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Olympic selection pressure launches Aussie to the top

by World Sailing 3 Apr 22:58 BST 1-6 April 2024
Mara Stransky (ILCA 6) at 2024 Sail Melbourne (30 Nov - 3 Dec ) hosted by Royal Brighton Yacht Club © Beau Outteridge

Australia's Mara Stransky has responded to the pressure of a close Olympic selection battle by moving to the top of the ILCA 6 dinghy leaderboard after a sunny, sea breeze day three of the World Cup Series at the 53 Trofeo Princesa Sofia Mallorca by Iberostar.

t was the third of six days of competition on the Mediterranean island, and the multiclass Olympic regatta taking place in the Bay of Palma is bringing out the best of Stransky and her Australian teammates, also battling away in the top 10 of a world-class fleet of 116 ILCA 6 dinghies.

With Zoe Thomson and Elyse Ainsworth in seventh and ninth respectively, Stransky can't afford to drop her guard at this critical regatta. Her scores of 4,11 from the first day of Gold Fleet racing might appear unspectacular, but that is simply a mark of the high-quality competition in Mallorca.

"It was good to have a consistent day, there were no easy spots on the start line now we are in Gold fleet," said Stransky. "A lot of people were up and down. I tried to keep it as simple as possible. We had long wind shifts and so it was important to be able to get in phase early."

The 25-year-old's performance is helping to banish ghosts of Sofías past.

"I have always done quite badly here but this time I have no letters on my scoreline," said Stransky, looking to qualify for her second Games after finishing 14th at Tokyo 2020.

"This is the final event to get the Olympic ticket and so it is very cool to have three of us fighting it out here in the top ten at the moment. So far, it really depends on how we all go at this event, so it is good to be leading but we have a lot of Gold Fleet and a Medal Race to go. We have all been a squad for about six years and the fact our qualification process is so intense raises the level."

Sharing the same points but lying in second overall and someone with no pressure to qualify for the Games. is Matilda Nicholls from Great Britain. With team-mate Hannah Snellgrove having already clinched the Olympic berth, Nicholls is discovering a new side of herself.

"This is the first time I have ever been in a medal position at a senior event, but this is just the first day of Gold Fleet racing," smiled the 22-year-old.

"Our trials have just finished and I did not get selected, so this is really a no-pressure event, just trying to do as well as I can. I am just aiming to be in the top 10 at the end as there is so much depth in this fleet, it is really brutal.

"I think I feel less pressure here without the trials looming over me all the time; I did not quite realise how much there was before. I have been putting myself under a lot of pressure over the last year and a half. Now that is gone, and I can look forwards."

Sitting in third overall is Denmark's Anna Munch, just three points in front of another Dane, reigning world and Olympic champion Anne-Marie Rindom.

Beckett stays on top

A big wind shift just as the first gold fleet ILCA 7 dinghy race started left some of the top hopes with a lot of hard work to do if they were to rescue a good finish.

Among those was double Sofía winner Micky Beckett (GBR) who pulled a 12th out of the fire after rounding the first mark in 40th. His first double-digit score of the regatta may be his discard, but that throw-out is much better than that of his nearest rivals. France's 2022 world champion Jean-Baptiste Bernaz is up to second.

Beckett, the Welsh wizard of Palma Bay, commented: "It seemed like I was playing catch-up the whole day. To do that you have to be really opportunistic with your moments, you have to keep planning ahead to pass groups, thinking five minutes ahead, 'what is going to happen, the group is going to spread out, the passing lane is down the middle/left/right.'

"I am a simple creature and tell myself not to panic and manage not to. These first beats are so, so incredibly tight, the first five boats get round the first mark and after that it is tough. It is amazing what two metres forwards or backwards does to you in this fleet!"

Despite all his experience at the front of the fleet, France's Bernaz is taking nothing for granted. The intensity of the racing never gets old for the Frenchman.

