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The cream rises as Finals racing starts at the 52 Trofeo Princesa Sofía on day 4

by Trofeo S.A.R. Princesa Sofía 6 Apr 20:50 BST 3-8 April 2023

With the 52 Trofeo Princesa Sofía Mallorca by Iberostar moving into the decisive Finals phase on the Bay of Palma, leading contenders today finally got their first real feel for how much the level has moved up since last season.

Gold fleet racing is always the real acid test. Leads earned through the initial Qualifying heats often prove transient when it is only the cream of each fleet battling it out for places in Saturday's Medal races.

At this key Olympic classes regatta last year, post Tokyo, one notable absentee was the Dutch three times medallist Marit Bouwmeester. She was heavily pregnant then, giving birth to her first child Jessie Mae in May last year. Since then the new mum has, predictably, limited her training and racing time.

After winning Laser Radial silver in London 2012 and gold in Rio 2016, bronze in Tokyo 2021 completed the full medal set, but it was something of a disappointment considering in 2020 - the year the Games should have run - she was reigning World and European. But an arm injury in 2021 meant that the Tokyo Olympic regatta was her only major regatta she could sail.

So Bouwmeester is back in the ILCA 6 in Palma, revving up her challenge for the fourth medal which would make her the most successful ever female sailing Olympian. And she is on typically impressive form. After a first and second today - discarding a 16th which was the result of catching the pin mark - she carries a lead of 24 points into the second day of Finals racing, ahead of her Dutch compatriot Maxime Yonker.

Washing down her boat in the sunshine in C'an Pastilla she smiles " It is nice to be back in Palma but the days on the water feel very long. But today was a good day. I was a bit pissed off in the third race because I got a good start and then dropped my mainsheet and got caught around the pin end which was a bit stupid, but overall I feel like I am making progress."

For her, she says, it is not the potential glory of potentially being the 'best of the best but still - 13 years on from her first world championship silver medal -she is trying to get better every day and, now, doing it is a mum.

"If you can get a baby out, you can do anything!" she chuckles, " I want to do it all one more time but first I have to qualify myself for Paris 2024 and finish my career in style and there is only one place, for me, that counts. I want to win a gold medal. I believe I can still do it. That is why I am here, still doing it.

"And I am really grateful to my boyfriend who is giving me this opportunity and he looks after our kid a lot, and also to my coach who believes in me. He does a lot of work for me because I can't train as much as I want to. I am probably doing half of what I did before."

She asserts, "Having a baby puts everything in perspective. I am so very grateful to be a mum, really I am. It is not common to go sailing at this level and be a mum, so I really need to make every time on the water count. It has to be good and I appreciate being away.

"And then when I do go away to Lanzarote to train and take my babysitter she gets sick... so all these things you think you get it all sorted and these things happen. But I am going to give it all I can, my very best."

And Bouwmeester concludes, "There is an addiction of trying to being better every day. After Tokyo it is unfinished business as I went to Tokyo after winning the World and European Championships in 2020 and then the Games were postponed. And then I had a big arm injury and could only sail one event and that was the Olympics. So that is not how I wanted my career to end."

In the ILCA 7 Men's division last year's title winner Michael Beckett of Great Britain stepped clear of the pack with a consistent day to lead by 16 points ahead of Cyprus' 2012 Olympic silver medallist Pavlos Kontides.

Beckett who went 1,1,3 in the 8-10kts sea breeze said, "I'm happy with how I went given how fickle the wind was. Mark 1 was was so tight with the whole fleet arriving at pretty much the same time, it was a day of really fine margins. 3 races in gold fleet is a big day out for us, so I'm looking forwards to a big dinner this evening!"

His British compatriots in the Nacra 17, Tokyo silver medallists John Gimson and Anna Burnet, also profited in the lighter, marginal foiling breeze, and now leading the Italian trio of crews by five points, Olympic champions Rugerro Tita and Caterina Banti are now up to second.

Crew Burnet is pleased to have their Italian training partners behind them, "The group we've been training with has obviously come out quite well from the winter. Not to say that others aren't fast because for sure in other conditions I think it'll be a real mix of teams up at the front. But we have really enjoyed training with those guys."

Points are close in the 49er FX Women's skiff where the Dutch duo Odile van Aanholt and Annette Duetz Tokyo bronze medal winners have the better of their Brazilian rivals, double gold winners, Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze for the meantime, but there is just three points in it. In the 49ers New Zealand hold first and third with Logan Dunning Beck and Oscar Gunn leading after winning three of the first four Finals races today.

"We had good starts today, and that was a big help, but it wasn't just that." said Dunning Beck, " I think we managed to avoid the worst of the congestion on the race course. I saw Bart Lambriex try some really good things today and they almost worked, but one thing would go wrong for him and he'd be right at the back again. That was easy for that to happen, so I'm glad we managed to stay out of trouble."

Japan top the 470 Mixed table with Keiju Okada and Miho Yoshioka after having a consistent day while Spain's class winners last year Jordi Xammar and Nora Brugman advanced to third.

2020 Olympic bronze winner Xammar acknowledged, "We are climbing the table bit by bit. We knew that the Finals were the start of a new championship. Today was a key day with three gold group races, we went out on the water trying to do our best. We are sailing focused on ourselves: we know that if we do our job well, we will be in front".

Germany's world champion Sebastian Koerdel has taken the Men's iQFOiL top spot with two days of competition left whilst France's Lola Sorin leads the Women ahead of Britain's Emma Wilson. And in the Formula Kite classes the new leader is Singapore's Max Maeder in the men whilst France's Lauriane Nolot still leads the women.

Finals racing concludes Friday, Medal races are on Saturday.

More information and full results can be found on the event website

The 52 Trofeo S.A.R. Princesa Sofía Mallorca by Iberostar is the first qualifying event for the Sailing World Cup 2023 and will be held from 29 March to 8 April under the joint organisation of the Club Nàutic S'Arenal, the Club Marítimo San Antonio de la Playa, the Real Club Náutico de Palma, the Real Federación Española de Vela and the Federación Balear de Vela, with the backing of World Sailing and the main Balearic public institutions. It is funded by the European Union Next Generation EU, the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism, the Recovery, Transformation and Resilience Plan and the Balearic Islands Tourism Strategy Agency.

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