After a week of thrills and spills, fine foiling and some Champagne sailing, the best of the 751 competitors across the 10 Olympic Classes at the 53rd Semaine Olympique Française de Hyères - TPM (SOF) fought for the podium in their Medal Races. Both France and Poland finished with two gold medals.
All eyes were on the men’s ILCA 7, the closest of the Medal Races, but only in one of the ten classes - the ILCA 6 - was the gold medal guaranteed before the start. The 470 ended up rivalling the ILCA 7 for Medal Race of the day, as the event finished with a final test of tricky light winds and some watched their medal hopes evaporate like the nearby salt flats to the Giens peninsula.
There are are now two more SOF before the “big one” in Marseille - where the Paris 2024 Olympics sailing will be held - around 50 miles west along the coast.
“It has been a really positive week and a great pleasure to meet everyone here again after the two editions that did not take place,” Jean-Luc Denéchau, President of the French Sailing Federation, said. “I believe that athletes and foreign delegations have really enjoyed it. We had the level of organization we expect at a major international event, with a large number of volunteers and a really strong commitment, as usual, from Hyères and from the Toulon Provence Méditerranée area. We had beautiful weather and great competition all week, so it's been nothing but a pleasure!
“It's an almost historic Semaine Olympique Française in terms of the number of boats and I think it will also encourage even greater competition as before 2024 we still have two beautiful SOFs to come !"
ILCA 7 and 6 - (men’s and women’s solo dinghy)
Men’s ILCA 7
Kontides wins battle of the quartet
1st– CYP - Pavlos Kontides - 42 points
2nd – GBR - Elliot Hanson – 43 points
3rd – GBR - Michael Beckett – 50 points
Despite stiff competition, the ILCA 7 lived up to its billing as the Medal Race of the day with Pavlos Kontides, the first Cypriot to ever win an Olympic medal (silver at London 2012), emerging from the mêlée victorious.
Just three points separated four boats at the start and it was a winner-takes-all battle for top three of Germany’s Philip Buhl, Cyprus’s Pavlos Kontides, level on points, and Britain’s Michael Beckett, two points behind. With fellow Briton, Elliot Hanson just one point further back.
Hanson won the Medal Race but Kontides did what he needed to do, with Beckett, the winner in Palma, back in fifth and Buhl, the 2020 World Champion, stuck at the back for the third race in succession.
Pavlos Kontides: “It started light and got lighter. It’s always tricky in these situations because you gain but you can also lose. So, if you’re off the podium you feel really gutted. It’s one of these situations in sport where you feel that you should have four medals. All four guys sailed really well except like one day each.
“I’m really happy. It’s been a hard couple of years for me, especially after Tokyo. Before Tokyo I had issues with my health and it was pretty hard to perform in some events. But I was ready for Tokyo and I just missed the podium.
“I became a father in December and I’ve tried to enjoy my sailing. I ran out of fuel in Palma and I felt better here and I’m really grateful for being able to perform well here. The wind just died and there was a lot of tacking and gybing and you never know if somebody will get flagged or not. I think we were all pushing the limit of the rules, maybe even beyond the limit.
“I managed to stay in more clear wind. Then it was a battle for the first with Eliott and maybe if I’d risked a gybe at the end I could have won, but I didn’t want to risk it since I didn’t have to pass him. It would have been an aggressive gybe and sometime the judges will flag you about that.
“Then in the last reach it was stressful because he (Hanson) was kind of waiting for me because his chance was to make me lose places from behind, but it’s always tricky because he might lose as well. But eventually he had to give me room. The third boat was Matthew Wearn (Olympic champion) and it was important that he didn’t pass me.”
Women’s ILCA 6
Champagne Gold for Poland
1st – POL – Agata Barwinka - 86 points
2nd – FRA – Marie Barrue – 111 points
3rd –FRA – Louise Cervera – 113 points
Poland’s Agata Barwinska had no pressure in all senses, with the gold medal in the bag already on Friday and only 2-3 knots at times in the Medal Race. Although, despite a lead of 21 points over second place - France’s Marie Barrue - she had to wait until 21:05 on Friday night for the results of a protest until she could celebrate.
Behind Barwinska it was very tight. Barrue did just enough to hold onto silver, but if she had dropped on more place from fifth her fellow Frenchwoman Louise Cervera would have overtaken her. And if Cervera, who was third had dropped one more place, Belgium’s Emma Plaaschaert, 4th at the Tokyo Olympics, who won the Medal Race would have taken bronze.
Agata Barwinska: (When did you find out last night about the jury decision on the protest your last race and that you’d won gold?) “At 21:05! The decision was there was nothing to see and I could celebrate. I’ve always been in the Medal Races here and finally I’m on the podium and at the top, so very happy.
“In the Medal Race I didn’t have to worry, I didn’t have any pressure. I was sixth and I was trying to not get anybody in trouble, because I’d already won, so I wanted to leave them to sort out their things and stay away from them.”
