After a week of tough Finn racing at the Miami Sailing World Cup, it’s come down to six sailors fighting it out for gold in Saturday’s medal race. The 2013 World Champion, Jorge Zarif (BRA) will lead the 2012 Olympic silver medalist Jonas Høgh-Christensen (DEN) and the US favourite Caleb Paine (USA) into the medal race but with just 11 points separating the top six, it is a long way from being over. In the Rio selections Argentina and Canada finished as the top South and North American countries not already selected.
On the final day of the opening series three races were managed with overall position changes after each one, as no-one could steal a march on the fleet in the testing conditions. The South American Olympic place and the US trials were still very much in limbo and no one was placing any bets. For many of the sailors here the Miami World Cup is the most important regatta of their life so far, though only of course, until Rio in August. There was a lot at stake.
Anders Pedersen (NOR) made up for losing the lead in Thursday’s only race to lead throughout race 6 to win from Arkadiy Kistanov (RUS) and Paine, who moved back into first overall. Then Høgh-Christensen was back to the front in race 7, leading round from Lilley and Paine. Positions remained the same until the final upwind when Zarif came through into third. A 12th place for FINNTEAM member Facundo Olezza (ARG) was enough to secure the South American place at the Olympics for Argentina.
The right side was the place to be in the final race, and with the pressure off, Olezza led round the top from Andre Hojen-Christiansen (DEN) and Felix Denikaev (RUS), all from the right side. Olezza, continued to lead at the gate, but on the final upwind Denikaev split tacks and came back ahead to lead downwind to the finish for the race win. Olezza crossed second while Høgh-Christensen, moved through the fleet to third on the line.
Zarif summed up his week. “It has been a regular week. I made some mistakes that I could avoid but in general I cannot complain, though Rafa [Rafa Trujillo, his coach] is still angry with me. Today was very hard, with big shifts, and a big difference in pressure. I tried to stay more on the left, which worked for the first two races but in the third the right was much better. I was around 20th at the first mark, but made a good comeback. Tomorrow will be tough with a lot of guys fighting to win. I will just try to do the best race I can, and still try to learn.”
That was a sentiment matched by Paine, who now has a five-point margin over Railey in the US trials. “It was a tough day of sailing and very shifty. Tomorrow I am just looking to just have the best race I can.”
But the story of the day is Facundo Olezza qualifying Argentina for the Olympics by wining the place for South American, and not only that but qualifying for his first major medal race in the process. He is a member of the newly established FINNTEAM and has received some funding through the Finn Class's own development programme FIDeS. His coach, Luca Devoti, the 2000 Olympic medalist says he has worked really hard for this and has overcome an injury late last year that nearly put him out of the competition.
“I am proud of what he has accomplished. He managed to recover from a really nasty injury in record time and is going to get better and better. He is a hard worker and a pleasure to work with.”
Devoti’s coaching has continued at a distance all week, as he remained in Valencia. “We had made a plan for every day until the regatta. And every night at three in the morning my time we had an email, and he managed to do what he needed to do. He followed the plan. I am very happy for him.”
Olezza was equally happy. “I have no words to describe how happy I am. It has not been a year yet since I first tried the Finn but the hard work we've done with Luca during the year had finally started to pay off.”
The medal race line up looks like this:
Jorge Zarif (BRA) – World Champion in 2013 and picked up bronze medals here in Miami in 2013 and 2014. Already chosen for the Olympics, but was disappointed with ninth at the Rio test event last year.
Jonas Høgh-Christensen (DEN) – 2012 Olympic Silver Medalist, World Champion in 2006 and 2009. After returning to the class nine months ago, Rio will be his fourth Olympics. The most experienced sailor in this fleet.
Caleb Paine (USA) – Former World No. 1 and winner of the 2013 Miami Sailing World Cup. Has been sailing the Finn for seven years from a junior and qualified USA for Rio for an excellent seventh place at the 2014 ISAF World Championships.
Jake Lilley (AUS) – Took third last year after winning the medal race, and is another rapidly rising star of the fleet and though still young, towers over most of his fellow competitors.
Arkadiy Kistanov (RUS) – The current Junior European Champion and former World Junior Champion. Russia has yet to qualify for Rio, but have a huge team in Miami, and preparing hard for the final chance in Palma in two months time.
Zach Railey (USA) – 2008 Olympic Silver Medalist, he gave up Finn sailing after a disappointing London Olympics, but made a surprise return last November and has been training hard since. His performance here this week has made the US trials wide open.
Anders Pedersen (NOR) – World Junior champion in 2014 and qualified Norway for the Olympics with an eighth in Santander in 2014. Can still win the bronze here but needs a lot to go his way first.
Lei Gong (CHN) – 2012 Olympian who won the 2015 Sailing World Cup Qingdao to qualify China for Rio. Has sailed the best Finn regatta of his life this week with a solid performance in all conditions, and one of the most consistent of the week up until today.
Aleksey Borisov (RUS) – Sailed the 2012 Olympics for Ukraine but now sailing for Russia. He won the Russian Championship last year, though the battle for the Russian Olympic selection, assuming they qualify, will be even tougher.
Facundo Olezza (ARG) – The youngest of the top 10 here and only started in the Finn a year ago. Coached by Luca Devoti (ITA) at the Dinghy Academy in Valencia and is clearly going to be one of the stars of the future.
Of all these the top six can still win gold, and one more can take bronze. All are experienced in the game. The Finn medal race is up at 12.30 local time and will be shown live on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/_V2YQYar0IU
Results after eight races
1 BRA 109 Jorge Zarif 34
2 DEN 2 Jonas Høgh-Christensen 36
3 USA 6 Caleb Paine 40
4 AUS 41 Jake Lilley 43
5 RUS 6 Arkadiy Kistanov 44
6 USA 4 Zach Railey 45
7 NOR 1 Anders Pedersen 53
8 CHN 1226 Lei Gong 61
9 RUS 2 Aleksey Borisov 66
10 ARG 48 Facundo Olezza 70
Full results: http://www.sailing.org/worldcup/results/index.php