On Day three of the 2015 49er & 49erFX World Championship the qualifying series could not have been more challenging for the teams vying for Gold fleet inclusion, Olympic berths, and Olympic selection.
The 3rd day of the championships started out boisterously, with 14 knots of wind and a reasonable chop as the system breeze had been flowing all night. As racing began, however, it dropped so the first race finished with only 8 knots of breeze and sailors working the waves hard downwind to surf whenever they could catch something. The wind continued to die with a 7 to 10 degree right shift through the first race, before picking up for the third and final race to about 7 knots and ‘Good skiff racing conditions,’ according to Will Phillips (AUS).
The 2015 49er & 49erFX World Championship is in Buenos Aires, Argentina from November 16-21, 2015.
Starting the day, the teams vying for Olympic berths were huddled at the top of the 49er leaderboard, with 4 out of the top 6 teams looking to qualify their nation. By the end of racing today, 7 nations are looking for the 3 (and possibly up to 5 Olympic berths) with Argentina and Poland both having 2 teams in the hunt.
The real fleet depth in the 49er is on display here in Buenos Aires as only Championship favorites, Burling and Tuke (NZL), are sailing to expectation and at the top of the leaderboard. Many of the rest of the presumed top 10 had to fight hard, right down to the final race just to make gold fleet with Fletcher/Sign (GBR), Outteridge/Jensen (AUS), Seaton/McGovern (IRL), and Warrer/Thomsen (DEN) all in danger of falling out of the Gold fleet split in the final race of the day. Of the bunch, the Brits and Outteridge proved clutch, with Fletcher/Sign winning the final race while Outteridge/Jensen pulled off two second places to close out the qualifying series.
Local young guns, the Lange brothers, looking good in their yellow leaders jerseys, sailed a decent day only falling a few places to fourth overall. With their home club looking on, their double-Olympic medalist father in a spectator boat they have proved up to the pressure so far. The first 3 days of the championship have been really unstable, especially for the 49er fleet, and their local knowledge may have come in handy at the most important time.
In the hunt for Olympic berths are the two favored nations, Germany and Poland. German’s Erik Heil and Thomas Ploessel did not compete together in Santander 2014 due to a last minute injury to Thomas, but have come through so far at this years qualifier. They won the first race of the day by a wide margin and followed through with two solid races to move up into third. Poland sees both top crews in the gold fleet, with Lukas and Pawel (POL) comfortably in sixth while Thomas and Jake are back in 18th but still able to contribute to the nationality fight. The Japanese team of Makino and Takahashi were back in 27th with one race remaining of the series but pulled off a 3rd place to keep in contention for their 3rd straight Olympic appearance.
The two more surprising teams in the gold fleet still in the hunt for berths are Croatia and Belgium. The Croatians have been running a much lower key campaign than usual, both sailors being family men now. Their years of experience allow them to keep competing at a high level and they’ll be looking for their third straight Olympic berths as well. The Belgians have been at the 49er game for years, and the pair of Lefebre and Paelsmaker only recently teamed up, and to good effect so far. They will certainly be under huge pressure in their first gold fleet as a duo to maintain their position.
In the fight for country selection, the Brazilian 49er berth has been locked up today by Marco Grael and Gabriel Borges. The duo had a comeback win over Dante Bianchi and Thomas Lowbeer last week at the South American’s to score the first one on one point and sailed very well today with a 6, 4, 14 to slip easily into Gold Fleet in 14th. With their Brazilian rival missing the gold fleet by just a couple places, they have now secured 2 of 3 victories and so have been selected for the Brazilian berth at their home games. Marco is the son of Torben Grael, one of Brazil’s most famous sailors, and was under huge pressure for the past two weeks. He’ll join his sister Martine at their home Olympics. Great for sailing and the 49er Class as there will be huge interest by the Brazilian media during the Games.
The British trials have been thrown for a loop here, with only Fletcher and Sign making gold fleet. Peters and Sterritt seemed certainties for a few moments, but got bumped down to 26th when a scoring error to Phillips and Phillips was discovered. Further down was Pink/Bithell who got stuck on a start line collision for the first race today thankfully got redress and were then bumped into gold fleet overall. They’ve been front runners in the British system with their Silver in the Europeans in Porto. While the British keep their system secret it likely relies on scoring points at major events, with accelerating points allocation to medal performances. Fletcher and Sign will be working all they can to claw back into the race.
Ida and Marie have got their “Burling” on as, so to speak, as the Danes dominate day 3 of the 49erFX World Championship.
Ida Nielsen and Marie Olsen have won six of the eight qualifying races they have raced so far, leaping out to the lead in this years worlds. They are on a mission to take the final step up the podium here; they lost out in the medal race in 2014 to Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze and settled for silver. The Danish duo were dominant all day today, winning all three races, won by a country mile, and pushing their overall lead to 11 points. They were beaten across the finish line in the final race by their team mates Jena Hansen and Katja Iversen, who had jumped the gun and were disqualified for being over early.
The Danes still hold 3 of the top 5 positions overall and are quick to credit their open team attitude where they share all knowledge and share a coach. They compete hard against one another, but remain great friends and teammates. It’s a model many federations try to set up but few can achieve. This group in particular have had the same attitude taught to them since they were youth sailors, and it’s paying off.
Like in the 49er class, there are 7 nations vying for the three to five spots that will become available from the racing here. In contrast to the 49er, the nations vying for qualifying are not occupying the top spots, with previously qualified teams filling the top 10 positions. That means 7 of the back 14 spots are fighting directly with each other to qualify their nation. With three days of qualifying ahead, it’s any lady’s game.
The remaining teams chasing nation qualifying are:
- United States
For those keeping track of the long game in qualifying, that’s two from North America, one from South America, one from Asia, and three from Europe. Nobody will give an inch in their quest for Rio.