A walk down memory lane for many sailors, the final World Sailing event before the Olympic regatta was held at none other than the 2012 Olympic sailing venue in Weymouth and Portland, United Kingdom. For some athletes, the Weymouth world cup was their first opportunity to square off with international competition since selection, but for all it was the final chance to test their merits against the same teams they’ll see in Rio in two months time.
All eyes were on the Laser Radial Fleet, as the three medalists from London are all returning to Rio, and were all in Weymouth. China’s Lijia Xu, the 2012 gold medalist, finished second, behind 2012 silver medalist Marit Bowmeester (NED). Noticeably absent from the podium was Evi Van Acker (BEL), the 2012 bronze medalist, who finished 5th overall behind newcomer and training partner Emma Plasschaert. Both Van Acker and Plasschaert had DSQs in the early days of the regatta, and Bouwmeester held a commanding lead through the entire week, save the threat of France’s Mathilde de Kerangat, who Bouwmeester match raced in the medal race to ensure her own gold medal win.
“It feels good to win,” Bouwmeester said to World Sailing. “I wasn’t certain on the left of the course so I changed a little bit and took France out. It was quite difficult to slow someone down in this breeze so I tried to hold her up as much as I could and I am glad I succeeded.”
With all three London medalists still on or close to the podium this close to Rio and with no signs of slowing down, it’ll be a true fight in Rio to unseat any of these class greats. This regatta might have been just a fluke for Van Acker, but if not, a podium place may open up in the Radial.
Billy Besson and Marie Riou surprised with a bronze medal finish in the Nacra 17. The French pair, who have dominated the class for the entire quad, posted just one race win and two second place finishes. They were bested by Great Britian’s Ben Saxton and Nicola Groves in first, and Germany’s Paul Kohlhoff and Caorlina Wener in second. The French, who have been sailing on a modified platform after damage required them to replace their dagger boards, have handily won almost every major event they’ve entered leading up to Rio, so this shakeup on the leaderboard is an interesting change of events. In a brand new class with such a steep learning curve, the modified boat has given them a major edge, until now.
The Men’s 470 class had its own share of shakeups. In February, three-time world champions Matt Belcher and Will Ryan (AUS) were unseated from their title-winning streak by Croatia’s Sime Fantela and Igor Marenic. The Croatians continued to control the class, winning both the Sailing World Cup Hyeres in April and in Weymouth last week.
For Men’s 470 sailors Belcher and Ryan, who finished fourth overall in Weymouth, the result does not bode well for their performance in just two months time in Rio. Their strength is in big breeze, but the conditions in Weymouth this past weekend were unusually light; not unlike the conditions on the inside courses in Rio. If these conditions are challenging for Belcher and Ryan, we could continue see some new faces atop the podium.
On the women’s side, the UK swept the 470 podium, with Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark taking home top honors. The duo will sail in Rio for their home country. Sophie Weguelin and Eilidh McIntyre took the medal race victory and with it, silver. Amy Seabright and Anna Carpenter completed the all-British podium. This domination solidifies the fact that we will likely see a Union Jack on, if not at the top of, the Rio podium for the Women’s 470.
New Zealand continued it’s winning streak in the 49er, even in the absence of Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, who were in Chicago for the Louis Vitton America’s Cup World Series. Tuke and Burling’s greatest potential foils, Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen, were also away for the AC. The calendar overlap set the stage for youngsters Logan Dunning Beck and Jack Simpson, both university students, to win gold. “It [winning] is a bit foreign for us,” said Dunning Beck in a World Sailing statement. “We’re usually chasing at the back of the pack. It’s awesome. Peter and Blair are great role models back at home and they’re setting the bar really high.”
The Kiwis weren’t able to sweep the skiff category, as the British team of Charlotte Dobson and Sophie Ainsworth defended their lead from Molly Meech and Alex Maloney (NLZ) in the final race. The New Zealanders won the medal race, but a fourth place finish for the Brits was enough for them to hold on to the lead that they had for most of the week. “It’s incredible,” said Dobson in a World Sailing statement. “It’s amazing that it’s this close to Rio and we pulled this one out of the bag. It’s been a while since we have finished on the podium.” Ainsworth added, “We’re happy with where our sailing is right now and things that we’ve been working on over the last nine months have come together.”
Toni Wilhelm (GER) and Peina Chen (CHN) held on to their leads in the Men’s and Women’s RS:X, respectively. Wilhelm took the medal race victory by six seconds over Tom Squires (GBR). Newcomer Aichen Wang (CHN) completed the Men’s RS:X podium. For the women, in the absence of Great Britan’s Bryony Shaw, the field opened up a bit. Chen’s run of race wins was ended by Great Britain’s Emma Wilson, but the work done in the fleet races was enough for her to sail through in second and snap up gold. Victory for Wilson ensured she held on to silver with Isobel Hamilton (GBR) claiming bronze.
In the singlehanded men’s boats, British training partners Nick Thompson and Elliot Hansen finished 1-2, in the Laser with Australia’s Tom Burton rounding out the podium. Though Burton held the lead for most of the week, he finished 9th in the medal race, opening the door for Thompson and Hansen to vault above him. On the partnership Thompson said to World Sailing, “He’s [Hanson] put in a lot of hard work already so it’s great to see him shine. He’s spent a lot of time in Rio with me and it’s great to see him finish second. “Hanson added, “It feels awesome. It’s my first World Cup medal and to be up on the podium with my mate, it means a lot. I’m proud to be his training partner. I’m happy with this week and hopefully it will put me in good stead going to Tokyo.”
Giles Scott (GBR) continues to dominate the Finn class, with another gold medal win ahead of France’s Jonathan Lobert, who won the medal race and finished with a silver medal, and Sweden’s Max Salminen taking home the bronze.
Lobert was the standout sailor in the Finn class, winning the Medal Race by 15 seconds. “We are pushing for Rio and we know that nobody is unbeatable, says Lobert. “He [Scott] is dominating but this week I have been in front of him many times and I hope I can do it again in Rio.”
With 53 days to go to Rio, Lobert, Scott and the rest of the 300+ sailors headed to Brazil have their work cut out for them.
For full results from the Sailing World Cup Weymouth and Portland, click here.