Marseille definitely saved its best for last and provided a fitting finale to a week of some fantastic racing. For the 265 sailors in the RS:X European and Youth European Championships, the day started slowly as the sea breeze woke up and started to fill in. A short delay ashore, perfect to make nervous sailors almost taught with tension, before being sent out to race and fight for the titles, fight for medals and fight for pride.
All eyes and all of the talk about these championships have been around the format for the final day – would a 12 way shoot out, winner takes all final be what the sailors and the followers want? Would it build the drama? Would it produce worthy champions? It is safe to say that the drama on the water was high and that every sailor had to battle for every place at every opportunity. Places changed hands, sailors were leading only to lose their position and find themselves sailing back to shore. It was certainly dramatic, but it was also emotional with fists pumping with joy or sailors slumping onto their board with despair as they crossed the line.
Four different nations took European titles. Four Champions. Thank you Marseille.
The first fleet out today to test out the new format and set the tone for the day. A quarter final race with the top 12, started in pumping conditions and set a tactical challenge. Decisions to make, cover opposition or sail your own race? Casualties of the quarter final included Maja Dziarnowska (Poland) and Lilian de Geus (Netherlands), having finished first and second in the qualification rounds were eliminated. The big winner? Patricia Freitas (Brazil) who was eleventh yesterday was into the semi-finals.
The semi-final had the top six boards and an increasing breeze. The opportunity to start planning downwind was increasing if you caught the right gust. Stefania Elfutina (Russia) led the fleet home followed by Hei Man Chan (Hong Kong) and Zofia Noceti-Klepacka (Poland) who would be the medallists.
The Final – a 6 minute race between the top three. Noceti-Klepacka and Elfutina had a drag race out to the right had side, Chan having essentially eliminated herself from gold with a poor start. Noceti-Klepacka won the race to the top mark and extended around the two laps to take the win and the Championship, Elfutina followed in silver position and Chan in bronze.
Noceti-Klepacka, greeted by Charlene Picon, Gold medallist from Rio, “Im so happy. It was a tough fight this week and Im so happy to win. This medal is for my children!”.
Different fleet, even more drama. With Dorian van Rijsselberge having retired form racing on Thursday, Kiran Badloe (Netherlands) was left to fly the Dutch flag for the event. In the quarter finals, unlike the women, the top two from Fridays standings made it safely through to the semi-final, with Shahar Zubari (Israel) and Mattia Camboni (Italy) being promoted from the back of the fleet into the next round.
The semi-final saw Frenchman Louis Giard take the race win followed in second by Byron Kokkalanis (Greece) but the drama was behind. Badloe and Camboni were locked in a boat on boat battle going down the final run. On the gybe to the final mark before the finish, Badloe mis-timed the gybe and capsized, falling in the water. Camboni seized the opportunity and sailed past and into the final. Badloe, crossing the line in fourth looked heart-broken, sitting on the board contemplating “that gybe”.
The Final was a thriller. A split start with Kokkalanis and Giard heading right, Camboni heading left. Initially looking like the experience of Kokkalanis and Giard would pay off as they came into the top mark, however Camboni came in fast and split the two boards, with Giard losing out and rounding third after Kokkalanis and Camboni. Giard choose his downwind leg perfectly and closed the gap and attached hard on the second upwind, surprising everyone but the home crowd to round first and lead down the run. Giard took the win, Kokkalanis silver and Camboni bronze.
Camboni was happy to be in the top 12, delighted to be in the top six and totally ecstatic to come away with a bronze medal from his efforts this week, “It was tough this week but I am happy. I didn’t expect to be here but I just keep pushing so hard today and I was very lucky to get a medal. It is tough mentally this format but right now, I like it.”
There had been two outstanding performers in the fleet this week with Yarden Isaak (Israel) and Olivia Rosique (France) taking most of the race wins between them. However at the end of the quarter final it would be Rosique who would be heading home, eliminated with a surprising eleventh place, almost her worst result of the week. Isaak did not fall at this hurdle and eased her way through to the semi-final.
In the semi-final Alessandra Papitto (Italy) won the race and checked onto the podium. Emma Le Clech (France) was second and Isaak just got third and justified her yellow jersey of the morning by being in the final.
In the Final, Isaak turned on the after-boosters and led the fleet the whole way round to claim gold. Papitto was second and Le Clech third.
Papitto, after crossing the line, “It was crazy today. I didn’t think I would be here. The other girl (Isaak) was just better. She was faster and I couldn’t catch her. But I have a medal.”
For the Youth Boys, it was very much closer to the running order with the top 4 seedings of the quarter final getting into the semi-final – no big shocks here. In the semi-final came the first shock with Mathurin Jolivet (France) having worn the silver jersey all week to be eliminated. Di Tomassi sailed through and was joined by Yoav Cohen (Israel) and Babtiste Grall (France).
The Final race for the Youth Boys, and the final race of the event, saw Di Tomassi lead from start to finish and claim gold. A fitting finish to a week of leading the fleet. Grall came in silver and Cohen third.
On his win Di Tomassi commented, “That was amazing. I was really nervous this morning about losing the medal but today was good fun. I like stronger winds and it was perfect for me.”
The RS:X Class would like to thank all at Yacht Club de la Pointe Rouge and the FFVoile for supporting the event. On top of the 265 sailors, the event could not run without the local volunteers and International officials who work tirelessly to make the event a success for the sailors both on and off the water.
Whilst Marseille has served up the trickiest of conditions over the week, it provided the best show to end the week with worthy champions. Thank you Marseille!
Text: Bas Edmonds / RS:X Class
Photos: Robert Hajduk / Shuttersail.com
Event website: http://www.rsxclass.org/europeans2017/