"Every metre is expensive. It was so hard to be consistent and I managed. There is so far to go. This is my last Games and I am going for the 'no regrets' version, pushing hard. Let's see if it works."

The four-time Olympian whose best finish so far is a sixth in Rio 2016, is looking to go out on a high in Marseille at the Olympic Regatta this summer.

Powerful, happy Tarnowski in pole position

A settled, super-happy home life which includes becoming a first-time father last summer are among the catalysts to a step-up in performance for the Polish iQFOiL windsurfer Pawel Tarnowski.

Currently the runaway leader of the event, today his Polish teammates treated Tarnowski to a cake and candles for his 30th birthday. He then went out to add two more winning guns and a second to extend his margin. The Pole's season to date has been impressive, runner-up at the iQFOiL worlds in Lanzarote and also second at last month's iQFOiL International Games in Cadiz.

"I feel my training is going in the right direction which is good because everyone is pushing, pushing so hard in this Olympic year," said the birthday boy who is five points up on Italy's reigning world champion Nicolò Renna.

"I have really been focusing on the positive outcome and that has not always been the case. I think I have started the season well. I feel strong here. All the training is paying off. And for sure as a new dad I feel super strong with a lot of motivation for my kid and my wife.

"She is doing all the hard work ashore and she makes it easier for me to focus on my goal, so full credit to her. It is great to be all together here and it motivates me."

Double bullet Swedes on top

After six qualifying races for the 470 mixed dinghy event, Sweden's Tokyo Olympic silver medallist Anton Dahlberg and Lovisa Karlsson are on top by a single point thanks to two wins in the 10-13 knots sea breeze conditions of the afternoon.

Dalhberg, a four-time Olympian and double European champion commented: "It's an important event for us. We want to perform here as we have some boxes to tick, we did not get the answers we wanted at the Worlds [where the Swedes were 7th] so we really want to give it everything. After Hyères where I think we will see a smaller fleet, for us it will be all about being in Marseille learning all we can. We like the momentum we have right now and we try to build on that."

The high-pressure German trials continue to be finely balanced, with husband-and-wife team Malte and Anastaysia Winkel in fourth place, just one point ahead of Simon Diesch and Anna Markfort.

Olympic pressure, what pressure?

In the 49er Men's skiff none of the top four duos have selection concerns. Indeed, it is the re-formed Australian partnership of Jack Ferguson and Max Paul - racing for fun - that still leads after a second place today ahead of the Uruguayan duo Hernan Umpierre and Fernando Diz who have a place at Paris 2024.

Neither third-placed US duo Andrew Mollerus and Ian MacDiarmid nor France's fourth placed Lucas Rual and Emile Amoros will be in Marseille. The Americans lost their trials regatta on the final race and the young French pair missed out on selection to the recently crowned world champions, Erwan Fischer and Clement Pequin, who are not having a good regatta here.

In the 49er FX women's skiff Norwegians Helene Næss and Marie Rønningen still lead, "We have sailed a very consistent regatta so far except for the last race which was our discard," said helmswoman Næss.

"We are doing both here and Hyeres and then go to Marseille for preparations for the Games which really are coming up fast."

It's a good regatta for Norway elsewhere, with compatriots Maya Gysler and Mina Mobekk holding first and second on the Women's iQFOiL windsurfing.

Pianosi matching Maeder

In the Formula Kite men's event Italy's Riccardo Pianosi is giving defending Palma champion Max Maeder a run for his money.

Both are tied on the same points after 12 qualifying heats whilst Daniela Moroz of the USA continues to dominate the women's kite event.

In the Nacra 17 mixed multihull competition, Italy's world and Olympic champions Ruggero Tita and Caterina Banti have moved up to second place with a 1,1,3 from the day's racing.

This moves the Italians within striking distance of current leaders, Germany's Olympic bronze medallists Paul Kohlhoff and Alica Stuhlemmer.

On Thursday the sea breeze is again expected to blow in across the Bay of Palma, with all 10 classes now moving into the Gold Fleet phase of the regatta.

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