Picon confirms golden comeback year in Hyères
France's Charline Picon, the Rio 2016 Olympic Champion, made sure it was a golden finish for the hosts, winning the women's RS:X windsurfing to close the 51st edition of the Semaine Olympique Française.
There could not have been a better concluding day as the Medal Races played out in perfect Côte d'Azur conditions with a golden sun, clear skies and 15-knot westerlies.
Leading by 14 points overnight, Picon finished the medal race today in third and confirm her expected victory. She spoke after of how pleased she was to win her first regatta after having a baby a year and a half ago. She outperformed a powerful and motivated China team and as in the Rio Olympics beat Peina Chen into second.
"A victory without pressure, that's not bad for me," Picon said "and especially as, this morning, I said to myself that it's been a year since I made my comeback to competition here in Hyères. And here we are a year later, the first victory. It has been a lot of hard work for 12 months and there's still some more to come."
Italy's Mattia Camboni and Australia's Matthew Wearn had already won the men's RS:X and Laser respectively on Friday. But there was a shock in the first medal race of the day as Hungary's rising star Maria Erdi, leading the Laser Radial by nine points overnight, finished last in the medal race having been outmanoeuvred by Finland's Tuula Tenkanen, who took gold.
The 197 sailors from 49 nations have been tested to their limits in all different conditions over an a long racing schedule (12 for the Lasers and 16 for the RS:X, only the RS:X women lost one race because the Mistral was blowing too hard on Friday evening).
"This Semaine Olympique Française in Hyères was another extraordinary vintage with great weather and very varied wind conditions," Nicolas Hénard, President of the French Sailing Federation, said. "Today, we had really good medal races and some great athletes on the podium. The French had excellent results in the RS:X with Charline Picon at the top of the podium and Thomas Goyard in second. Excellent results, which I hope we will see them again in a month in Marseille, Nicolas Hénard, President of the French Sailing Federation, said.
The best in the world keep coming back to these waters because the level of competition is always high. With a solid week of racing even more paramount in Olympic year, the 52nd edition to April 25 – May 2 2020 will doubtless be even harder fought.
Gold – Charline Picon (France) – 49 points
Silver – Peina Chen (China) – 59 points
Bronze – Yunxiu Lu (China) – 79 points
China's Peina Chen could not have done more yesterday as she won the medal race, but Charline Picon's 14-point lead looked unassailable without a technical fault or penalty. Chen was pleased with her week, not least because she beat her main rival for the Olympic spot, Yunxiu Lu.
This was an important regatta for the China team and like the British they had marked Hyères and the European Championships in Palma in April as waypoints to Tokyo. Lu had started the day 18 points behind Chen, but only 6 points ahead of Britain's Emma Wilson and 10 points ahead of Italy's Marta Maggetti. She was able to leave them at the start though and bronze never looked in doubt.
Charline Picon (France, gold): "It's very nice to win this regatta a year after my comeback. It's been intense with 15 races in very different wind conditions. The level of competition was very high because the world's best were here. My closest rival, the Chinese sailor, Peina Chen, also had a great week. I remember a lot of good things, and I'm leaving having made a lot of progress. For a few months I've been in a really tough programme of Olympic preparation, the objective is to be even more the leader of the fleet."
Peina Chen (China, silver):"I'm very happy. I had a good performance in these wind conditions, for me they're not my best conditions, but maybe it's become my best now (laughs). I learned a lot this week, it was a good time for me."
Yunxiu Lu (China, bronze):"It was a good finish. I gave everything in the race. I think there was about 100m between Peina and me and me and Charline. I'm not sure behind that. (There was less pressure) because I think today the Italian girl and GBR maybe didn't have good starts. I'm half-happy. Sometimes I did things but sometimes I got angry at everything."
Gold – Mattia Camboni (Italy) - 57 points
Silver – Thomas Goyard (France) – 87 points
Bronze – Piotr Myszka (Poland) – 90 points
With gold already secured on Friday, Italy's Mattia Camboni finished 30 points clear of the field after his comfortable third-placed finish in the medal race – and yes, he did go out to celebrate last night.
But there was drama around him as Poland's Piotr Myszka finished second to jump past Italy's Daniele Benedetti into the bronze medal position and even had a sniff of silver. France's Thomas Goyard, second overnight (just a point ahead of Benedetti), finished in fourth to stay three points ahead of Myszka overall.
The different weather conditions have continually shaken up the fleet. Benedetti, who shares the same building as Camboni in Civitavecchia had the most wins in the fleet – 6 out of the 16 races, to 3 for Camboni and Goyard and 0 for Myszka, but consistency was crucial.
Mattia Camboni (Italy, gold):"Yes, we went for a party last night, of course - also, my coach said 'OK, you can go'. And today I felt faster than yesterday (laughs), no, really, I felt really good. It's been a great week. I was third but I didn't push I was close to second but didn't pump. I wanted to have a good medal race. I found a good setting and found a good strategy to attack, I'll remember it and use it and use it again."
Thomas Goyard (France, silver):"This is the third silver medal of my career at a major event. It's been a super positive especially week because I wasn't on top form for first two days. I showed that I could perform in a lot of conditions and now, we have to do like Mattia: always be at the top (laughs). I'm very confident for the future."
