The climax day of racing at the SAP 49er & 49erFX Europeans 2013 in Aarhus, Denmark, delivered a nail-biting finale. Crowds came out to witness the action on the promenade adjacent to the race track thronging with fans, with thousands more watching the live streaming online. A glorious day of sun and blue sky, with racing held off for just a while as the wind filled in.
But ultimately it all ended as it started, as the series leaders going into the Grand Final day sealed victory. Gold to London's Olympic Silver Medallists Peter Burling and Blair Tuke of New Zealand in the 49er Men, and winning the first ever 49erFX European Championship crown were Marie Baad Nielsen and Marie Thusgaard Olsen of Denmark.
The first stage of today for each fleet was the petit-finals, which saw the boats in positions 9 to 18 race off against each other, with the top placed boat then joining the Grand Final top 8 for the concluding medal races.
An unmatched performance when it counted from New Zealand's Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, as they walked away with the 49er Open European Championship title. Dylan Fletcher and Alain Sign finished second overall, and claimed the position as top placed European team.
A disastrous opening for the first of the three Medal Races saw the Kiwis over the line at the start and having to go back, as Burling explained, "In the first race we were setting up a similar start to the last couple, and then we opened up probably too big a gap and the Danish guys came in really late and really fast and kind of forced us forward almost on the line to get a good lane. We thought we were over so went back and battled back to the rest of the group by the top mark."
They found their rhythm, but another mistake at the top mark, resulting in a capsize, again cost them dearly and they ended up finishing the race right at the back of the pack. "I missed my clip on the way up and actually ended up falling off the back of the boat,"
said Burling. "So it was pretty much that race over for us, so it was a pretty hard way to start the series."
Onto the second race, with Germany's Erik Heil and Thomas Ploessel, who won race 1, Great Britain's Fletcher and Sign and Burling and Tuke incredibly close on points, but with the British up front. The Kiwis took a perfect start in the middle of the line, where they were joined by France's D'ortoli and Delpech. They held their nerve and some superb boat handling put them up front with a safe clear lead, with Fletcher and Sign in second place. The Kiwis held it to take the race win, with the British finishing in second, so now the overall lead was back with the Kiwis.
Victory was all down to the third race, in a "who dares wins" decider between the Kiwis and the British. The British claimed the best start, but the Kiwis again showed outstanding boat handling to sail up the fleet and finish in 5th place, with the British in 7th, and victory to the Kiwis.
Tuke recapped the deciding race, "In the third race of the day we started up the line and had a really nice lane towards the boundary on the left hand side, so we did a similar thing and from the first cross we were in front, so once we got to the top mark we just stayed between them and the next mark we were going to and all the guys that were close to us in the regatta were behind us, so it didn't really matter about the guys in front of us, so we just concentrated on what was happening behind us and kept the boat going fast. Yeh, the last gybe into the finish we got to celebrate a bit as we knew we had it wrapped up. Until then, with that type of racing you never know what is going to happen"
A tense day for Fletcher and Sign, with the Championship swapping between them and the Kiwis. "In the last race we were on equal points with the Kiwis, so we basically had to take it to them and see what we could achieve, and basically try and fluster them a little bit before the start. But, we found that we couldn't actually get to them before the start, so we just tried to stick to our own plan and get off the start line and actually execute what we wanted to, but unfortunately being the course it is and quite shifty it didn't work out for us. So we were always trying to play catch up and then halfway through the race it went a little bit wacky and light and then we had another opportunity to catch them up, but unfortunately they were just a little be in front of us, but that is sailing really."
Sign continued, "We are chuffed and it is a really good feeling to be European Champions again. The last time we did the Europeans in 2011, we had the same result of second overall and first Europeans. It was quite emotional out there, going into the last race and it was equal points and who beat who. We had a great start and were looking like we were going to be winning the race and then we weren't winning the race and then it was like 'aah'. But we are really chuffed to be European Champion 2013."
No break for these teams, with Burling and Tuke heading back to New Zealand for a few days, before they pack their bags to head to San Francisco for the Youth America's Cup.
Fletcher and Sign return to the UK to pick up a new boat and then will be focusing on the 49er Worlds in Marseille, France from 21-29 September. "This is the big one for us this year and we will see how we go then against the Kiwis,"
Germany's Erik Heil and Thomas Ploessel secured the bronze medal from their scoreline of 1st, 7th and 8th today. It was almost a bit too close for comfort for them though, with France's Julien D'Ortoli and Noé Delpech right on their back and ending the series on equal points, with the tiebreak in favour of the Germans.
