Day 5 - The selection for the medal races have taken place and the winners in the paralympic classes are on the podium

It was the final day for three of the classes at Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta 2011, and with medals on the line there was no shortage of tension on the Paralympic race course. The weather contrived to throw everything at the sailors, with a gentle start in just five to six knots turning savage as a squall crossed the course in the afternoon, bringing gusts up to 20 knots and eventually a cold, hard rain.

First up on the Paralympic course was the two-person SKUD 18, and they put on a fabulous display in the gently freshening conditions. Australia’s Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch – Beijing silver medallists – pressed the trigger too early at the start of the final race of the series and were over the line. But they had already done enough to be able to discard the result and still take gold. Four points behind in silver were Britain’s World Champions Alexandra Rickman and Niki Birrell, chased in turn by Fitzgibbon and Tesch’s team-mates, Dunross and Cox – a good day for Australia’s SKUD teams.

The Sonars also raced in the morning and produced another medal for the home team – this time gold for John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas. The chasing Dutch closed the gap from four to three points, but the reigning World Champions Udo Hessels, Marcel van Veen and Mischa Rossen couldn’t quite do enough on the final day to go past the Brits. They only just fended off the French charge of Bruno Jourdren, Eric Flageul and Nicolas Vimont Vicary, who tied the Dutch on points at the end of the regatta, but lost silver on countback. The reigning Olympic champions, Jens Kroker, Robert Prem and Siegmund Mainka could only manage a seventh.

It was the 2.4mR class that took a battering in the afternoon, but not much has put Damien Seguin (FRA) off his stride this week, and a bit of proper British weather on the final day certainly couldn’t rob him of the gold medal. It was a close run thing though, as Dutchman Andre Rademaker went on a charge with a first and a second, and closed the gap to a single point to take silver. In doing so, he pushed the overnight silver medallist and his countryman, Thierry Schmitter into bronze.

The Match Racing also reached the money rounds this morning when the quarter finals opened for business. It was the USA that turned on the early style with the Gold Group winners Sally Barkow, Elizabeth Kratizig-Burnham and Alana O’Reilly dispatching Silja Lehtinen, Silja Kanerva and Mikaela Wulff (FIN) by 3 – 1. Team-mates and compatriots, Anna Tunnicliffe, Molly Vendemoer and Debbie Capozzi went one better though, and beat France’s Anne-claire Le Berre, Alice Ponsar and Myrtille Ponge without losing a single race.

The other two quarter-final matches were much closer, both going to a nail-biting fifth race. In the end, it was Claire Leroy, Elodie Bertrand and Marie Riou (FRA) that prevailed over Australia’s Nicky Souter, Jessica Eastwell and Lucinda Witty. That left Lucy Macgregor, Annie Lush and Kate Macgregor (GBR) to emerge victorious from their match against the Netherlands’ Mandy Mulder, Annemieke Bes and Merel Witteveen.

The semi-finals were sailed soon afterwards, and the tough quarter final had obviously done Lucy Macgregor and her team no harm at all. They took on what had previously looked to be one of the form teams of the regatta, Sally Barkow and co. There was a blizzard of penalties and incidents, but the Brits emerged winners from the melodrama with a 3-1 scoreline. It was left to Barkow’s fellow Americans to keep the Stars and Stripes flying, and Anna Tunnicliffe and her colleagues delivered with another 3-1 victory, this time over Claire Leroy’s French team. Tomorrow’s final should be a cracker, with both Macgregor and Tunnicliffe appearing to hit top form at the right time.

Everyone else was jostling for position going into the final day and Saturday’s all-or nothing medal race. In the 470s, the French team of Pierre Leboucher and Vincent Garos posted a ninth and a first to hold onto the overall lead. But it’s now a charging Mathew Belcher and Malcolm Page, the Australian World Champions, who are in second after scoring two thirds today. The gap is a very closeable five points and the Aussies will have the bit between their teeth as a win would ensure them qualification for 2012. In third are Israel’s Gideon Kliger and Eran Sela – but they are 24 points off the lead and will be in defensive mode in the medal race. The biggest losers of the day were Sweden’s Anton Dahlberg and Sebastian Ostling, who dropped from third to ninth after picking up a 36th and 30th. While amongst those to miss out on the medal race were double world champions, Nic Asher and Elliot Willis (GBR).

