The final day at ISAF Sailing World Cup Qingdao was filled with tension as the Medal Races decided the podium places, Rio 2016 Olympic qualification spots and Abu Dhabi World Cup Final positions.
Alongside this, sailors in the top three in each fleet receive a share of the 150,000 Euro prize fund.
Light wind and strong current has been a regularity throughout the week with those reading the conditions to full effect reaping the rewards. A 5-7 south eastern breeze made for a tense finale with sailors aiming to leave nothing on the water.
Chinese sailors dominated the day taking gold in the Men’s 470, Finn, Laser Radial and the Men’s and Women’s RS:X. Meanwhile, Singapore’s Justin Liu and Denise Lim in the Nacra 17, Laser sailor Lorenzo Chiavarini (GBR) and Japan’s Women’s 470 team took the spoils in their fleets.
Singapore’s Justin Liu and Denise Lim stylishly wrapped up gold in the Nacra 17 with a Medal Race victory. It was their tenth race win of the week and with gold, they have qualified Singapore for a Rio 2016 Nacra 17 spot.
The pair revelled in Qingdao’s light air and with conditions in the Medal Race similar to the days prior, the odds were in their favour. Liu and Lim worked their way through the fleet during the Medal Race and finished 51 seconds clear of Japan’s Hiroki Goto and Wakako Tabata.
Throughout the week the Singaporeans remained coy about their chances, not taking anything for granted. When they crossed the finish there was visible sense of a relief that was quickly overtaken by joy as they let the celebrations commence.
“It’s amazing,” said Liu through a beaming smile. “There were so many challenges to make it here and to try and qualify the country. To be able to do it is amazing. It’ll be our first Olympics so there is so much to look forward to.”
Lim added, “We sailed the conditions quite well, and with our coaches help, he helped us a lot with the current and the wind changes and I think that gave us an advantage over the rest.”
Whilst the Singaporeans can look forward, the teams from China, Hong Kong, Japan and Thailand were understandably disappointed. A world cup silver and bronze for Zijin Wen and Rubei Yuan (CHN) and Tat Choi Fung and Yu Ting Chan (HKG) were mere consolation with Olympic dreams filling their head in advance of the competition.
Japan’s Goto and Tabata had beaten their main rivals in several key regattas building up to Qingdao but the big breeze that they excel in failed to kick in in Qingdao as they finished fifth overall.
Nonetheless, Goto remained complimentary to the Singaporeans and has an eye on the future, “I have to take my hat off to the Singapore team. It was light wind and they totally dominated. They sailed the wind so well.
“My aim was to inspire the next generation of Nacra sailors, and the next Olympic Sailing [Competition] will be in my home town of Enoshima. I will be there, hopefully as a coach because I have young people asking me to help them, so this is good. I’m not happy now but we have to look to the future for everyone.”
The Olympic Games aims to inspire generation after generation and with key inspirations such as Hiroki Goto driving the sport and multihull sailing forward, watch out for a high flying Japanese Nacra 17 team at Tokyo 2020.
Men’s and Women’s 470
Meanwhile in the Women’s 470 there was cause for Japanese merriment as the team snapped up gold and silver respectively.
Ai Kondo Yoshida and Miho Yoshioka (JPN) held onto their overnight lead whilst a second in the Medal Race promoted Akiyo Yamaguchi and Eri Hatayama (JPN) into silver medal position.
As Yamaguchi and Hatayama crossed the finished line there were smiles stretched across their faces with high fives aplenty. Kondo Yoshida and Yoshioka followed behind them in third and revelled in their compatriots’ celebrations with grins creeping in before they finished.
It was a tense race in the light breeze for all the competitors and the points were close going into the race. Xiaoli Wang and Lizhu Huang (CHN) were breathing down the Kondo Yoshida and Yoshioka’s necks but the Japanese experience shone through as they remained calm as Kondo Yoshida explained, “Today there was a two point lead for us against the Chinese team who were our closest rivals. We got the win and we are very very happy.” Shasha Chen and Haiyan Gao (CHN) completed the Women’s 470 podium.
It was a three way shoot out in the Men’s 470 between the Austrian, Chinese and Spanish teams. Four points separated them going into the Medal Race and it was China’s Hao Lan and Chao Wang who prevailed. Lan and Wang finished second in the Medal Race compared to overnight leader David Bargehr and David Mahr’s fourth (AUT) and Onan Barreiros and Juan Curbelo Cabrera’s (ESP) third.