Racing for the 49erFX fleet started with the petit-finals for the 49er Men's fleet, with three British teams in the mix as the top three boats going into the day and hoping to secure that single promotion to the Grand Finals. The British 2012 Olympic pair of Morrison and Rhodes dug deep, kept the pressure at bay, and scored a 2nd and 7th to safely advance through, leaving Denmark's Norregaard and Thomsen who scored two third places behind them, and Great Britain's Evans and Powys who put in 6th and 2nd place race results in third. When it came to the Grand Finals however, Morrison and Rhodes could do little to improve on their points score and ended the European Championship in 8th overall.
49er Men Top 9 Grand Finals Leaderboard - Final Results
1. Peter Burling/Blair Tuke (NZL) - 89 pts
2. Dylan Fletcher/Alain Sign (GBR) - 93 pts
3. Erik Heil/Thomas Ploessel (GER) - 112 pts
4. Julien d Ortoli/Noé Delpech (FRA) - 112 pts
5. Jonas Warrer/Peter Lang (DEN) - 113 pts
6. Jorge Lima/Jose Luis Costa (POR) - 114 pts
7. Nico Delle-Karth/Nikolaus Resch (AUT) - 127 pts
8. Stevie Morrison/Ben Rhodes (GBR) - 129 pts
9. Marcus Hansen/Josh Porebski (NZL) - 130 pts
Racing was a bit more clear cut in the 49erFX fleet. Denmark's series leaders Ida Marie Baad Nielsen and Marie Thusgaard Olsen had no intention of relinquishing their lead. They went into today with an 11 point lead over the next placed team, although an 11 point margin can easily be erased with each race score now counting for double. They sailed safe when they needed and then pushed hard when they knew they could make the gains, to score a 7th, 1st and 5th and win with a 17 point margin over the silver medal team of Martine Soffiatti Grael and Kattena Larsen Kunze from Brazil.
Baad Nielsen and Thusgaard Olsen put in a rock solid performance throughout the entire week and truly deserved this victory - and with it take their place in sailing history as the first ever 49erFX European Champions.
A thrilled Baad Nielsen said, "It is a fantastic achievement, it is so amazing to win. We have been in the lead for a few days now, but we hadn't really got used to the feeling that we actually could win this, because everything can still happen. It is just fantastic. The next big thing is going to be the 49erFX Worlds in Marseille, so we are looking forward to some racing there. We have two weeks of summer holiday and then we will start training again."
Going into the Grand Finals in second overall, the Brazilian pair of Grael and Kunze had a big ask on their hands to unseat the Danish pair, so for them the focus was also on ensuring the Kiwi world #1 team of Maloney and Meech stayed behind them. The game plan did not start well, with the Brazilians finishing behind the Kiwis in the first two races. But they managed to pull out a race win in the concluding race, whilst the Kiwis got caught further back in the fleet to cross the line in in 8th. So silver to Brazil, and bronze to New Zealand, in what was a touch and go podium finish for the Kiwis. They ended the series on equal points with Denmark's Hansen and Salskov-Iversen, but went through to secure bronze on tiebreak.
In the preceding petit-final, there were some fierce battles between Germany's Victoria Jurczok and Anika Lorenz and Great Britain's Frances Peters and Nicola Groves to secure the slot to advance up to the Grand Final fleet. None of the other teams really had a look-in, as their scorelines were just too high to realistically be a threat. The Germans took the advantage in the first of the three double-points race, claiming a race win, with the British just behind in third. But the British fought back to outsail the German pair in the next two races finishing third, and then wrapping up with a win when they needed it most in the deciding race. So the British pair advanced through to the Grand Finals with a 6 point advantage over the Germans. They accelerated even further up the leaderboard with finishes of 3rd, 6th and 2nd to end the Championship in fifth overall.
49erFX Women Top 9 Grand Finals Leaderboard - Final Results
1. Ida Marie Baad Nielsen/Marie Thusgaard Olsen (DEN) - 87 pts
2. Martine Soffiatti Grael/Kattena Larsen Kunze (BRA) - 104 pts
3. Alexandra Maloney/Molly Meech (NZL) - 108pts
4. Jena Mai Hansen/Katja Salskov-Iversen (DEN) - 108 pts
5. Frances Peters/Nicola Groves (GBR) - 120 pts
6. Giulia Conti/Francesca Clapcich (ITA) - 120 pts
7. Annemiek Bekkering/Claire Blom (NED) - 126 pts
8. Charlotte Dobson/Sophie Ainsworth (GBR) - 128 pts
9. Tina Lutz/Susann Beucke (GER) - 139 pts