillip Buhl in second and Tonci Stipanovic of Germany in third. Despite his performance in the breeze, Slingsby was still looking for more. "Everyone's going really well, normally this is my bread and butter, the super-strong, big waves, very windy stuff is usually where I can get a gap on the fleet, but I'm working my ass off and only just managing to stay with them. Everyone seems to have improved and they have realised that they needed to make a gain in the strong winds and they have. So I just need to find another gain to get ahead before the Olympics comes around."
A gap started to open at the top of the Laser Radial fleet. China's Lijia Xu, Britain's Alison Young and Finland's Sari Multala all scored exactly the same for the day, and Xu held her lead, with Young and Multala both just a point behind, with the tie broken to Young's advantage. The other contenders all had a bad day in the breeze and fourth placed Evi van Acker is now 12 points off the pace.
Alison Young was happy with her day, "It was a pretty solid day today, the first day of the finals, I got two good counters in… You always aim to medal, you don't get out of bed to come fourth. I've just got to keep improving between now and the Games and I should be able to do that, but your own expectations are always higher than anyone else's, so if you meet your own expectations you would have done a good job."
The RS:X Women sailed one race in the morning, and overall leader Zofia Noceti-Klepacka finally scored something other than a first or second - with a fourth. She discards it as her worst result and still holds a 13 point lead over second placed Marina Alabau, who placed second today. In third is the Ukraine's Olga Maslivets, tied with Lee Korzits another 15 points behind Alabau.
The RS:X Men had a very extended day, sailing early and then last off the water just as the breeze really kicked in. Germany's Toni Wilhelm won the first race, and the Netherland's Dorian van Rijsselberge won the second. It lifted the latter to second place above Nick Dempsey, who posted an eighth and a seventh. Julien Bontemps sailed a solid day to score two thirds and hold his lead at eight points at the top of the table.
Dorian van Rijsselberg was happy with his performance, "The regatta is going ok so far, I've learn a lot so far in this regatta which is good, learning from my mistakes so I'm happy. The racing today is tricky, not just because it's windy and cold but because of the rain, it makes it hard to see where the mark is but the racing is still fun. It's good to see everyone getting ready for the Games, everyone is getting more serious and every little point counts so you really have to be on top of your game."
The 470 Men and Women's gold fleets were sent out to their course and hit some Big Thursday conditions by the time they had completed their two races. In the men, it was a return to the top for the Australian World Champions, Matt Belcher and Malcolm Page. They scored a first and a third to move back into the lead, but the British Olympic representatives, Luke Patience and Stuart Bithell had an even better day with a first and a second and moved up into silver. Slipping from gold was the Kiwi pair of Paul Snow-Hansen and Jason Saunders.
Luke Patience was philosophical, "Obviously the Olympics is the big one, but it would be a nice bonus to do well at this event too. It's nice to not be focused on the results, but for them to come through well, there's not a lot you can do about the results but you can do a lot about the things that get you good results."
Meanwhile, in the 470 Women, it was very much New Zealand's day, with Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie winning both races to overturn their deficit to the French team of Camille Lecointre and Mathilde Geron. The Brazilian pair of Martine Grael and Isabel Swan moved up into third whilst the one-time leaders and British World Champions, Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark moved down to fourth. Jo Aleh reflected on their superiority in the breeze, "One more day of really windy racing before medal day so we're looking forward to it, we love the windy weather."
Racing has been postponed till midday tomorrow due to the weather forecast - and as the athletes were leaving the venue, the gusts on the harbour wall reached 53 knots.
For full results go to the website: www.skandiasailforgoldregatta.co.uk