The 470 Women are just as tough a contest, but the Kiwi pair of Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie – who were so dominant in the breeze of the past few days – showed they can sail in the trickier stuff as well with a seventh and a second. They go into the medal race with a 16 point advantage over the French team of Camille Lecointre and Mathilde Geron. They in turn pushed the leaders from earlier in the week, Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark into third, another six points adrift. A shock omission from the medal race will be the World Champions, Lisa Westerhof and Lobke Berkhout (NED).

The 49er Gold fleet sailed four races to settle the medal race positions, and Australian world champions Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen extended their lead. They now have a 16 point cushion to Stephane Christidis and Peter Hansen from France, who moved up into second place. In the chasing pack are three British teams, all wanting their chance to take the one place per country available at the Olympic test event in August. Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes moved into third place scoring a third and fifth, but are only two points ahead of team-mates John Pink and Rick Peacock. To make the GBR mix even more complicated, Paul Brotherton (who represented Great Britain at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics in the 470) and Mark Asquith are just eight points behind. Who will come out on top of the British trio is anyone’s guess.

The battle of the Brits continued in the Finn class, with Ben Ainslie and Giles Scott each posting a race win. Ainslie took the first, taking him 20 points clear of Scott, but Scott was not letting the triple gold medallist win that easily. At the top mark of race two, Scott rounded third with Ainslie five place behind in eighth. What happened next amazed all those watching, Ainslie hit the windward mark, had to do a penalty turn, but still managed to move up two places to sixth by the leeward mark. He then gained one more place on the final lap to finish fifth. So 16 points separate the two going into the medal race – Ainslie needs to be no worse than eighth if Scott wins. But if history is anything to go by, it’s unlikely Ainslie will let Scott go sail his own race.

In the Star class the gold will be decided by who beats who – the Brazilian partnership of Scheidt and Prada still top the leaderboad, but are now on equal points with the Swedes, Loof and Salminen. The pair have a massive 30 point cushion to third placed Diego Negri and Enrico Voltolini from Italy, who moved up to third by winning the final race of the day.

In the Lasers, overnight leader and current world champion, Tom Slingsby (AUS) didn’t have a good day with a 13th and 12th. Fortunately for Slingsby, Andrew Murdoch – who was second this morning – had a worse day with an 8th and a 20th. Unfortunately for Slingsby, former World, Olympic and European champion Paul Goodison returned to form to post a first and third for the day and move up to within striking distance – just one point behind Murdoch. These three will fight out the podium positions, as fourth-placed Philipp Buhl is 34 points behind Goodison.

The Laser Radials had an interesting day with all of the leading pack posting some high scores. It was the leader of the ISAF Sailing World Cup, Marit Bouwmeester (NED) who came out best, and now leads Evi van Acker (BEL) by six points. Ireland’s Annalise Murphy remains in contention for gold or silver another 13 points behind, but she may well be more concerned with defending bronze from Sophie de Turckheim (FRA) and Charlotte Dobson (GBR) – both within eight points of the Irish hopeful. Those not making the cut for the medal race included the current World Champion, Sari Multala (FIN) and US star, Paige Railey.

The RS:X Men remains a desperately tight contest, New Zealand’s overnight leader, Jp Tobin had a good day with a second and a fourth, but Britain’s Nick Dempsey had a great day and his first and third pulled him to with a point of the Kiwi. Dutchman, Dorian van Rijsselberge can’t be counted out of the reckoning though, six points behind Dempsey. These three will almost certainly settle the medals between them, as the fourth placed Piotr Myszka is another 17 points further back. The Beijing Olympic champion, Tom Ashley will doubtless be disappointed with his ninth.

It’s even tighter in the RS:X Women, where Zofia Klepacka (POL) and Marina Alabau (ESP) are tied for the lead. It was Alabau’s to lose this morning and she posted a 14th and a tenth, while Klepacka won the first race and was third in the second to draw level on 33 points. There are two other sailors within striking distance, Maja Dziamowska (POL) is 13 points behind Alabau in third, and while Lee Korzits (ISR) dropped from second to fourth, she is still only two points from the podium.

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Quotes of the Day

Steve Thomas (GBR) – Sonar
Gold medallist Skandia Sail for Gold
We set a target of winning a medal this week and just carried that through. This event is part of our selection process so it was an important one for us. A win here is great but I don’t think the pressure is off – we don’t know if we have been selected until we get the nod and for us this is just one of a number of regattas that are part of that process. We just move to the next regatta now and keep trying to improve to win a spot at the Games and ultimately a medal there.
It’s our World Championships here in a few weeks, and we are feeling pretty confident but there are eight or nine boats that are capable of winning races in this fleet, so it is about chipping away at the leaderboard and just getting the results.

