An emotional and immensely proud Zsombor Berecz crossed the finish line of the 2018 Finn Gold Cup medal race at the Hempel Sailing World Championships 2018 in Aarhus, Denmark in first place to make history. He becomes the first Hungarian to ever win a major Finn championship. Defending champion Max Salminen took the silver while Pieter-Jan Postma won bronze.
The fleet had been tight all week and going into the medal race any of eight boats could still win and everyone had a shot at a medal. They all had a lot on. However the weather cooperated with hot sunshine returning and a reasonably stable 9-12 knots onshore breeze.
Berecz tried to put how he felt into words, “It’s amazing. I know what it means for me and I know what it means to my team and my country and I tell you it’s a big thing. Everybody who sails the Finn dreams about winning this. Now it came true. It’s amazing.”
He had started the day in joint second place with Josh Junior and eight points back from Salminen.
He explained, “I chose the race committee boat end. The Canadian and the Dutch were squeezing me out a bit. I went about 10 metres more to the right and I tacked back because I wanted to keep going further away from the shore, because the closer you were the less wind there was. And then I was just playing with the shifts and I had two great shifts and it was enough to be first at the upwind mark. Then on the second upwind I just followed the fleet. It sounds easy but it was not.”
Berecz led all the way round the course to cross the line first, head in hands, unable to comprehend what he had just achieved. He was finally world champion. He had been the favourite of many before the regatta, but now it was reality and his emotions took over as it began to sink in.
On the final few days: “There was definitely one turning point in my sailing this week when we moved to the gold fleet. As you can see on the results, I was the most consistent. This is what really paid off in the end.”
“If someone told me I would win this event, I would not have believed them, because I had four months off because I broke my thumb, and it was a tough four months. I only had one and half months training before these worlds, but I spent it really well and it worked out.”
Salminen never really found his feet in the medal race and trailed round, to finally cross seventh, just enough to win the silver.
“I got a bit out of tune with the wind on the first upwind and it was all about trying to fight my way back from that and I felt had a chance all the way round the course and time just ran out for me and I fell just short.”
But he never gave up. “I was trying to go for the win the whole race today. I was not thinking about any second place until the last reach to the finish, so in that sense it feels like a defeat but I guess that’s some sort of sign of strength, to be able to be not satisfied with the silver medal.”
“It’s only winners that lift the Finn Gold Cup, and it really had a good place on my bookshelf and could have stayed there for one more year, but that wasn’t the case.”
Postma pulled up from sixth to bronze on the medal race. He seems to have found new power and new energy, and while his comeback surprised many, his success since then is also turning heads, finishing ahead of his main rival Nicholas Heiner.
Postma explained, “I have a lot of experience but I always lacked in peaking at the right moment.”
Since the Rio Olympics, “I did a lot of work in teams, I did a lot of match racing, and you learn more skills, how to handle and how to cope and I never had that before. I went to Olympics quite a number of times, always as one of the favourites and it never showed. And that’s my growth as a person, which is nice. It took me some time, more than other people, but that’s what I am happy with.”
On going for the medal, “You give everything for a medal, you give it all, but you don’t know, but of these guys anyone who was in the top 10 had the right, and had trained for a medal. The level is high, and I would have been pleased to see any of them with a medal. Today it’s me; next time it’s somebody else. I feel I was also a bit lucky today.”
Postma revealed some of how his comeback was motivated. “I originally wanted to coach Nick [Heiner]. I gave him my sails, I gave him some tips. I wanted to coach him because I had the feeling I wanted to give something back. But he said no.”
“It woke a little bit of fire in me,” he said with a chuckle.
“I love the Finn. It’s a great class.”
Berecz’s victory could be called poetic justice. He became the most successful Hungarian Finn sailor in 2016 with a silver medal at the Europeans, so perhaps it was just a matter of time before he took the world title. He is well loved within the Finn class, and a great champion. However this year has been hard for him. He broke his thumb just before the Europeans in Cádiz in March, while trying to do someone else a good deed.
“I had had a great day training in Cadiz. I was so pumped up. On the way home, I saw some hiking pants fall off the van in front of me. I stopped with my bike, I grabbed it and then I saw they stopped at the next roundabout, so I was going full speed to reach them to give it back, but the leg of the wetsuit got caught in the front wheel and stopped it completely and I made a front-flip, and I broke my thumb.” He was out of sailing for four months recovering. His win in Aarhus is therefore not only a massive achievement, but also sweet justice.
Berecz may not yet have fully absorbed the idea that he is 2018 Finn World Champion, but he’d better get used to it as it will stay with him for longer than usual. The next Finn Gold Cup, in Melbourne, Australia, is not taking place until December 2019.
Results after medal race (medal race in brackets)
1 HUN 40 Zsombor Berecz 70 (1)
2 SWE 33 Max Salminen 74 (7)
3 NED 842 Pieter-Jan Postma 76 (2)
4 NZL 24 Josh Junior 76 (4)
5 CAN 18 Tom Ramshaw 83 (6)
6 NED 89 Nicholas Heiner 85 (8)
7 ARG 48 Facundo Olezza 87 (5)
8 GBR 11 Edward Wright 89 (3)
9 TUR 21 Alican Kaynar 96 (9)
10 NZL 61 Andy Maloney 102 (10)