Photos © Icarus Sailing Media
Friday's medal racing climax at the 2013 African Course Racing Championship in Soma Bay, Egypt dawned with lighter conditions compared to the past two days, and all was set for the most tense day of racing so far.
With riders only carrying points equivalent to their position on the leaderboard into the final day, there was all to play for. The ten riders in each of the men's and women's events competed in a repechage series, with only the top three on each leaderboard guaranteed a place in the final race off. The bottom four riders, positions 7 to 10, were to race off first, with the top finisher progressing through to the next round, which then pitched the riders in positions 4-7 against each other and rewarded only the top finisher with a place in the finals.
First onto the track were the girls, with the riders placed from 7 to 10 racing head to head, and only one of them able to claim the ticket to the next round. After two races it was Poland's Michalina Laskowska that scored a second and a first place – safely ensuring her progress through to the semi-finals.
Up next were the men's fleet, riders 7 through 10, and it was France's Maxime Nocher who delivered a knockout performance and despite being eighth overall on the leaderboard, dominated with two bullets and pocketed his advance to the next stage.
Back onto the track were the women's semi-finalists, with the riders ranked 4th to 7th and including the 15 year old upcoming star in course racing, Russia's Elena Kalinina. The lighter conditions prevailing today seemed to suit her – a preference she confirmed by scoring two bullets and going straight through to the finals.
Back with the men, and Maxime Nocher now had to rise to the challenge of the big course racing names, including Americans Adam Koch and Brian Kender and the Polish Tomek Janiak. But Nocher was confident and on fire, scoring another two first places and easily advancing to the grand final to meet the top three on the leaderboard.
Onto the women's finals and series leader Steph Bridge of Great Britain had to be careful as the reigning World Course Racing Champion, Erika Heineken, was only 1 point behind her. In third and fourth place were the Dutch Katja Roose and the winner of the semi-finals Kalinina. The wind had decreased and whilst tactics were trickier around the track, Bridge had the experience to stay out of trouble and win the first race in a style which Heineken just couldn't match. Heineken went into the deciding race purely focused on a win, and managed to hold onto second overall. Series victory went to Bridge and Roose sat tight to claim third overall.
Last to go were the men's fleet where reigning World Champion Johnny Heineken had to protect his place from Italian Riccardo Leccese, second so far in the series, with the young German Florian Gruber and the surprise performer of the day, France's Maxime Nocher. In the first race Heineken easily took the lead, but during the last tense metres to the finish Gruber slipped past and took the race win, delivering a major threat to Heineken's position. Heineken changed his approach and played it conservatively in the deciding race to preserve his series victory, with the race glory going to Nocher who ended his Championship in style, scoring his fifth win of the day, and with it third overall on the podium. A delighted Gruber moved up to finish his series in second overall.
A wonderful finale to what has been a superbly well-organized Championship, hugely enjoyed by kiters, organizers and supporters.
Back on shore, the riders enjoyed an excellent awards ceremony – where trophies were presented to the winners. The most rousing applause of all went to Oswald Smith from South Africa who claimed the overall title of 2013 African Course Racing Champion and 2013 African Youth Course Racing Champion.
Overall Results: (top three)
1. Johnny Heineken (USA)
2. Florian Gruber (GER)
3. Maxime Nocher (FRA)
1. Steph Bridge (GBR)
2. Erika Heineken (USA)
3. Katja Roose (NED)
2013 African Course Racing Championship
1. Oswald Smith (RSA)
2. Oscar Armstrong (RSA)
3. Omar Abdel Fattah (EGY)