Gold – Tuula Tenkanen (Finland) – 59 points
Silver – Maria Erdi (Hungary) – 62 points
Bronze – Emma Plasschaert (Belgium) – 84 points
The shock of the regatta. The 28-year-old Finn, Tuula Tenkanen started the day nine points behind and could only finish the medal race in fourth place. It proved to more than enough though as the 21-year-old Maria Erdi trailed in last. Erdi took a risk and will have learned several valuable lessons about trying to match race your rival out of contention, but as she said it will take a few days to feel wholly philosophical.
With both well clear of the rest of the field, Erdi had planned a match race within a race as way of gaining experience in case she needs to do this in an Olympics. The pre-start went well, but Tenkanen was able to tack on her immediately and then got away on the first beat. Doubtless unsettled and in unfamiliar water, Erdi then compounded things with a tactical error of not just keeping as close to Tenkanen and the rest of the field as she could, instead she went her own way on the first downwind and could not find a way back. In the end eighth would have been enough for gold.
Two years ago in Hyères, Tenkanen was in the same position against Belgian's Evi Van Acker but was completely match raced out of it. That is where experience counts.
Emma Plasschaert, Belgium's first ever Laser Radial world champion in 2018, took an unchallenged bronze.
Tuula Tenkanen (Finland, gold):"I'm happy to win here. (After escaping on the first beat) I was able to sail my own race and I just tried to finish as well as possible. I was a bit worried for the whole of the pre-start but that's normal I think. And it was quite tight with the points, it was tight all the way until the finishing line, because I needed to have four boats between us it wasn't clear until we finished. I wasn't sure until she finished.
"Now we know more clearly what I need to do to improve because we had very different conditions here; we had both light and strong winds and offshore and onshore wind, so it was a very good regatta to see where we are. Next time, we're going to race in the Europeans (in Porto in two weeks) so it's always good to nice week before that."
Maria Erdi (Hungary, silver):"We decided before the race that I was going to try to take Tuula out. This was the first time that I had tried to do this in a regatta and I knew there was a chance I was going to lose gold. I think I did a pretty good job pre-start, but she was third and I was seventh at the top mark. There was quite a lot of separation.
"Then on the first run I made my biggest mistake because I separated from her and the rest of the fleet. Everybody gained on me and I had to go around the wrong mark and it was a disaster from then on. I'm happy that I did it (try to match race Tuula) because I learned a lot and I'm still happy with silver - if someone had told me at the beginning of the regatta I'm going to win silver, I'd have been like "cool". I know I'm going to be fine after a few days, now I'm feeling a little bit disappointed. Next time I'm going to come out on top."
Gold – Matthew Wearn (Australia) – 16 points
Silver – Sam Meech (New Zealand) – 49 points
Bronze – Tom Burton (Australia) – 55 points
With gold already secured on Friday, Australia's Matthew Wearn sounded like he did not go out and party quite like Mattia Camboni in the men's RS:X and duly went out and did what he has been doing all week – blasted past the opposition and won the medal race. That made it 8 races wins out of 12 and he finished 33 points clear.
New Zealand's Rio 2016 bronze medallist, Sam Meech, did not have the race he wanted, but he had a five-point buffer over Australia's youngster, Luke Elliott and a sixth-placed finished was enough for silver. Elliott started well but dropped back to finish seventh and his more experienced countryman, Tom Burton, the Rio 2016 Olympic champion, finished fourth to win bronze by a heart-breaking point. Australia finished with four sailors in the top six.
Matthew Wearn (Australia, gold):"I'm really happy. It's nice to get a win under my belt in 2019 and relieves a bit of pressure, you know what it takes to win regattas. (The Medal Race) is almost easier when you have already won because you can just go for it and ground the track as fast as you can."
After realising yesterday evening he had already won:
"You look at the results and maybe there's a little bit of relief first and pretty happy and can relax and enjoy the experience of the medal race. Never (been in this position) in a bigger size regatta like this. I think Palma last year I had an 18-point lead. I knew (after the last race on Friday) I was in the ballpark but obviously you don't really know where people are finishing in the races. It always looks good to have the 1's in the scorecard (he won 8 of the 12 races), it asserts that little bit of dominance."
Sam Meech (New Zealand, silver):"This is the reason we came - we know Hyères is a great sailing venue, usually we get all the races here and we've been coming back for quite a while now. It wasn't quite going to plan (in the medal race). I thought I was doing the right thing, but I got stuck in between trying the sail shifts and get into he positions I needed to be. I went a little defensive and got lost on the first beat. I was mid-fleet the whole race. I was a boat behind Luke (Elliott) for most of the race, I was just trying to stick on his tail, then I got past him, he was unlucky he got flagged in the last run. Although, in this weather that doesn't cost you that much because you turn and you're still right in it. It really tightened up between everyone on the last run. For me it was that Thursday (two 13th places), one bad day, but otherwise pretty happy with how I sailed the rest of the week."
Michael Blackburn (Australia coach):"It's been pretty good. Hyères is a pretty familiar venue for us, I've been here 19 times, these guys are up to 6, 7, 8 times too. I think the Laser fleet is still very open. Matt (Wearn) had a great regatta here. He sailed really well, but he knows he's only as good as his last race and there's more to come in two weeks at the Europeans in Porto. We've only got two regattas in Europe this year, this and the European so both are important working towards the Test Event and Olympic qualification and they know that. (Managing a big successful team) It's a personality thing, these guys have really good personalities and they understand that it's a competition but that ends when they come ashore and they get on really well with each other."