Country of coasts, city of sails, bay of champions: Ida Marie Baad Nielsen and Marie Thusgaard Olsen are Denmark’s latest sailing sensations after they became the SAP 49er FX European champions on Sunday on the bay where they learned to sail as seven year olds 13 years ago.
It was a momentous day for the 49ers and Olympic sailing generally too with a fantastic example of the ‘theatre style’ racing close to the shore. Aarhus’s weather gods delivered on cue with a sea breeze allowing the short course, 500 metres long by 200 metres wide, to be laid perpendicular to the long promenade where the crowd basked in glorious sunshine. For the spectators and for television it made what can seem a remote sport exciting and understandable. Sport Event Denmark, Sailing Aarhus and Sport Aarhus Events have yet to confirm whether are bidding for the 2018 ISAF world championships, but if they do, this will provide a powerful case study.
“It was amazing, I’ve never raced with a crowd like that,” Nielsen said. “Every time you were rounding the marks you could hear people cheering.”
Unlike in the men’s 49er which followed, where a dramatic Kiwi capsize in the first race blew the medal race wide open, the dynamic Danish duo were so dominant that they had the gold medal after winning the second of the three medal races. Thave led the FX field from the start of the regatta, after winning the first race last Tuesday.
“We didn’t know we’d won it after the second race, our coach just said go out and race,” Nielsen said.
“But we had an idea that we might of because he didn’t seem that stressed,” Olsen said. “It feels amazing, it’s a special thing to win here.”
They were only seventh in the field of nine in the first race, but their closest rivals, Brasil’s Martine Soffiatti Grael (daughter of legendary Brazilian sailor and five times Olympic medalist, Torben Grael) and Kattena Larsen Kunze, were eighth and they only scraped back into the silver medal position after winning the last race.
There were emotional scenes on the shore with friends and family among the crowd cheering on the 20-year-old Danish champions. Sailing is a family pursuit in Aarhus and Nielsen and Olsen have made no secret of their enjoyment of home comforts. “My grandma made meat balls and new potatoes from her garden for me last night,” Nielsen said. “I got a steak and potato salad,” Olsen said.
There was a dramatic backdrop too as the Aarhus has been simultaneously hosting the start of The Tall Ships Race. The compact city has happily handled the hundreds of thousands of people flooding into the harbour over the weekend.
The men’s races went down to the wire. But after their capsize, New Zealand’s Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, the Olympic silver medalists, showed champion calm and skill. They won the next race and with the points level with Britain’s Dylan Fletcher and Alain Sign going into the last race, they got a good start and were able to get ahead of the British and manage them for the whole race. The French pair of Julien d’Ortoli and Noé Delpech took bronze. It was the second New Zealand medal of the day after Alexandra Maloney and Molly Meech won a hard-fought bronze in the women’s FX.
“We managed to make it quite hard for ourselves,” said the 22-year-old Burling, from Tauranga, who caused the capsize when he accidentally unhooked from the boat and slipped in the water. “But we really enjoy the pressure. I really enjoyed the course and the racing. It’s cool being close to the shore. It’s the first time we’ve done that in competition.”
“It was pretty satisfying to get back after that because something like that can rattle you,” Tuke, the 23-year-old from Kerikeri, said. “I enjoyed it, it’s intense and to be so close to the spectators and to be able to broadcast it live on TV like that is really good for our sport.”
SAP men’s 49er European Championships
1. Peter Burling and Blair Tuke – 89 points
2. Dylan Fletcher and Alain Sign – 93 points
3. Julien d’Ortoli and Noé Delpech – 112 points
SAP women’s 49er FX European Championships
1. Ida Marie Baad Nielsen and Marie Thusgaard Olsen – 87 points
2. Martine Soffiatti Grael and Kattena Larsen Kunze – 104 points
3. Alexandra Maloney and Molly Meech – 108 points
The 2013 SAP 49er & 49erFX European Championship is organized by Sailing Aarhus in co-operation with Aarhus Sailing Club and with the support of the municipality of Aarhus, Sport Event Denmark, SAP, SEIKO, VOLVO, HENRI LLOYD and CABINN.
The European Championship takes place in Aarhus from the 2th to the 7th of July. Denmark has a strong tradition in the 49er discipline with Olympic gold in 2008, Olympic bronze in 2012, and also a first place at the 2013 World Cup in the 49erFX. The expectations are therefore for the Danish sailors to achieve top results at the European Championship in Aarhus.