Liesl Tesch (AUS) – SKUD 18
Gold medallist Skandia Sail for Gold
We are very happy with the week, we worked hard in the challenging conditions – just knocking one race off at a time. The last month has been lots of training so pretty full on. It’s back to Australia after this for a week then back down to Weymouth for the Worlds so it’s full on! The Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta is an Olympic selection event for us – we have to beat the other Aussies in our class first to qualify for the Games before even thinking about the international contenders, so the Aussie’s are our main competition at the minute! After that though I would say the Brits are the ones to watch, Niki (Birrell) and Alexandra (Rickham) have been tough guys to beat this week.

Damien Seguin, FRA 2.4mR
Gold medallist Skandia Sail for Gold
Well it’s been a very windy week! Perfect except for the rain today. All the big players in the 2.4mR are here – there have been 34 entries. It’s a big achievement winning on the Olympic waters, I’m back in Weymouth and Portland next month for the IFDS and I won here last year so I hope to do the same again. But I’m very happy with today.    

Max Salmenen (SWE) – Star
Second overall – tied with Brazilian team of Robert Scheidt and Bruno Prada
I don’t feel any pressure going into tomorrow, we have been training a lot with the Brazilians in Italy on Lake Garda, so it is pretty exciting to be going head to head with them. We both have a big lead on the fleet so we can’t do worse than second place, so it should be quite fun racing!
We are really confident and we like medal race situations. We have a good track record so we are looking forward to that. For us it is just about being in front of the Brazilians, it is going to be about match racing them and making sure they are behind us!

Robert Scheidt, (BRA) – Star
Overall leader
Today was a funny day and the wind was very unstable in the first race. The current was pushing a lot of the boats over the start line so it was black flagged and we were disqualified, so didn’t race. But it was good for us as our main opponents were also over the line. There was more pressure on the second race but we had good conditions, more stable and solid. Tomorrow we will be keeping an eye on the Swedish guys, Loof and Salminen- they have been sailing consistently and well but we are very happy, so far a good week and it will be a very exciting final tomorrow.

Tom Slingsby (AUS) – Laser
Overall leader
Today the first race was quite light, big shifts and it felt like I was going quite well but in the end the result wasn’t too good and I finished 13. In the second race I was up there and made some stupid mistakes and went from being in a good top sixth or seventh position to drop back to twelfth so points wise that didn’t really help me that much. For the Aussie team you have to win a World Cup event to qualify to be nominated for the Olympic team. I was lucky I did that 2 weeks ago at the Delta Lloyd Regatta, Holland so the pressures off me abit. If you asked me before the event who to watch I would have probably said Paul Goodison (GBR) and Andrew Murdoch (NZL). They are second and third at the moment and hot on my heels so the good guys are all up there and I would say the best guys are in the medal race.

Paul Goodison (GBR) – Laser
Third overall
It’s been a pretty tough week with strong wind for the first four days but today we got a little bit lighter. It’s been pretty physically tiring but I’m happy I’m going into the medal race tomorrow. I think I’m third overall and guaranteed a medal so it’s all about trying to get as high up the podium as possible and to try and get a gold medal rather than a silver or bronze.

Ben Ainslie (GBR) – Finn
Overall leader and reigning Olympic Champion
It was another difficult day but I ended up having a better day than my rivals so that’s the main thing. In the first race the wind was hard to read and shifty but luckily I pulled out a good result. In hindsight, I could have done something different in the second race but I have ended up with a decent lead going into the medal race. I just have to keep my eye on Giles and beat him or finish close to him. The conditions are very important tomorrow and will dictate my tactics, it should make for an interesting medal race.

Giles Scott (GBR) – Finn
Second overall
First race was tricky and shifty and didn’t go well. The second race I wasn’t sure if Ben was going to have a go at sailing me down the fleet, which I think he could have done but fortunately he didn’t. I was able to get a good start on the right side of the course and eventually win the race. That result brings the margin to 16 points, it leaves a lot of hard work to do tomorrow, it’s heavily in his (Ben Ainslie) favour but anything can happen in medal races so I will be working hard to make sure anything does happen.

Dan Slater (NZL) – Finn
Sixth overall
I started the Regatta pretty strong but I have struggled in the heavier winds towards the end of the week. I need to work on my fitness and bulk up if I am going to be competitive here come the Olympics. The Brits, Ben Ainslie and Giles Scott are both really strong and fit guys – in a year’s time I am looking at being at that level of fitness.