Saturday, 18 July 2009
Final Day, Women's European Laser Radial Championship: Paige Railey the Overall Victor, Mihelic the Euro Champ
Start of the final race of the Laser Radial Europeans 2009. Image copyright Per Heegaard.
by Johanne Rosenquist
The outcome of the Women’s European Laser Radial Championship in Denmark hung in the balance until the very end. It has been a shifty and unpredictable regatta every day on the ever-changing waters of The Sound between Denmark and Sweden, but most sailors believed today was the hardest of all.
In the end, Paige Railey held on to her lead to win the Open European Championship. Being American, she did not qualify for the European title, which went to Tina Mihelic of Croatia.
In the first race of the gold fleet finals, Poland’s Ewa Makowska and the early leaders found themselves dumped to the bottom of the pile. Meanwhile, some of the contenders for the European Championship who had been languishing in the back few of the 48-boat gold fleet now found themselves fighting for the front. Among the lucky ones to find new breeze with a massive right-hand wind shift were the reigning World Champion Sarah Steyaert of France, and Marit Bouwemeester of the Netherlands. Bouwemeester led for a while but Steyaert pulled through to win that heat. Railey was 20th, and so at this stage the regatta was wide open.
The first beat of the final race saw the pack on the left doing well early on, and then it swung to the pack on the right before the wind almost completely died just 200 metres before the mark. America’s Sarah Lihan found her own personal gust out of the middle of the course to lead around the mark just ahead of Railey who led the rejuvenated right-hand pack down the reaches.
By the leeward gate, Railey had pulled out to an almighty lead. Despite the wind shifts she played a good defensive game to score a resounding victory, not only in that race but in the overall points score.
Fun downwind. Image copyright Per Heegaard.
Railey was delighted with the win. It’s been a challenging regatta, not least for the American who has also managed to take one of her university exams over the internet during the course of this week. “Today was really hard, the hardest day so far. In the first race, the girls in the back were almost last, the fleet was doing big flip flops,” she said. “After that first race, the door was wide open. It was anyone’s game in the second race. It was definitely 50:50, we had all split to a side, and it was which ever side was going to make it out first.”
The European title was a great reward for Tina Mihelic of Croatia, who won three races this week. She would have run Railey close for the overall title had she not forgotten to sign off after racing on the first day, for which she incurred a 10-point penalty to add on to her score. As it was, Mihelic only beat Steyaert by 2.5 points, and only 10 points separated 2nd place to 9th place overall. So much depended on the outcome of that final race.
Most consistent performer on the final day was Alberte Lindberg with a 10,2 score. This elevated the Dane to 4th overall, just 1 point behind Steyaert. Lindberg is not local to Copenhagen, so she was no more clued up about the local conditions than the international competitors. She won a race the previous day and said she felt more comfortable racing in the gold fleet than in qualifying. “I love to do the final rounds, I hate the qualifying but love the finals.”
Close racing. Image copyright Per Heegaard.
Maiken Schütt was the next most successful Danish sailor in 12th overall. She had scored a 3rd place earlier in the week after her coach gave her an old glove that originally was the property of triple Olympic Champion Ben Ainslie. After scoring a 32nd in today’s first race she decided it was time to bring out the Ainslie magic again, so she stuffed the old glove down the front of her buoyancy aid. She was 5th around the first mark, then up to 4th, but dropped away to 8th at the finish. Even so, Schütt felt the hand of Ainslie had worked again, and said she would be taking the glove with her to Japan, the venue of the Laser Radial World Championships in just over a week’s time.
In the 70-boat Men’s division, Poland’s Zemke Wojciech had led all week, winning race after race. But today his regatta fell apart with scores of 20,26. This left the way clear for Greek sailor Michail Aristeidis to win the Men’s European Championship.
Laser Radial European Championships