Today would be a day for simplicity and stability for all of the sailors aiming to keep their championship hopes alive. After the massive wind shifts and challenging rolling waves from Monday, day 2 of the RS:X Windsurfing World Championships in Enoshima, Japan was widely different to the first days racing – which all 168 competitors were extremely grateful for. This morning was a calm and peaceful scene of serenity as a flat calm Sagami Bay greeted the athletes to the venue of the next Olympic sailing competition.
In both the men’s and women’s fleet, the overnight scorecard showed that a limited number of competitors actually mastered the conditions and the variables from the opening day. It could be that some nerves were showing and reigning double Olympic champion, Dorian van Rijsselberghe was potentially guilty of this with a mixed scoreline. Today would be a chance for those competitors to show some stability in the results and climb back up the scorecard.
The women’s fleet were the first scheduled for racing but were held ashore for an hour as the light breeze began to tease the organisers and gently build. Once afloat, the conditions were perfect for racing and the race committee wasted no time in rattling off three excellent races in the stable but light wind. Again it was the Chinese that were the dominant force with three sailors in the top four overall at the end of the day. Peina Chen leads the fleet having scored a 1, 1, 11 and is looking very confident in all of the conditions thrown at the fleet after two days racing. Polish sailor Zofia Noceti Klepacka is chasing hard and will not look to give up the fight for the world title any time soon, Zofia had the best scoreline of the day with 2, 1, 3 to close the gap on Peina.
The RS:X windsurfing is the pinnacle of sailing fitness and the racing today was certainly testament to that as competitors were pushed to their endurance limits with racing taking place in around 27 degrees heat and in light winds known as pumping conditions. “Pumping” is where the competitors physically use their body weight to fan the sails to generate a fraction more wind and therefore propel themselves a little faster forward. This effort is exhausting and can feel like running 10,000m three times a day with little break.
The women’s fleet is looking ultra-competitive at this stage in the Olympic cycle. Within the top five there is the silver and bronze medallists from Rio along with a smattering of new faces challenging to get into Saturdays top ten medal race. It will be interesting to see how the battles work out over the next two days of racing as it splits into Gold and Silver fleet racing and whether the relentless intensity of the competition will take its toll on any competitors.
One competitor who narrowly missed out on a medal in Rio is Lilian De Geus from the Netherlands who sits in 6th place and is neatly poised in the chasing pack to capitalise on any mistakes made by the leaders. On todays racing Lilian commented, “Today was so much simpler. It was fun today and I managed to get some good results so very happy with how today went. Yesterday was really tough with the big shifts so happy the conditions were settled. The race committee did a great job in waiting perfectly for the wind and by the time we got out there it was perfect racing”.
In the Under 21 fleet, it would be wrong to say the title is pretty much sewn up, but with Russia’s Stefania Elfutina leading compatriot Mariam Sekhposyan by a whopping 20 points the title is looking firmly in her grasp. Elfutina, a bronze medallist from Rio, will be looking to at the overall title though and will be wanting to walk away at the end of the week as the youngest RS:X Windsurfing World Champion ever. Stefania on todays racing, “It was good. I had a good day yesterday so I was happy this morning and I enjoyed myself. I will see what happens this week but I am happy we have a rest day tomorrow”.
At 1400 local time, the men and women swapped over for battle duties and as a tired women’s fleet hit the beach a revved up men’s fleet were heading out to the race area. Again in pumping conditions, time ran out on the race committee and with sunset approaching, the men were sent back ashore having only completed two races.
As in the women’s fleet, consistency would be the key to avoiding picking up big scores. The leader from yesterday, Frenchman Louis Giard did exactly that with a 5, 2 scoreline and continues to lead the fleet overall. Talking about the racing, “It was good today, still shifty but I seemed to go the right way and get two good results. I am just happy that I go into the Gold fleet racing with all good discards when they come in which is a strong position for me”.
Whilst Giard leads the overall fleet, the racing today showed off all of the benefits of keeping tactics simple and relying on the basics. Chinas Bing Ye had the best day with a 1, 1 in his flight which Mateo Sanz Lanz from Switzerland also scored well with a 2, 1 in the other flight to land himself into 2nd overall. In fact when looking at the top ten after the first two days racing, the fleet is incredibly compact and, like the women, will provide some excellent battles over the next two days before heading into the medal race. Local favourite Makoto Tomizawa is in fourth overall, just behind Polands Pawel Tarnowski.
Speaking to Israels Shahar Zubari after racing, “I had a bad start in the first race and got a 2nd place, then I had a good start in the second race and got an 8th place so it was that kind of a crazy day. At 31 years old I have more experience over some of the younger guys where they may have more physicality over me so for now it seems as though experience pays”. When asked what made him keep competing as he enters his fourth Olympic campaign, Shahar commented, “It’s the windsurfing lifestyle. I get to go on the water and spend every day with nature. The ocean is our office so its amazing to be able to call this a job”. Zubari is 6th overall going into the rest day.
In the Under 21 fleet for the men, its also extremely close with Angel Grande Roque (Spain) leading by one point from Israels Ofek Elimeleh. They sit 11th and 12th overall respectively and have a real chance of getting into the medal race. More interestingly is that both Roque and Elimeleh are ahead of van Rijsselberghe who has not had an easy start to the week and sits in 16th overall.
Wednesday is a well-deserved rest day for both the men’s and women’s fleet as well as the organisers and volunteers who get to both mentally and physically re-group to put on the best show for the remainder of the event. Two days racing, a total of 18 separate races completed and there is nothing to separate out who could or will win the world titles. Racing resumes on Thursday with the fleets being separated into Gold and Silver flights before the top ten race it out for the medals and title.
Text: Bas Edmonds / RS:X Class
Photo: Robert Hajduk / Shuttersail.com
Video: ICARUS Sport
Event website: http://www.rsxclass.org/worlds2017/