A classically trained concert pianist, Afrodite Zegers (NED) is no stranger to the big stage. So when the pressure was at fever pitch in the final race of the 2017 World Series Cup Miami presented by Sunbrella, and the proverbial lights of a live worldwide broadcast at its brightest, Zegers and teammate Annaloes van Veen displayed incredible poise to grab the Women’s 470 title.
The Dutch team entered the final race essentially tied with Sophie Weguelin and Eilidh McIntyre (GBR) for first in the overall standings. While there were other teams mathematically alive for each spot on the podium, when Zegers and van Veen rounded the first mark in the lead, with Weguelin and McIntyre close behind, the race for gold was distilled to a two-boat battle.
“It was a stressful race,” said van Veen. “On the first upwind we caught up quite some metres and then the downwind was OK. But on the second upwind we didn’t cover too well.”
The British pair made the pass halfway up the second upwind leg and first place in the regatta came down to the final run. Zegers and van Veen patiently waited for the opportunity to strike. Three quarters of the way through the leg, they final got close enough steal the wind of their British team, roll over the top, get around the final mark in first place and cruise down the final leg to the win.
“There were only a few options,” said Zegers of that final downwind leg. “I think we just did what we had to do, jibe when we had the opportunity and sail the boat in a way would give bad air to the British. I don’t think there was another opportunity.”
After the ultimate heartbreak of finishing fourth by a single point in Rio 2016, Zegers and van Veen were quite excited that their campaign for a medal in Tokyo 2020 is off to a great start.
“We made a lot of mistakes as it was our first regatta after the Games,” said Zegers. “But it was a very good week.”
The Finn Medal Race featured a similar who-beat-who battle, but this time for the silver medal as Jorge Zarif (BRA) had locked up a successful defense of his 2016 championship prior to the start. Ben Cornish (GBR) and Anders Pedersen (NOR) started the deciding race essentially tied for second place; battle that ensued had more twists and turns than the average regatta.
Cornish got the better of the pre-start with Pedersen being whistled for a foul. But the first beat went Pederson’s way as Cornish opted for a loose cover, got stuck in a bad lane and lost ground trying to clear his air. Cornish got back in touch on the first run only to see Pedersen regain control on the second beat. The race was eventually decided just moments before the final turning mark when Cornish, who had the speed edge downwind all day, was able to just break the overlap and force Pedersen to round behind him for the final reach to the finish and grab the silver medal. Finland’s Oskari Muhonen and Mikael Hyrylåinen went into the Medal Race in ninth and 10th respectively and were the first two sailors across the finish line in the Medal Race.
Zarif finished third in the race and was rightfully pleased with his week of sailing.
“Very tricky regatta, when [the wind] is from the shore here it is really hard,” said Zarif. “I’m happy that we won. It was a great week, I don’t have any bad things to say. [In the future maybe] I can try to sail a little bit more like I did here, trying to take less risks.”
Soon after Zarif successfully defended his title from the 2016 World Cup Series Miami, Stu McNay and David Hughes (USA) had an opportunity to do the same in the Men’s 470. They also entered the race as the lone U.S. hope for a regatta win.
Around the top mark it didn’t look good for the American team as the two teams with a shot at gold, Panagiotis Mantis and Pavlos Kagialis (GRE) and Tetsuya Isozaki and Akira Takayanagi (JPN) rounded third and first, respectively, while McNay and Hughes were seventh.
The first run was pivotal. McNay and Hughes moved to fourth, while Mantis and Kagialis fell all the way to ninth. The American team would lose a boat before the finish, but by staying in fifth and ahead of the Greek duo they assured themselves of first overall. Isozaki and Takayanagi led all the way around for the win, which was enough to move them into second overall.
Patience, said Hughes, was the key to success this week. “It was a type of regatta where you had to be mentally fit and keep ready to strike back when the opportunity presented itself,” he said. “If you tried to force an opportunity you’d be punished.”
A promising note for the future of the US Sailing Team was the performance of 2016 Youth Sailing World Champions Wiley Rogers and Jack Parkin, who finished third in the Medal Race and sixth overall in their second international regatta in the 470.
“I really look forward to [competing against] future generations of sailors,” said McNay, a three-time Olympian in the 470. “It’s a wonderful sport because you can compete for a long time. It’s great as Dave and I get older that there are some younger guys on the way.”
For Pavlos Kontides the plan for the Laser Medal Race was simple. By keeping Nick Thompson in fifth or lower, Kontides ensured himself of a silver medal. Jean Baptiste Bernaz (FRA) had locked up the gold medal position courtesy of the 39-point lead he built through the first 10 races of the regatta.
Thompson’s situation was a little more complex as three sailors were within striking distance of the bronze medal position. Off the line Thompson had the freedom he needed and rounded the first mark in third, but Kontides stayed close and made a pass right before the leeward mark.
“I thought that wind would come back right [on the first upwind] but then it went more left so he was able to gain a bit of an advantage on me,” said Kontides. “But downwind you can catch the pressure first. One good maneuver and I manage to pass him.”
Once he got the lead, Kontides placed a tight cover on the British athlete and sailed both of them to the back of the pack. In doing so, he took Thompson out of bronze medal position when Lorenzo Chiavarini (GBR) moved from eighth to fifth on the final downwind leg.
“I felt a little bit sorry for him that he lost the bronze, but this is the sport of sailing,” said Kontides. “We are enemies on the water, but friends back on the shore.”
Italy’s Giovanni Coccoluto won the race and moved from 10th to eighth in the overall standings. Bernaz, sailing what amounted to a victory lap, finished second.
Vasileia Karachaliou (GRE) and Evi Van Acker (BEL) went into the Laser Radial Medal Race in first and second, respectively, and that’s how they crossed the finish line. Karachaliou needed to finish eighth or better to lock up gold, while Van Acker held a similar advantage over third, as she needed to finish ninth or better to ensure silver.
Nonetheless, Karachaliou approached the race with the same goal as the first 10, only one of which she finished outside the top five. She started near the pin, played the first beat to perfection and, despite the instability of the breeze, never dropped lower than second. Van Acker’s second was a little more challenging as she rounded the first mark in fifth and had to work through the fleet to second. Mathilde de Karangat (FRA) finished fifth in the Medal Race and third in the regatta.
“I can’t describe how I’m feeling now,” said an elated Karachaliou. “I’m really happy. Being calm and focused always helps a lot. If you’re stressed you can make easy mistakes, sail away from the fleet. After the start I went away from the fleet [on the left side] and I saw the right shift and I tacked and I came back again to the fleet and it was OK.”
Karachaliou, just 20 years old and with no previous top-10 finishes in a World Cup-level regatta, was something of an unknown heading into Miami. But she has clearly made a significant leap in her ability and caught the eye of the Laser Radial establishment.
“She had a really good week, all respect for her,” said Van Acker, the London 2012 bronze medallist in the class. “She really was the best this week. I’m happy to be back racing, and happy to win the silver medal here. It was all about consistency and [Karachaliou] was the most consistent girl this week.”
The World Cup Series Miami came to its conclusion with the closing ceremony and prizegiving held at the Coral Reef Yacht Club in Coconut Grove, Miami.
By Stuart Streuli