As a result the Austrians were made to settle for silver, one point behind the Chinese with the Spaniards rounding off the podium.
“There is a little bit of a mixture between happy and disappointed,” explained Bargehr. “But overall the happy feeling is superior because we won a medal here and it’s always good to win a medal.
“We knew that points were very close with not much separation so we knew we had to sail a really good Medal Race to win this event.
“After the race you are always more clever than before, but it was a really tight Medal Race and it could have gone either way. And always you need a little bit of luck in a Medal Race.”
Laser and Laser Radial
The advantage going into the Laser Medal Race belonged to Great Britain’s Lorenzo Chiavarini as he owned a 17 point lead. He delivered the goods with a sixth place finish to complete a comfortable victory.
“I was a bit nervous coming into the day,” explained the British sailor, “but once I got out on the water everything started calming down.
“The race track was shorter so the gains were less today. Tiredness was also another point of the day but for me it was important to keep Tonci [Stipanovic] around me and not let him go too far.”
Croatia’s Stipanovic needed the to go massively in his favour if he was to overthrow Chiavarini. The British sailor controlled him and kept the Croatian behind him throughout the race with Stipanovic finishing second overall.
The Medal Race victory went the way of Pavlos Kontides (CYP) who moved up into the bronze medal position.
Chinese Laser Radial sailor Dongshuang Zhang loves sailing in Qingdao. She took her third consecutive victory at the event with another professional performance.
Zhang finished second in the Medal Race which confirmed her as gold medallist after the second placed Isabella Bertold (CAN) finished eighth overall.
Despite finishing 17 points clear of her rivals, taking another World Cup gold medal, 12,000 Euros in prize money and booking a spot at the ISAF Sailing World Cup Final Zhang was less than impressed with her performance as she explained, “The race went very well, better than yesterday. I’m not very satisfied with the regatta, I made a lot of small mistakes which I will work on little by little.”
Men’s and Women’s RS:X
It was double gold for China in the Men’s and Women’s RS:X with Chunzuang Liu and Jiahui Wu clinching gold in their respected fleets.
Wu led the Women’s RS:X fleet from the first day but heading into the Medal Race Peina Chen (CHN) was firmly in contention, just six points off the leader. Chen finished one place ahead of Wu in the Medal Race but it wasn’t enough to topple her as Wu sealed gold.
“There was little wind and a lot of pumping,” explained Wu after racing, “but I am very happy with the win. It was a great competition for me and the less wind suited my style.”
Pei Ling Chen (CHN) took the Medal Race victory to pick up bronze.
Experienced Spanish racer Blanca Manchon finished in eighth but was upbeat after racing with lots of lessons learnt from Qingdao’s challenging current, “I had two OCS this week, I was risking a lot because I came here for training so it was good for me to try a little risk on the starts, but with the currents it was hard to be on the line and sometimes I just made a mistake. If I didn’t have that second OCS I would have finished third so I am happy.
“This place is totally different to Spain. It’s funny. It’s a different culture and wind so it was good. There was not much wind but it was great for my training.”
Not much separated the Men’s RS:X fleet throughout the Medal Race with tensions high but Liu managed to put himself in a good position. A second place confirmed his gold medal and upon crossing the finish line he let out a triumphant, “woohoo.” Once ashore Liu said, “I performed really well, better than normal. Over the regatta there has been good and bad, but overall it has been good and I have learned a lot. We have made great progress as a nation in windsurfing with tough exercises.” Bing Ye (CHN) and Zhichao Zang (CHN) complete the podium.
China’s Lei Gong overthrew Luwen Shen in the Finn to snap up a hard earned gold medal. Gong and Shen battled hard throughout the week with very little separating them on the race track.
The advantage belonged to Shen going into the Medal Race as he led Gong by five points. However it was Gong’s experience that shone through in the Medal Race as he took a convincing bullet with Shen sailing through in fourth.
One point was the difference at the end of the day. For China’s Finn team it was a job well done throughout the week as they booked the nation a spot at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Attention now turns to the ISAF Sailing World Cup Final that is scheduled to take place from 27 October to 1 November 2015 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
The best placed Asian and International sailors from ISAF Sailing World Cup Qingdao have booked their spot on the start line with the remaining sailors to be invited based on the ISAF World Sailing Rankings that will be released on 21 September.