Something different happened today in Barcelona. Pieter-Jan Postma (NED) managed to maintain his overnight lead and win the 2016 Finn European Championship. Probably the most popular person in the fleet, if not in the sport of sailing, this is an extremely popular win in the class and one that is long overdue. He held it together in the stressful medal race to take home the gold. There were great performances and results also for Zsombor Berecz (HUN) who took the silver, and Milan Vujasinovic (CRO) who won the bronze. The final day's racing was a fitting end to a testing week in Barcelona.
First up was the final race to not only decide the top 10 for the medal race but also the very tight US Olympic selection. The race was brought forward to 9.30 to try and use the early morning breeze, which was timed to perfection as the breeze died as the fleet crossed the finish line.
As usual it took one general recall before the fleet got away, but the start under the black flag got away cleanly. The right side was favoured with Vujasinovic tacking right at the boat end of the line and leading round the top, never to be headed, for his second race win the of the week. Caleb Paine (USA) rounded second with Piotr Kula (POL) in third. A number of the top sailors were deep, including second overall Josh Junior (NZL). Paine's main adversary Zach Railey (USA) was also deep and it looked like it was game over for the US selection.
The fleet closed on Vujasinovic on the final downwind as the breeze almost vanished, but there was just enough to push them across the finish and for the whole fleet to finish. Kula had moved up to second while Tom Ramshaw (CAN) ended an excellent week with a third. Paine crossed in seventh to secure the US berth in Rio, while Railey, who had chosen the wrong side of the first upwind was still mid fleet.
Finishing in 16th overall, Ondrej Teply (CZE) adds the Junior European title to the Junior World title he won last year. Philip Kasueke (GER) took the silver medal in 30th place overall, while the bronze went to Arkadiy Kistanov (RUS) in 34th overall.
Regatta leader Pieter-Jan Postma (NED) placed seventh to keep his first title hopes alive, though Vujasinovic was now up to second with Berecz in third. Any one of them could win the gold.
They all kept everyone guessing right to the end of the medal race. Postma held the early advantage and then ducked two boats at the top to round in third. Then on the downwind he let Vujasinovic split gybes to chase a puff which never arrived. When they came back at the gate the Croatian was up to second and Postma was down to seventh. It was a long way from over. Berecz then moved up to second on the final upwind, so the final downwind to the finish would be decisive. Though there was a nice sea breeze in place it was under 10 knots so they all had to be careful.
Vasilij Zbogar (SLO) had rounded the last mark in the lead and went on to win the race. A second from Berecz was enough to pass Vujasinovic and take the silver. Vujasinovic crossed in fifth to take the bronze and with Postma recovering to sixth, the gold was his, finally.
Vujasinovic described his week, “It turned out well for me. It's my first medal in an Olympic class. I believe I had a pretty consistent week, except for one bad race, but everyone had one bad race apart from the Hungarian. I did a really good regatta. I stayed calm, I looked out for the small things around the course. It could have been even better than this but I am really happy with the bronze.”
“We've had a very good competition this week. It was just a training regatta for me but as it turned out, it was a very good training regatta.” Vujasinovic and Berecz train at the Dinghy Academy in Valencia. “Having two Dinghy Academy sailors on the podium is very good for us and I think our head coach Luca Devoti will be very happy with that.”
Berecz said, “We have a great week of sailing here and I am really happy I was one of the more consistent sailors during the week. It means that we are on the good way to Rio and we will keep working in the same way. There were 90 boats here and a really great thing about the Finn class is that everyone starts together which is very intense, and you have to make all the right decisions. It was close racing, every race was close, no one won by a huge margin. So it was really nice sailing.”
“When I started Finn sailing I asked Gyorgy Finaczy, who was the only other Hungarian to win a medal at the Europeans, a bronze in 1971, if I could use his sail number, HUN 40. He was really happy to give it to me, so I am very proud to win a silver medal with his number.”
Postma has never managed to convert a strong position into a major championship win. He has now overcome that at just the right time as he heads into Rio with the European title around his neck. “It was awesome. A very sold week, but a very light and shifty week. They were not really my conditions but we trained a lot for it. This is the bottom range for Rio and I had really good series. Great starts, good tactics, great strategy.”
“In the medal race I had a good start. I had Milan on the back of me and I had an awesome upwind and was second at the top and then downwind I let him go too far and he gained a lot and came in ahead of me. That was not the plan. So I had to catch him him up on the second beat.”
“It was very stressful after I lost control. Milan is an amazing sailor, as is Zsombor. The level is super high and I made one mistake and they directly went for it. To win in Rio you need more experience like that. With this win every step gets closer. So it will be a fight in Rio. I definitely want to do better in Rio. We still have a lot of work to do but it's going well. Also thanks to my training partner Josh Junior (NZL) we keep improving and we'll be ready.”
On his success and failures, “There have been some upsets. In the last Olympics I had a medal in my hands and I let it go. But it's a process of experience and more and more experience counts. But this is big one for me I am really happy with this.”
Final results (medal race in brackets)
1 NED 842 Pieter-Jan Postma 38 (6)
2 HUN 40 Zsombor Berecz 46 (2)
3 CRO 69 Milan Vujasinovic 47 (5)
4 NZL 24 Josh Junior 66 (4)
5 GBR 91 Ben Cornish 73 (9)
6 SLO 573 Vasilij Zbogar 76 (1)
7 BRA 109 Jorge Zarif 88 (3)
8 CRO 524 Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic 95 (8)
9 GRE 77 Ioannis Mitakis 97 (10)
10 CAN 18 Tom Ramshaw 99 (7)
Photos: Top - Pieter-Jan Postma, Below - Medal race, Zsombor Berecz, Postma, Milan Vujasinovic, Caleb Paine