With just three races to sail before Saturday's double-points Medal Race, the leaderboards have closed up at Sail Melbourne. Steady morning winds faded during the day, making conditions tricky and catching some of the big names out.
The biggest upset has been in the 470 class, where world champions Mathew Belcher
and Malcolm Page
dropped from first to fourth place after their "worst day in two years". Stuart Mcnay
and Graham Biehl
of the USA and Matthias Schmid
and Florian Raudaschl
of Austria share the lead after a win each today. Sam Kivell
and William Ryan
, the Australian Sailing Development Squad crew, had a win and two seconds to move into third place, one clear of Belcher and Page.
The day could have gone even better for the Americans, but they were over the line at the start of the last race and had to circle back. "With three races tomorrow plus the medal round, it's wide open and really close,"
said Graham Biehl. He described the conditions as "tough".
Belcher and Page couldn't hide their disappointment but were philosophical about the day's racing. "In two years together we've never had a bad day,"
said Page. "We didn't get a (good) start all day and weren't where we should have been."
Their coach, Victor Kovalenko, seemed unfazed by the position his gun charges find themselves in. "They need this
," he said. "If they are just winning, winning, winning it is not good for them."
With just three points separating the top four, the class is still wide open, as Biehl pointed out. It would take a brave punter to bet against Belcher and Page staging a come-back tomorrow and in the Medal Race.
It is also very tight at the top of the women's standings, with Austrians Sylvia Vogl
and Carolina Flatscher
holding a five and six point lead respectively over the two German crews. Despite a win in the second race, the Austrians also had their worst day of the regatta with a fourth and a fifth. Prior to that, their worst result had been second.
In the women's Laser Radial, Dongshuang Zhang
of China continues to lead world number one Marit Bouwmeester
of the Netherlands and Nathalie Brugger
of Switzerland. Brugger had the best of the light conditions, recording two, one, two in the three races sailed.
According to another Netherlands competitor, Claire Blom
who sits in nine, conditions deteriorated as the day wore on. "The first race was good, the second (was) OK and in the third it just died
." Claire has competed at all three events of the Sail Down Under series and made a joking comment about the light winds that Australia produces. She is hoping for steadier winds tomorrow and Saturday.
The RS:X events have been dogged by the very light conditions and only one race was completed before the sailors were called ashore in the hope that a further two races could be sailed later in the afternoon. After a very long break, the fleets were finally sent out shortly after 18:00 in an attempt to get two more races completed.
The lack of wind meant all races have been "pumpers" and triple Olympian Jessica Crisp made the most of her many years experience to win the first two races of the day. First competing as a 14-year-old when sailboarding was a demonstration event at Los Angeles in 1984, she represented Australia at Sydney, Athens and Beijing. The two bullets moved Crisp into a tie with Huali Zhu of China. Hualz won the final race with Crisp second, so there is a single point between them with Qiubin Chen a distant third.
In the men's event, it is still an all-Asian leaderboard with Aichen Wang of China leading from the Hong Kong pair of King Yin Chan and Ho Tsun Leung.
It was a very long day for the 49er crews, after constant wind shifts caused the first race to be delayed and the course to be moved further offshore. When racing did get underway, the Austrian and New Zealand crews continued their dominance.
Four races later, one point separates them at the top of the leader board, with a long gap back to the chasing pack which includes Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen of Australia. The Austrian pair of Nico Delle - karth and Nikolaus Resch started with a ninth, but got back on track with a second, fourth and fifth to lead on 19 points after discarding the ninth which is their worst result to date. "It was a stable day - we didn't do many mistakes," said Resch. "In the third race we had a bad start and went through the fleet, so that was good."
Going into the day, Kiwis Peter Burling and Blair Tuke's worst result had been a fourth. They started well, with second, fourth, second but had "a shocker" in the final race to finish 18th. They can drop that result from their score, but as Blair said, "We have to be a lot more careful now." A second bad result would cost them dearly.
Outteridge and Jensen, like compatriots Page and Belcher in the 470, were very subdued when they came back to the de-rigging area. "Parts of the race were good," said Outteridge. "We'd have a good start and a bad finish or a bad start and a good finish. We couldn't put it together."
Outteridge looks tired, which is understandable as the abandonment yesterday was his first day off racing in two months. "I'm not looking for excuses," he said. "I'm just trying to find out what the hell's going on."
Barring several bad races by the Austrians and Kiwis, which is unlikely given their consistency so far this series, the Australians will struggle to win the regatta. They are in fifth place, 25 points behind the Austrians with five races left to sail. This will be only their third loss in 13 regattas sailing together, but the second in a row following Burling and Tuke's victory over them at Sail Sydney last week.
One champion who has found form is three times Olympic gold medalist Ben Ainslie. After a steady rather than spectacular start to the regatta, he won all three races today to lead the fleet by a single point over Zach Railey from the USA. Two Frenchmen, Jonathan Lobert and Thomas Le breton are third and fourth.
Ainslie has had a long time away from the Finn, competing in the Louis Vuitton and World Match Race Tour events. He wrapped up the World Match Race title two weeks ago at the Monsoon Cup.
"I'm getting more comfortable in the boat, and starting to get the feel back," he said. With a limit of three races a day for the heavyweight dinghy, there are just four more races to sail.
In the other single-handed dinghy, a major upset is on the cards. Australian Development Squad member Tom Burton has a strong chance to become a full member of the Australian Sailing Team by finishing in the top three at this regatta. He currently leads the series with 10 points and is 22 points ahead of Slingsby in fourth place.
Burton, who has a reputation as a very good light airs sailor, has won four of the seven races and his worst placing was an eighth recorded in the second race today. His score was one, eight and three.
"I'm pretty happy with that," said Burton with a huge grin. When told that he was on the cusp of selection for the AST however, he said he wasn't thinking that far ahead. "With Slingo and Nick (Thompson), you can't get rid of those guys, so we'll see what tomorrow brings. There's still three races tomorrow and the medal race."
Slingsby, like many of his AST teammates, had a day he would rather forget, starting with a 19th and a 13th before bouncing back to win the final race. He is only seven points from third place and can finish on the podium, but only a miracle will see him on the top step.
Slingsby made no excuses, saying he was having trouble getting the boat to move in the light airs. "As soon as I can sit on the rail (in about five knots of wind) I'm OK but until then I'm slow. Something to work on," he said
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