More than 600 athletes representing 45 nations have hit their regatta halfway mark after Wednesday's racing at US SAILING's 2010 Rolex Miami OCR, the second of seven stops of the 2009-2010 ISAF Sailing World Cup.
The event, the only of its kind in this country, started on Monday and continues through until Friday for the three Paralympic events and Saturday for the 10 Olympic events, which will have been pared down to the top 10 in each for Medal Races that day.
Wednesday was a picturesque light-air day on Biscayne Bay, but many sailors worked the conditions to their advantage. The Bay's flat conditions pleased Spain's Marina Alabau
, who posted finish positions of 4, 2 in Wednesday's two Women's RS:X windsurfer races. The "shifty and gusty" 8-12 knot winds, however, made it necessary to pump the sails, adding greatly to the physical demands for both men's and women's divisions. "It is important to be in the gust; if you pump really hard you stay in it, if you don't pump you fall back in the fleet."
Alabau, the 2009 RS:X World and European Champion and also the defending champion here, replaced Tuesday's leader and Spanish teammate Blanca Manchon at the top of the scoreboard while Mancon fell to fourth, allowing Charline Picon (FRA) and Laura Linares (ITA) the luxury of second- and third-place positions, respectively.
"I am watching nobody special, just trying to do my best," said Alabau. "For sure I can win, but maybe there are five others who can win, too. It's not going to be easy."
According to John Craig (USA), Principal Race Officer for the RS:X race course, both men's and women's fleets have been aggressive on the line. Three of the last two days' four starts carried the burden of a "black flag," flown by the race committee after recalling too many starts due to premature starters. The penalty for jumping the start on a black flag means disqualification from that race - end of story.
"Racing among the top 10 in each class is very close," said Craig. "The physical fitness of these top athletes is a big part of what's making the difference."
In Men's RS:X, Dorian Van Rijsselberge (NED), who won both races yesterday, maintained his lead today with finish positions of 2, 7 worth a five-point lead over Ivan Pastor (ESP).
Ed Wright (GBR), who won this ISAF Sailing World Cup regatta and the overall World Cup series last year, leapfrogged his Skandia Team GBR teammate Giles Scott (GBR) to the top of the Finn leaderboard, with 1,4,1 from the three races held.
Although contented with his performance on Wednesday, Wright knows there's still a lot of work to be done if he's to remain in the running at the end of the week.
"It was tricky out there today, so I was happy to come away with three good results," Wright explained. "Looking ahead to the next couple of days, it's pretty tough work out there so anything could happen. I'm not banking on anything just yet!"
Scott had a consistent day with three third places enough to keep him in the top three in second position, just three points behind Wright.
In the other Olympic events there were also new leaders in the 49er, Laser and Men's and Women's 470 fleets. The 49ers completed another three races with the French team of Emmanuel Dyen and Stéphane Christidis moving from second to first overall. Brazil's Bruno Fontes (BRA) hits the front in the Laser fleet, overtaking Britain's Nick Thompson. Two-time World Champions Nic Asher and Elliot Willis had a great day in the Men's 470 fleet to move into the overall lead, whilst Americans Amanda Clark and Sarah Chin have taken over pole position in the women's fleet. The USA also hold the overall lead in the Laser Radial and Star fleets, thanks to Paige Railey (USA) and Andy Horton and James Lyne (USA) respectively.
Lucy MacGregor, Annie Lush and Ally Martin (GBR) are now the only team to remain unbeaten in the Elliott 6m Women's Match Racing event. Having already booked their berth in the quarter-finals yesterday, the trio were looking to stay in control in the gold group round-robin in order to gain a favourable seeding for their quarter-final match.
They continued their confident run on Wednesday, beating strong opposition in the form of reigning ISAF Women's Match Racing World Champion Nicky Souter (AUS), Samantha Osborne (NZL) and Anna Tunnicliffe (USA) to remain in control, with world #1 Claire Leroy (FRA) and Sally Barkow (USA), whom Macgregor beat in the preliminary group stage, still to face before knowing their quarter-finals opponent.
The unstoppable SKUD18 team of Scott Whitman and Julia Dorsett (USA), who hope to have a repeat gold medal performance of last year's Rolex Miami OCR, added two more bullets to their collection today in the talented seven-boat fleet.
"Our speed was great, and we were really in sync," said Dorsett, who noted they were happy with their starts, on which they've been focusing. "In these conditions you don't want to make too many tacks, so we were really trying to consolidate our tacks and make each one count."
Great Britain's Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell finished the day in second place with a 3, 2 for the day, tied with Canada's John McRoberts and Brenda Hopkin, who swapped scores with a 2, 3. One point behind is USA's Jennifer French and Jean-Paul Creignou, a new SKUD18 team that has made an impression in the fleet despite sailing for only three months together.
Norway's Aleksander Wang-Hansen and crew Per Eugen Kristiansen and Marie Solberg led the nine-boat Sonar fleet after five races, with a 1, 3 today. "We've been trying to sail conservatively and consistently, and it has paid off so far," said Wang-Hansen. "It's been very shifty, and we've been trying to tack on the shifts and stay on the right side of the fleet. We had fantastic down wind legs, and I think that helped a lot."
A relatively new team - this is their fourth event together - the trio happily traded Norway's seasonal icy waters for training on Biscayne Bay for the past two weeks to get ready for the tough competition. "The wind is steady in Miami: There is almost always some wind and very rarely too much. It's shifty, but at least the wind is strong enough to sail in," said Wang-Hansen, who is new to the helm but not to the Sonar. As a crew, he finished fourth at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Qingdao, China.
"The Paralympic class fleets may be small, but they are very deep, so I think the competition will be fierce," said US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics coach Betsy Alison (USA). "Places could change in any one of the fleets."
After dropping his lowest score today, 2.4mR World Champion and 2008 Paralympic bronze medallist John Ruf (USA) continues to lead his 27-boat fleet. He is followed by 2009 IFDS Disabled Sailing World Champion Thierry Schmitter (NED) and 2008 Paralympic gold medallist Paul Tingley (CAN). Ruf made a remarkable comeback today in his first race after starting prematurely and having to restart. He swiftly recovered to finish tenth, which ended up being his throw-out. "The Rolex Miami OCR is a good regatta to see how you're doing vs. the rest of the world," said Ruf, who won the open (able-bodied and disabled) World Championship this year a day early and with one race to spare. "I love big fleets," he added.
In addition to title sponsor Rolex Watch U.S.A., US SAILING's 2010 Rolex Miami OCR is also sponsored by AlphaGraphics, Atlantis WeatherGear, Sperry Top-Sider, Harken, Team McLube, and the University of Miami Hospital.
A complete roster can be viewed at the event website, http://rmocr.ussailing.org, where real-time regatta results, photos and updates will be posted daily once racing begins. Video highlights, produced by T2Productions, will air Wednesday through Saturday and can be viewed on the event website. Fans can also visit the Facebook fan page and Twitter page.
You can follow live coverage of this year's event on Sailgroove via the link below.
Click here for live the Sailgroove Miami page.