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Ready Steady Tokyo Olympic test event in Enoshima, Japan - Day 5

by Liz Owen, World Sailing 21 Aug 2019 14:55 BST 15-22 August 2019
Mengfan Gao - Ready Steady Tokyo, day 5 © Pedro Martinez / Sailing Energy / World Sailing

Five Medal Races took place on the fifth day of racing at Ready Steady Tokyo - Sailing, with the top three sailors of each fleet laying down the marker ahead of next year's Games.

At the official test event for Tokyo 2020, Brazil, New Zealand and Italy all claimed a gold each, with Great Britain taking the most medals overall so far with four.

China, meanwhile, delivered a stunning week-long performance to take gold in both the RS:X Men and Women's fleets.

After discarding a 21st in his first race of the regatta, Mengfan Gao did not finish lower than eighth for the rest of the week, clinching gold by an impressive 11 points.

In an extremely competitive fleet, this victory was crucial for Gao.

"It's a tough event to win - the world's top-ranked sailors are all here, such as Dorian [van Rijsselberghe], who won two Olympic gold medals," he said.

"It's been hard to win this medal, and I'm super happy - it's important for me.

"I'm here to understand the venue and the water and to know Enoshima, so I can prepare for next year."

The silver and bronze medal positions changed during the race, with Thomas Goyard (FRA), who was second going into the final day, receiving an OCS and ruling himself out of contention.

Tom Squires (GBR), third at the beginning of the day, finished ninth in the Medal Race.

Taking advantage of this were Mattia Camboni (ITA) and Piotr Myszka (POL), who won silver and bronze respectively.

Yoav Cohen (ISR) won the Medal Race to finish eighth overall, while reigning Olympic champion van Rijsselberghe (NED), returning from a recent elbow injury, finished 10th.

Over in the Women's fleet, Yunxiu Lu (CHN) led all week long, with a fourth-place finish in the Medal Race enough for her to seal the gold medal.

"It was hard work, I did really well and I'm really happy," said Lu.

"Before the start [of the race], I was thinking that I could do better than before, so I kept pushing and pushing.

"For me, this week was a bit of a training week. I was relaxed and had no nerves."

In contrast to the Men's fleet, the same sailors remained in the top three, but there was a switch in position, as reigning Olympic champion Charline Picon (FRA) won the Medal Race to pip Katy Spychakov (ISR) to silver.

The 49erFX fleet saw the most dramatic Medal Race so far, with all three podium positions changing hands from the beginning of the day.

Charlotte Dobson & Saskia Tidey (GBR) had led all week long, but found themselves just a point ahead of Rio 2016 champions Martine Grael & Kahena Kunze (BRA).

Alexandra Maloney & Molly Meech (NZL), runners-up in Rio, were also in the mix, sitting six points behind the Brazilians.

But it was the Norwegian duo of Helene Næss & Marie Rønningen who shook things up, winning the Medal Race to climb from fourth to second for silver.

A third-place finish for Grael & Kunze was enough to give them gold, with Dobson & Tidey having to settle for bronze after coming sixth in the Medal Race.

Fresh from winning gold at the Pan American Games, the Brazilians sailed without pressure to mastermind the test event victory.

"We had really good gains coming back from the right and we did awesome in the downwinds," said Kunze.

"We were always taking a little bit off each leg and on the last one we managed to secure gold.

"Our target was just to be here, to get everything from the race areas and get used to the climate and humidity."

"There's still a lot of events ahead [before Tokyo 2020] for the class - two World Championships, one after each other, and then there's the World Cups and other sailing events," added Grael.

"We'll need to decide which ones to go to.

"But before that, we'll have a month off!"

Rio 2016 gold medallists Peter Burling & Blair Tuke (NZL) held a 13-point lead ahead of today's 49er Medal Race, but they were anything but complacent.

Knowing that Lukasz Przybytek & Pawel Kolodzinski (POL) were their only challengers to gold, the Kiwis took full advantage of a poor start for the Poles.

From then on they had the fairly simple task to beat them to the finish line - which they did so, crossing in eighth ahead of the Poles in ninth.

This battle allowed British duo Dylan Fletcher-Scott & Stuart Bithell, who had arrived in Japan straight from their fourth SailGP event of the season in Cowes, UK, to finish with a strong third and clinch silver.

Explaining the start-line scenario, Tuke said, "The Polish put themselves in a pretty compromising situation with about 10-15 seconds to go, and we sort of took the opportunity to aid them to be the wrong side of the start.

"From there it was quite easy for us in the race; we made sure we stayed ahead of them at the next mark, and that was that.

"It was good to get that opportunity because you don't get that sort of practice that often so we're really happy with that."

"This is a big one, being the Olympic test event, and definitely something you're trying to perform well at," added Burling.

"This is the only real practice we get at the right time of year with everything as close as we can with what we're trying to do in a year's time.

"It's pleasing to take a solid win here. We feel like we're progressing nicely and getting better as we go."

The Nacra 17 Medal Race was also an exciting affair, as five teams were all realistically able to claim a top-three spot.

Ruggero Tita & Caterina Banti (ITA) had topped the fleet all week long and did not relinquish their lead, finishing fourth in the Medal Race to get gold by 12 points.

"We are really happy - we started the week first and we stayed there, sailing one of our best Medal Races today," said Banti.

"To win here is important and we're really happy about it, it's been a really difficult race area with difficult conditions."

Elsewhere in the fleet, a ninth-place race finish for John Gimson & Anna Burnet (GBR) was enough for them to keep hold of silver.

With points tight, their British rivals for the Tokyo 2020 spot, Ben Saxton & Nikki Boniface, were able to get bronze by finishing ahead of nearest challengers Jason Waterhouse & Lisa Darmanin (AUS) and Santiago Lange & Cecilia Carranza Saroli (ARG), who got silver and gold respectively at Rio 2016.

The remaining five Olympic events completed their series today and will hold their Medal Races tomorrow.

One gold medal has already been decided ahead of Thursday's showdown, with Zsombor Berecz (HUN) winning in the Finn fleet as he has built up a 23-point advantage.

Behind him, Nicholas Heiner (NED) has moved into second, a point ahead of Giles Scott (GBR).

In the Laser fleet, early leader Sam Meech (NZL) has now dropped down to fifth.

Jesper Stalheim (SWE) keeps his place at the top, ahead of Tom Burton (AUS) and Hermann Tomasgaard (NOR).

The Medal Race looks set to be a nervy affair, with just seven points separating Stalheim and Meech.

The top three remain the same in the Laser Radial; Emma Plasschaert (BEL) leads Marit Bouwmeester (NED) and Maria Erdi (HUN), with nine points between first and third.

Polish duo Agnieszka Skrzypulec & Jolanta Ogar have entered the top three of the 470 Women's fleet, at the expense of Ai Kondo Yoshida & Miho Yoshioka (JPN).

Camille Lecointre & Aloise Retornaz (FRA) keep their lead over Hannah Mills & Eilidh McIntyre (GBR) but there's just a point separating them going into tomorrow's race.

The 470 Men top three remains unchanged, with fleet leaders Belcher & Ryan (AUS) followed by Anton Dahlberg & Fredrik Bergström (ESP) and Jordi Xammar & Nicolas Rodriguez (ESP).

Racing continues on the final day of the regatta tomorrow with the Laser Radial Medal Race at 13:30 local time, followed by the Laser and 470 Women at 14:30, and the Finn and 470 Men at 15:30.

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