49er (men’s and women’s high-performance double-handed dinghy)
Women’s 49er FX
Brazil’s golden duo shine
1st – BRA - Martine Grael & Kahena Kunze - 68 points
2nd – USA - Stephanie Roble & Margaret Shea – 77 points
3rd – NOR - Helen Næss & Marie Rønningen – 79 points
Brazil’s double Olympic gold medallists (Rio 2016 & Tokyo 2020(21), Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze, took gold, but it was not all plain sailing as the wind dropped.
They led by nine points from the Swedish duo of Vilma Bobeck and Rebecca Netzler, who started 9 points behind and needed to beat the Brazilians and put four boats between them. That never looked likely as the Brazilians - who finished sixth in the 10-boat fleet - covered them, and with the Americans (12 points behind at the start) at the back of the fleet.
The Swedes got stuck and finished second to last in ninth and America’s Stephanie Robe and Margaret Shea (three points behind the Swedes at the start) jumped into silver by finishing fifth. They needed to, one more place and they would have been beaten by Norway’s Helene Næss & Marie Rønningen, leaders for the first half of the week, who took full advantage of the race at the back to finish the Medal Race second and take bronze.
Martine Grael & Kahena Kunze:
“We’re relieved. We had a very stressful Medal Race with no breeze. We started with 5-6 knots and then it dropped to almost nothing.
“We were a bit in front at the start and then got hit very hard on our wing by the Argentinians. That destabilised us a bit and we could never find a good position when we had to bear away from a lot of boats. It was hard to settle after that.
“We’re super happy because coming here was a bit challenging, we’ve been improving this week and the weather has been very pleasant in Hyères!
"We had the Americans and Swedes close and not too many boats in the middle. It just the last downwind that was nerve-racking because we decided to do a split and I think that was a bit of an unnecessary risk! In the end it worked out fine but maybe I would have taken that back."
Poland confirm second gold
1st – POL - Dominik Buksak & Szymon Wierzbicki - 66 points
2nd – USA - Nevin Snow & Maximiliano Agnese – 93 points
3rd – FRA - Erwan Fisher & Clément Péquin – 94 points
Leading by 17-points overnight, Dominik Buksak and Szymon Wierzbicki had won the gold after two minutes after one of the French boats were judge OCS at the start, meaning they could not be beaten.
But behind them a battle for silver raged and USA’s Nevin Snow and Maximiliano Agnello prevailed in their match race at the back of the fleet with France’s Erwan Fischer and Clement Pequin, who took bronze.
Dominik Buksak & Szymon Wierzbicki: “It was a nice race for us because about two minutes after the start we were sure we’d won because the French team were disqualified, they were over the startline and that meant there were not enough boats on the race course to create enough gaps between us and the Americans.
“After that, because we didn’t have the best start we were just trying to catch up with the boats in front of us and gained some positions.
“It’s probably one of our biggest wins!”
Kitefoil (men’s and women’s foiling kitesurfing)
1st – SGP – Maximilian Maeder
2nd – FRA – Axel Mazella
3rd – FRA – Maxime Nocher
Singapore’s 15-year-old European champion, Maximilian Maeder, underlined his dominance this week by watching the semi-finals and then blasting off the start in the first race of the final and getting the one win he needed to take gold. He left the best in the world - the French elite, on their home waters - standing. France’s Alex Mazella, who had been a slightly distant second all week, stayed there in the final to take silver with fellow Frenchman, Maxime Nocher jumped from fourth to take bronze.
Maximilian Maeder (SGP): “I’m quite ecstatic, it’s really great, it doesn’t get old. It hasn’t felt easy, not at all. It’s such a tight field. As any sport goes Olympic, the competition becomes very tight, and I guess whenever you can catch a little bit of a break, that gives you a jump ahead when everyone looks so tight.
"I needed one win and luckily managed to seal the deal on the first race. We started in 5-6 knots, but I made sure to do my warm up and I got to observe the races without the stress of racing.
"So, I had a phenomenal start; it’s one I’ll remember. I had space to tack whenever I wanted 20-30 seconds after the start and as soon that happened I really tried to dig in and sink my teeth in to the lead.
[On being 15 and winning so young] “I started racing at 10-11 and for me I’m a competitor and out on the racecourse we’re all just the same people competing whether you’re 35 or 15.”
1st – USA – Daniela Moroz
2nd – FRA – Lauriane Nolot
3rd – GBR – Ellie Aldridge
It was the same story in the women’s but it was the vastly experienced Daniela Moroz, USA’s five-time and reigning world champion, doing the dominating. She too just need one race in the final to take gold.
France’s Laurianne Nolot took silver and Britain’s Ellie Aldridge jumped up into bronze from fourth.
Daniela Moroz (USA): “I was able to win right off the bat (in the first race). It was super light wind and right on the edge, so lots of pumping out of tacks and gybes. It was just super heated to stay on the pressure and get on the right side of the course straight away.
