The penultimate day was critical for sailors in the three Paralympic classes at US Sailing's Rolex Miami OCR, where 529 sailors from 41 countries are competing.
While their Olympic counterparts in ten additional classes were sailing to make the top-ten cut for a single Medal Race, the Paralympic sailors were topping off five days of racing on Biscayne Bay with two final fleet races to determine who takes home medals. Many of the sailors were also battling for a berth on their respective country's teams for the 2012 Paralympic Games in Weymouth, England, this summer.
France's Damien Seguin, the 2.4mR class's early leader, finished 3-1 to post 17 points overall and win a gold medal that he can now hang next to his Paralympic Gold from Athens and his Silver from Qingdao. Seguin's performance increased his lead over Canada's Silver Medalist Paul Tingley to a staggering 25 points, quite an accomplishment in a fleet of 25 boats.
"Damien is very good and very consistent and has been at this a long time,"
said the USA's Mark LeBlanc whose finish of eighth overall here (over the 11th posted by fellow US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics member John Ruf) will finally give him his shot at a Paralympic medal. "Hopefully we can train together."
LeBlanc explained that he was in the Paralympic Trials in 2007 and tied for first but, losing out to tie-breaker rules, did not go to the Games, which was heart breaking. "To be honest, looking back now to where I am versus then I can say I wasn't ready then,"
said LeBlanc. "I had no idea what was going on and was just going out and sailing, but this time around I'm well prepared and ready to go to the Paralympics."
The Netherlands' Barend Kol snatched bronze with a 4-4 for 48 points, displacing Great Britain's Megan Pascoe, who was in that position going into the last day of Paralympic class sailing. (Pascoe fell to fourth.)
In Skud-18s, Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch (AUS) won the gold medal after finishing 4-1, edging out by only one point silver medalists Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell (GBR), who turned in a 3-3. The two teams had been tied on points going into today, with the USA's Jennifer French and Jean-Paul Creignou trailing in third, a position they maintained today for bronze (as well as a spot on the USA's Paralympic team).
"We had a terrible first day," said Fitzgibbon, whose team won here last year and was named to represent his country at the
Paralympics after it finished third place in this year's World Championship. "It has been a week of us just chipping away, coming back, coming back, until we were third, second and then last night we got up to first, and today we were able to win in the last race. We were in second going into the final race and we had to beat the British team to win the regatta. I'm really happy about how it worked out."
On day four in Sonars, Udo Hessels, Marcel van de Veen and Mischa Rossen (NED) were one point out of first, but the team secured a gold medal with a 1-2 for a five-point margin over silver medalists John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas (GBR). Taking the bronze was Aleksander Wang-Hansen, Marie Solberg and Per Eugen Kristiansen (NOR).
In Star class, the neck-and-neck race between Brazil's Robert Scheidt and Bruno Prada and Sweden's Fredrik Loof and Max Salminen was further complicated by Norway's Eivind Melleby and Petter Moerland Pedersen when that team won the first of two races on the penultimate day. With the Brazilians taking fourth and the Swedes taking third, the performance tied Melleby and Pedersen with Scheidt and Prada going into the second race, while Loof and Salminen had a one-point edge on their closest competitors.
The nod went to Scheidt an Prada in the end, however, when the Brazilians, who are the current World champions, won the second race, putting Loof and Salminen two points behind them in fourth (with 33 points) and Melleby and Pedersen in third (38 points).
Melleby had said earlier in the week that the top ten here are so good that getting to the medal race would be tough. "We have here nine of the top 15 teams from Perth (where the most recent World Championships were held), so the fleet is quite strong." With five of those now off the final-race roster, Melleby's goal tomorrow will be to power through for a podium position.
In Women's Match Racing, Australia's Olivia Price were the first to advance to the Final after they defeated Sally Barkow (USA) 3-1 in the first semi-final. Then in the second match, Lucy Macgregor (GBR), like she did the day before, became entangled in a do-or-die match to advance to the finals. She prevailed against Silja Lehtinen (FIN) winning the fifth race in the first-to-three flight.
Tomorrow the Macgregor team will face the young Australian team in the finals while the Finns will tip off with USA in the Petit Finals for bronze.
Yesterday's upset by GBR's Paul Goodison was usurped by Brazilian Bruno Fontes's for a spot at the top of the scoreboard in Laser class. Fontes won both races and added the victories to three others in his ten-race series. Goodison's 2-3 was good enough to show tied points with Fontes but not enough to keep him from falling to second behind him due to tie-breaker rules, which favor the most first-place finishes. (Goodison has four total.)
"Tomorrow will be a fight for the gold so I will need a good start, and I'm prepared for some match racing on the course,"
said Fontes, adding that the Rolex Miami OCR counts toward his country's Olympic Trials. "I'm in a very good spot and excited for tomorrow."
The only sailor here with a perfect score, Nick Dempsey (GBR) has won nine of his ten races on the RS:X windsurfing course and discarded an OCS ("on the course side" at the start) in race three as his worst finish. "Everything is going pretty well,"
said Dempsey, who has already qualified for the Olympic Games. "I'm really here for a training regatta, really trying to make the most of the light winds."
Other sailors maintaining their leads from yesterday and seemingly favored for the Medal Races were Nico Delle Karth and Nikolaus Resch (AUT) in 49ers, Lijia Xu (CHN) in Laser Radial, Mathew Belcher and Malcolm Page (AUS) in 470 Men, Lisa Westerhof/Lobke Berkhout (NED) in 470 Women, Zach Railey (USA) in Finn, Nick Dempsey (GBR) in the Men's RS:X and Demita Vega De Lille (MEX) in the Women's RS:X.
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