Sailors competing at the Finn Gold Cup in Vallensbaek, Denmark knew he would be dangerous, but not even Jonas Høgh Christensen really thought he would win the world title in his home waters after taking nine months off since the Games last year.
But win it he did, saying “It's amazing, absolutely amazing. I am lost for words.” Zach Railey placed third to take the silver medal while Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic took the bronze.
The medal race was sailed in near perfect conditions. The Oscar flag was raised at the start for free pumping downwind in the 12-14 knots wind and to make things complete the sun was out again.
From the start, the fleet split into two groups with Zach Railey (USA), Jonas Høgh Christensen (DEN), Ed Wright (GBR) and Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic (CRO) tacking straight away to the right. A few well timed tacks brought Railey to the front on a big left hander about half way up the leg.
At the first mark it was Railey, Høgh Christensen, Andrew Mills (GBR), Rafael Trujillo (ESP), Wright, Giles Scott (GBR), Daniel Birgmark (SWE), Dan Slater (NZL), Marin Misura (CRO) and Kljakovic Gaspic.
Høgh Christensen said, “Zach had tacked off to the right out of the start and I wanted to follow him and we seemed quite lifted on port tack and it looked good. Then Zach went back and I went further out right. I let him go out to the left and it seemed OK as I was controlling the fleet on the right and then Zach got a big shift on the left and passed everyone and got back into the race and suddenly was leading. It was pretty tight at the top mark.”
Railey takes up the story, “When we went around the top mark the first five or six boats were really close and I knew it was going to come down to that first downwind. Unfortunately for me Jonas was able to get around the leeward mark just before me and then he stayed on top of me from there which was exactly what you are supposed to do. By the time we got to the second windward mark I had to start worrying about protecting second place. Jonas was pretty far in front and he had put two boats in between us on the second beat, which had given me some bad air, which is again exactly what he should have done. Fortunately I was able to have a really good last downwind to finish third, but there was still one boat in between us so he wins by a single point.”
Høgh Christensen said, “Zach was leading and then he lost a lot on the run and I passed him and a lot of other guys passed him and that really made my race. I just wanted to get in front of him so I could tack on him on the second beat to try and put a boat between us, but he fell into a hole or something and dropped back a bit and my race was pretty much made then. That made it easy. I had a good first run, I used all the energy I had to try and pull out and that succeeded.”
At the downwind gate Høgh Christensen led from Mills, Wright, Kljakovic Gaspic, Railey, Trujillo, Birgmark, Scott and Misura. Slater had capsized near the top of the downwind and had broken his mast.
The first downwind was also crucial to Kljakovic Gaspic. He said, “At the start of the first beat I messed up a couple of shifts and was at the back at the top mark. I passed lots of boat on the first downwind and then at the final mark I was fifth or sixth. I went a little bit to the left hand side of the course with good pressure and managed to pass all the fleet from the right, really sailing fast and pushing myself to the max. Then round the second top mark I was about fourth.”
At the second windward mark, Høgh Christensen had built a nice lead, having covered Railey up the beat and put four boats between them. The Dane led from Mills, Birgmark, Kljakovic Gaspic, Wright, Railey, Trujillo, Scott and Misura.
The Croatian continued, “On the downwind Zach was close to me and I needed to three boats between us which would have been difficult so I concentrated on keeping Giles behind me so I could at least get the bronze. In the middle of the last downwind it felt really good for me. I was in a good position in third in the middle, 60 metres ahead of the pack behind, but then ran out of pressure and was waiting 2-3 minutes to get a gust. Meanwhile the guys from the left, Zach and Ed, got good pressure and got in front of me. Anyway I was really happy to finish in front of Giles and win the bronze.”
Second in the race was Andrew Mills, “It wasn't too shifty today. There were some left handers coming in a bit as we went up the course. But the downwind legs were just my conditions really. I had a little practice beforehand and I thought the waves were nicer on the left downwind. I am really pleased with second and thought I had a chance of getting Jonas on the first run but he did it very nicely and was off.”
Afterwards, Railey said, “I am a little disappointing not to win but I can hold my head high with a podium finish at the world championship. This is the first worlds I have actually finished in the top 28. I haven't had very good luck at the Gold Cups before, so my strategy was to come here and try to finish consistently in the races and give myself the best shot at the medal race, which is what I did. I can't complain about second pace at the world championship for sure. It definitely hurts a bit not being on top of the podium but we'll have fun tonight and move on.”
