If there was a common thread to the five Medal Races on the final day of the 2018 World Cup Series Miami, USA, it was that the hard work put in earlier in the regatta proved the decisive component in determining the champion.
In three of the five classes, the leader coming into the day was assured or all but assured of the gold medal due to the advantage built up during the full-fleet portion of the regatta.
The leaders in the other two classes had solid, if not invincible, cushions over second place.
Not surprisingly, all five class leaders going into the day stood on the top of the podium at the end of it. But there was plenty of excitement when it came to the remaining podium positions.
It was the final race of the day, in the Women’s 470 division, that proved to be the most entertaining. Tina Mrak and Veronkia Macarol (SLO) gave the fleet a hint of hope by rounding the first mark in fourth. But an impressive run, which vaulted them into the lead, all but squashed any hope of another team closing the 13-point gap and taking over first place.
“It was a great week of sailing, particularly on the first few days of racing, we did really well,” said Mrak.
Their biggest challenge this week was sailing downwind in lighter winds.
The real battle then settled on silver and bronze with three teams, Afrodite Zegers and Anneloes Van Veen (NED), Agnieszka Skrzypulec and Irmina Mrózek Gliszczynska (POL) and Ai Kondo Yoshida and Miho Yoshioka (JPN), separated by three points going into the race and a fourth, Amy Seabright and Anna Carpenter (GBR), with an outside chance should two of the three falter.
The race turned at the bottom of the second run when Zegers and Van Veen ran into some equipment issues with their boat, which required Van Veen to come off the trapeze and spend a few minutes inside the boat.
In the breezy conditions, this was fatal as the fleet streaked away from the Dutch team. The Polish and Japanese teams matched each other for the second lap of the race, with Skrzypulec and Mrózek Gliszczynska maintaining the advantage and locking up the silver medal.
“We’ve had a week and it’s been great sharing the podium with our sparring partners. We’ve done our best and we’ve managed to achieve silver so we are blessed,” expressed Gliszczynsk.
With a 10th place in the race, Zegers and Van Veen, the defending champions at this event, dropped from second to fifth. Amy Seabright and Anna Carpenter (GBR) won the Medal Race and jumped to fourth in the overall standings.
The Laser Radial was the most wide-open of the five classes, with nine of 10 sailors starting the Medal Race mathematically alive for a medal.
Alison Young (GBR) had a five-point advantage over second place starting the day. But the way that Young closed the regatta—with four wins in five heavy-air races—there didn’t appear to be much chance to unseat her at the head of the class with the Medal Race being sailed in much the same conditions, 16 knots and choppy seas.
Young jumped out to the early lead with an impressive first beat. Mári Érdi (HUN) would slip past on the second beat, but second was more than enough for the Briton to clinch the overall title. Emma Plasschaert (BEL) played solid defense to hold on to the silver while Anne-Marie Rindom (DEN) did the same to claim bronze.
Rindom says she could improve on her hiking, “I’ve been struggling with hiking this week and that’s something I definitely need to improve on.”
With the gold medal locked up courtesy of a 30-point advantage, Tom Burton decided to use the Medal Race to work on his starts. All evidence to the contrary—including two race wins and eighth top-seven finishes in this event—Burton wasn’t quite satisfied with his ability to get off the line.
He’ll need a little more work as he pulled the trigger just a hair early and was called OCS by the race committee. Without anything to gain or lose, Burton was content to follow the fleet around the track, finishing ninth and still winning the class by 17 points.
Separated by just a point going into the race, Nick Thompson (GBR) and Philipp Buhl (GER) were effectively tied going into the race. And Sam Meech (NZL), the bronze medalist from the Rio 2016 Olympics, was lurking just three points back.
It all looked good for Buhl when he rounded the first mark in sixth, with Meech in sixth and Thompson in ninth. But Thompson ground back into contention and it was anyone’s race as the Lasers surfed down the final run, flicking side to side and aggressively working the short, steep chop of Biscayne Bay.
A year and a half ago, with the majestic hills of Rio de Janeiro as a backdrop, Caleb Paine (USA) proved that he’s not afraid of the bright lights, claiming the Finn class bronze medal in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games with a stirring win in the Medal Race. Earlier today, on Biscayne Bay, Paine came up big again, earning the Finn silver medal.
Paine started the Medal Race needing to place one boat between himself and Alican Kaynar (TUR) to move from third to second in the overall standings, while also not letting Ioannis Mitakis finish too far ahead. Giles Scott (GBR), the reigning Olympic Medalist, had simply to finish the race to ensure himself of the gold medal.
Scott shares his secret on his this week, “I think consistency in the top positions is key and that applies to most fleets.
“The trick is just to say steady and easy into it at the start and don’t do anything outstanding during the first couple of races of an event. You just keep plugging away and try and secure the top three results. This was my strategy in Miami.”
Paine put himself in a difficult spot at the start when his plan to attack Kaynar before the start didn’t quite go as planned, forcing both sailors to make an early clearing tack and work the right side of the course while the bulk of the fleet streaked off toward the left.
While the Medal Race is short, there’s still plenty of opportunity to come back from a bad start as the smaller fleet—10 versus 26 boats in the case of Finn—makes it easier to find clean lanes. Paine was patient, working himself past Kaynar on the first beat and then making the decisive move on the final run, slipping past Max Salminen (SWE) and Tapio Nirkko (FIN) to put two boats between himself and Kaynar and claim the silver medal.
In the Men’s 470, Luke Patience and Chris Grube (GBR) won gold. The pair lead the fleet majority of the week and triumphant by a 27-point margin ahead of the French, Kevin Peponnet and Jeremie Mion, who took silver.
Peponnet and Mion have only sailed together for six months and they walk away with silver medals, “Overall we are really happy because we’ve only been sailing together for six months and we’ve done so well. Our height and weight is perfect, that’s what us perform better than most in the fleet.” Said Peponnet.
Anton Dahlberg and Fredrik Bergström (SWE) claimed bronze in Men’s 470.
You can watch the final Medal Races here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZcq- EHxZ3M
The third leg of Sailing’s 2018 World Cup Series will be held in Hyères, France, this April.
By Stuart Streuli & Aadil Seedat – World Sailing