After three days of racing in the 53rd Semaine Olympique Française de Hyères - TPM we have the first qualification cut - let the gold fleets begin. If the watchword has been consistency for the first half of the week, it will now blur with speed over the second half, as the best from the separated fleets now face off in each of the 10 Olympic classes containing 751 of the world’s best sailors from over 50 countries. The Olympic champions and favourites across the fleets have done their job and, by and large, kept their scores low - or low enough. Although there are some big names in unfamiliar positions who have not made the cut, among them Tom Burton, the Australian gold medallist in the 2016 Rio Olympics in the Laser. It was not entirely a surprise as it was his first major event in the 49er with his crew mate Simon Hoffman. Wednesday brought onshore easterlies and chop into the bay of Hyères rather the Mistral westerlies and flat lake foiling conditions of the first two days. But rather than building from 6 knots to 15-18 as forecast, conditions eased off, unsettling some plans.
49er (men’s and women’s high-performance double-handed dinghy)
Women’s 49er FX
Norway’s Helene Noess & Marie Ronningen held on to the overall lead by just a point from France’s Lara Granier and Amélie Riou after a frustrating day for them with 4, 4, 7 in their three races. All their rivals closed the gap and there are now just 10 points separating the top 7 boats after nine races.
Noess & Ronningen, seventh last summer in the Tokyo Olympics, know the quality of the field behind them.
“The French have been really good this week, they’re quite a new team and they’re improving with each regatta,” Noess said. “And then you know the Brazilians are always coming at the end of the week. The Belgiums have been doing well, the Swedish if it’s windy. We hoping for lighter breeze at the end of the week because that’s our strong suit for sure.”
The Brazilians in question are of course the double Olympic gold medallists (Rio 2016 & Tokyo 2020(21) and legends of the FX, Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze. Like the Norwegians, who capsized twice, Grael and Kunze had a hard first day in the big westerlies, but they surged back today with 1, 3, 1.
“We were expecting the breeze to pick up a lot more than it did, it felt like we were a bit too tight on the rig, just waiting for the breeze to kick in,” Noess said. “But it’s nice to have a different day than the other days. We always have good racing here so that makes the place a lot nicer to come back too.”
In contrast to the closeness of the FX, Poland’s Dominik Buksak and Szymon Wierzbicki, are in pole position after a third strong day, with 1, 4, 2 finishes in their three races. Only USA’s Nevin Snow and Maximiliano Agnello are still close, six points behind. The Americans had a tougher day and needed their discard for the second race after finishing 11th. There is a further 16 points back to Spain in third and a spread field beyond that. Will gold fleet and lighter winds shake things up?
Kitefoil (men’s and women’s foiling kitesurfing)
Singapore’s 15-year-old European champion, Maximilian Maeder, leads after three more wins - although he had to take his 19th place finish in the fourth and last race of a slalom day as one of his three discards.
Behind him lie two of the French favourites, Alex Mazella and Théo Ramecourt, the world champion. But the podium will not be threatened by their French teammate, Benoit Gomez, who slipped right down from the top after being out injured today.
Ramecourt said that Kitefoiling being included in the Paris 2024 Olympics for the first time, and the professionalism that it has brought, had increased the performance of the top riders by 20% in the last three years.
“I think the kitefoiling industry was kind of stable for a couple of years before even being in the Olympics,” Ramecourt said. “But now we’re in the Olympics it’s even more interesting because we’re supported by the (French) Federation in technical aspects, financial - we can really push every single cursor of performance to the max, where before we more like amateurs.
“Now it’s about really performing in all conditions. Overall, out of 20 races in an event it must be around 20% I would say. Everyone is stepping their game up. We can compare ourselves to others who haven’t progressed as much, but also from our own numbers, like we know the speed we had and the angles and the time we would need to do a course three years ago and now, which is quite impressive sometimes.”
USA’s five-time and reigning world champion, Daniela Moroz, re-took the lead with a dominant finish to the day, winning the last two of the four races. With France’s Lauriane Nolot finishing 11th in the last race, her compatriot Poema Newland moved into second. Newland has only won one of the 12 races, but has never been out of the top four.
Nacra 17 (mixed double-handed hydrofoil catamaran)
Italy’s Olympic champions, Ruggero Tita & Caterina Banti showed their class on Wednesday, opening up a significant lead on a spreading Nacra fleet, with 1, 1, 1, 2 finishes in the four races. As in Palma, only the British and Finnish, 9 and 15 points behind respectively, have been consistently competitive. Britain’s John Gimson & Anna Burnet won the last race to put on some pressure, but the Italians were second and are the only ones with a discard up their sleeve, having not finished lower than 5th in the nine races.
ILCA 6 and 7 - (women’s & men’s solo dinghy)
In contrast to the men’s leaderboard, the women’s looks wide open after Poland’s Agata Barwinska finished 19th in light winds in the second race at the end of the day. Such is the state of the other huge discards in the top 10, that she still leads, just. Belgium’s Emma Plaaschaert, 4th at the Tokyo Olympics, lies in second despite being 38th in the final race and Canada’s Sarah Douglas, who won in Palma, is 10th after finishing 48th. There are a lot of double digits at the top and any slips ups will be very painful.
Germany’s 2020 World Champion, Philipp Buhl took the lead and a discard advantage after Australia’s Olympic champion, Matt Wearn, was UFD in the starting sequence of the second and final race of the day. They will now face each other for the first time in gold fleet, and Wearn cannot afford a slip up with Buhl’s consistency in finishing 1, 3, 1, 1, 2, 1 in the six races so far.
Just behind them lies Pavlos Kontides, the first Cypriot to ever win an Olympic medal (silver at London 2012). But his 10th place in the last race also leaves him more vulnerable.
470 (mixed double-handed dinghy)
The 470 continues to be nip and tuck with France’s Hippolyte Macchetti and Aloise Retornaz edging ahead of Germany’s Luise Wanser & Philipp Autenrieth, but the top 10 could change a lot over the next two days, with nearly everyone nursing significant discards already.
iQFOiL (men’s & women’s - new Olympic windsurfing class)
The men’s slalom groups were not completed and the women’s not started, qualification for gold fleet will be completed tomorrow.