On wining his second Finn Gold Cup in his own country, Høgh Christensen said, “It's amazing, it's an absolutely amazing feeling. I'm lost for words. To be honest I didn't think it could happen. I wanted to compete here because it was in my home country, but I hadn't really trained for it at all. I have been on the water about six times since the Games. Of course I have trained 250-300 days a years for the last eight years so I've done a lot of hours. I've done my time. It wasn't hard getting back in the boat. The physical issue was the biggest problem but I think the will to do it played a big part as well as trying to be a bit smarter than everyone else.”
“And then I started out badly and thought I had lost it. Then the weather started acting a little bit easier and suddenly the results started coming in. I still felt I was out of it but I just moved up and up and by today I was suddenly in second. Today was just a case of go out and fight for it.”
And the future “That's a good question. I don't know. I'll be sailing a little but what I will be sailing I don't know. I enjoy the Finn a lot. I think it is a great boat and a great class with lots of fun. I am racing against some very good friends here and it couldn't be much better. Everyone is cheerful and happy and congratulate each other. But right now, I don't have the money to do it and that's the main issue.”
Talking about Høgh Christensen, silver medalist Railey said “To be honest taking a break is a one of the best things that you can do. I also took a very long break after the games and then started sailing again in January. Then I had to have an operation in March and then took some more time off and I think that once I got done with my rehab I got back in the boat and felt really fresh. Of course physically you aren't there as much as you'd like to be but mentally it really refreshes you and I think that is something that Jonas had. He felt really good in the boat and is enjoying being back sailing again and even though you aren't training you still have all the skills set that you have had, but sometimes you just need a little break to feel refreshed and then you get going again.”
Third place Kljakovic Gaspic was elated with his third place finish. He commented, “This is the first ever medal for any Croatian sailor in Finn Gold Cup history so this is very special for me. Everybody wants to win it but there are only three places on the podium and to get there at all is really special.”
Just after the medal race, the rest of the fleet completed their 11th and final race, with a large number of sailors sent home early under the black flag. Pieter Jan Postma (NED) took the race win from Tapio Nirkko (FIN) and Jonathan Lobert (FRA). Mark Andrews (GBR) hung onto 11th place with a fourth place finish. In the juniors Jorge Zarif (BRA) narrowly beat Tomas Vika (CZE) with Filippo Baldassari (ITA) in third.
An exciting medal race was a fitting end to a tough championship and a fairy tale ending for Høgh Christensen. This may well be the end of his Finn career, at least for the time being. Coming into the regatta just 'for fun' with a very relaxed attitude, he beat a field of full time sailors and proved that the greatest battle is often with yourself.
The host club have put on a show to be proud of. The welcome and the hospitality have been extraordinary, and all the competitors and supporters have enjoyed a great week in Vallensbaek. Our hosts have done a fantastic job.
Complete online tracking of races 3-11 can be found thanks to TracTrac at: www.tractrac.com/fgc
The event blog and Twitter feed is at: http://finnclass.blogspot.com
Final top 10
1st 8 DEN 2 Jonas Høgh-Christensen 20.0 (35.0) 17.0 1.0 5.0 7.0 4.0 1.0 2.0 6.0 2.0 100.0 65.0
2nd 6 USA 4 Zach Railey 10.0 6.0 6.0 6.0 (29.0) 4.0 7.0 13.0 1.0 7.0 6.0 95.0 66.0
3rd 3 CRO 524 Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic (31.0) 3.0 21.0 2.0 6.0 13.0 3.0 3.0 12.0 4.0 10.0 108.0 77.0
4th 16 GBR 41 Giles Scott 6.0 16.0 1.0 13.0 (20.0) 8.0 5.0 2.0 13.0 1.0 16.0 101.0 81.0
5th 5 SWE 11 Daniel Birgmark 17.0 2.0 13.0 (20.0) 8.0 5.0 20.0 12.0 3.0 3.0 12.0 115.0 95.0
6th 10 GBR 111 Edward Wright 46.0 4.0 2.0 9.0 18.0 6.0 1.0 4.0 (88.0 BFD) 2.0 8.0 188.0 100.0
7th 13 NZL 1 Dan Slater (33.0) 1.0 3.0 5.0 3.0 20.0 12.0 14.0 15.0 8.0 22.0 MDNF 136.0 103.0
8th 1 ESP 100 Rafael Trujillo 22.0 19.0 16.0 4.0 4.0 (31.0) 2.0 6.0 7.0 11.0 14.0 136.0 105.0
9th 33 CRO 25 Marin Misura 3.0 (21.0) 10.0 11.0 21.0 1.0 6.0 10.0 10.0 16.0 18.0 127.0 106.0
10th 18 GBR 634 Andrew Mills 7.0 5.0 (32.0) 16.0 2.0 16.0 13.0 16.0 22.0 10.0 4.0 143.0 111.0
Full results at: http://www.fgc-2009.com/Results.html