The Australian Finn team of Jake Lilley (AUS) and Oliver Tweddell (AUS) have been making headlines all week at the Sailing World Cup Hyeres and the medal race was no different, keeping everyone guessing until the final excruciating moments. In the end, Lilley, who has led the regatta since day 2, took the gold, Tweddell took silver, while Jonathan Lobert (FRA) snatched the bronze.
Rarely has there been so much drama in one 30 minute race with the overall medals changing hands several times, two huge comebacks out of the start by medal contenders and another comeback by the gold medallist at the last moment. The race was sailed in conditions from 1 -12 knots, with heavy rain, and with a wind that died and shifted 90 degrees to further challenge the already challenged sailors. In fact the only constant was Caleb Paine (USA) who calmly led the fleet all the way. It was compelling TV gold.
Following a long wait after the wind died, the Finn medal race started in 10-12 knots with Oscar raised at the first mark. Paine took the first hitch to the right soon after the start, and when he came back he was on a big right shift that took him straight to the top mark. He extended his lead and was never headed to win the race, crossing the finish line in less than three knots.
But the real drama was going on behind him. Tweddell and Jonas Høgh-Christensen (DEN) both went back thinking they were over early. They started way back but fortunately hitched out right and hooked the new breeze to make a huge recovery to round the top mark in the top five. Meanwhile three of the main medal contenders, Lilley, Josh Junior (NZL) and Anders Pedersen (NOR) were stranded on the left with no way back.
Tweddell slowly moved his way to third passing Høgh-Christensen and Max Salminen (SWE), and, at the start of the final downwind, with Lilley still in last place he had one hand on the gold medal. But then there was a new change. The rain was tipping down, the wind was almost gone and then it started to shift to the right.
Lilley made one place on the downwind. A long way in front of him Paine, Lobert and Tweddell inched across the finish line. By then the wind had shifted 90 degrees, to change the final offwind leg to an upwind leg and this allowed Lilley to get to the right side of Junior and Pedersen and, even though he took a penalty on the finish line, managed to cross in seventh to secure the gold, his first World Cup win.
Third place was enough for Tweddell to take the silver and second place gave Lobert the bronze, the first time he has been in a podium position all week.
Lilley described the stress of the day. “What an incredibly intense race. There was a lot of pressure riding on it. It is really important in terms of our trials.”
“I had an OK start, and then got on the wrong side of the shift and it was looking really bad, but I kept chipping away. On the last downwind it got really light and I got pretty lucky, but just kept fighting and then got two turns on the last work to the finish but just managed to hang on.”
On rounding the top mark last, “I couldn’t afford to think about the situation. I just knew what was happening in the race, and I just had to keep fighting and take the right shifts and get in to the pressure. I didn’t always get it right but if you keep trying sometimes it comes good for you.”
Tweedell said, "That was a tough medal race! I thought I might have been over the line so went back just to be safe. Then I could see more breeze out to the right so just went into it, and it paid off."
"I'm very pleased to have won the silver medal here. It means both Jake and I have obtained baseline qualification results for the Olympics. So it will make the World Championships next week very interesting."
The World Championship, the Finn Gold Cup, starts next Thursday in Gaeta, Italy, where more than one Olympic trials will conclude.
Results after medal race (medal race in brackets)
1 AUS 41 Jake Lilley 42 (7)
2 AUS 261 Oliver Tweddell 45 (3)
3 FRA 112 Jonathan Lobert 52 (2)
4 NZL 24 Josh Junior 53 (8)
5 NOR 1 Anders Pedersen 53 (9)
6 DEN 2 Jonas Hogh-Christensen 55 (5)
7 BRA 109 Jorge Zarif 55 (6)
8 USA 6 Caleb Paine 56 (1)
9 CRO 524 Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic 56 (10)
10 SWE 33 Max Salminen 64 (4)