"It was a really fun week, a lot of different conditions and sea state, I think we rode almost all of the different kite sizes. It was super tight and really great battles with Lauriane (Nolot).
“It was really cool to be back in Hyères for French Olympic Week after five year and as an Olympic sport.”
470 (mixed double-handed dinghy)
1st – SWE- Anton Dahlberg & Lovisa Karlsson - 35 points
2nd – FRA - Hippolyte Machetti & Aloïse Retornaz – 42 points
3rd – GER - Luise Wanser & Philipp Antenrieth – 51 points
Swedes win nail-biter on the last leg
Sweden’s Anton Dahlberg (silver in the Tokyo Olympics last year) and Lovisa Karlsson took gold in tense Medal Race. They had led France’s Hippolyte Machetti and Aloise Retornaz by three points and were at opposite ends of the 10-boat fleet after the first upwind leg. They reeled in the French but only passed them - with many boats complicating things around them - halfway through the last downwind and fought all the way to the line.
Austria’s Lara Vadlau and Lukas Mahr started in third, seven points behind the Swedes and trying to gain an edge were judged to have crossed the startline too early and were disqualified. That allowed Germany’s Luise Wanser & Philipp Autenrieth, after a disastrous Friday, to just edge four other boats for bronze.
Anton Dahlberg & Lovisa Karlsson: “We feel great, it’s been our first event together and to come off in this way is superb.
“It’s been really tight racing all week long and even the Medal Race was super tight, so we’re really happy to start the campaign like this.
“Today was quite tight on the points, we knew we could be just behind the French and still beat them and then we had Austrians seven points behind as a bit of a joker. We started windward of them, we wanted to be a little bit in control of them, but being in control in light wind is never easy. We started in five knots but it was 2-3 occasionally.
“The French ended up in the lead at the top mark, and we were a bit further down in the fleet - second to last! And yes, we did get a little bit nervous then. But we both said in the boat on the first downwind that there is not much we can do now, we just need to wait, don’t try to make an opportunity, wait for it. And that opportunity came when closed on the bottom gate at then of that downwind. Everyone squeezed together and we kept cool.
“After the second upwind the French were third and we were fifth; still a little to do! But we felt we have a good opportunity and now we just need to make sure to have the possibility of gybe on them, so the game was simpler and we were building momentum. In the middle of the last downwind we passed them, but it was still tight and it came down to the line. And there were the Germans, the Spanish and the Japanese around too, so we had to focus.”
Nacra 17 (mixed double-handed hydrofoil catamaran)
Italian duo complete domination
1st – ITA - Ruggero Tita & Caterina Banti - 36 points
2nd – GBR - John Gimson & Anna Burnet – 54 points
3rd – FIN - Sinem Kurtey & Akseli Keskinen – 72 points
Italy’s Olympic champions, Ruggero Tita & Caterina Banti, won gold as expected having dominated all week and taking a 14-point lead into the Medal Race.
It was the same podium as Palma, but with the silver and bronze reversed as Britain’s John Gimson & Anna Burnet took silver, after being carefully covered by the Italians, who were taking no chances, all the way round. That too was expected as they had a 16-point lead over Finland’s Sinem Kurtbay and Akseli Kiskenin, who had a guaranteed bronze, going into the race.
Ruggero Tita & Caterina Banti:
“It was quite easy, light wind Medal Races are not very exciting. We had a super good week of wind and unfortunately the Medal Race was not so good. But we took the gold medal and are super happy.
Our mission was to follow the British and make sure that they could not put six boats in between us. We did our job and we had a chance got pass them and we did it and then controlled it.”
iQFOiL (men’s & women’s - new Olympic windsurfing class)
With the wind dropping off in the afternoon the Final Series was cancelled and medals awarded on the leaderboard from the first five days. Given the dominance of the two French leaders there could be no complaint for the gold medals.
1st – FRA – Nicolas Goyard - 15 points
2nd – FRA – Clément Bourgeois – 44 points
3rd – GER – Sebastian Koerdel – 46 points
France’s World and European champion, Nicolas Goyard, had been completely dominant all week winning his last 11 races.
Nicolas Goyard: “I won 11 of the 16 races, that's clean! It's a great victory and a good warm-up for the upcoming European championship. I feel ready but I still have to refine my gear a bit. I am confident for the future, there were some good points validated. It was the first time I had raced here, it was a discovery.”
1st – FRA – Hélène Noesmoen - 12 points
2nd – POL – Maja Dziarnowska – 36 points
3rd – FRA – Delphine Cousin – 53 points
Hélène Noesmoen, had been as dominant as her compatriot and fellow World and European champion, Goyard, with 12 wins out of 16 this week
Hélène Noesmoen (FRA): “I’ve felt nearly faultless, it was a good week and I managed to win races in all wind conditions, so that’s great! The French women did well, it's a good thing that there are so many people in the Final Series, right up there, that makes the whole team happy.”