Lighter conditions cause upsets up and down the rankings on day four of the kiteboard racing worlds in China.
Boao, Hainan – The lighter, shifting winds that graced day four of the kiteboard racing world championships threw a spanner in the works of the reigning title holders’ virtually unchallenged bid for back-to-back victories, while favouring riders whose style more suited the conditions.
Reigning champion Johnny Heineken (USA) – who had looked odds on favourite to retain his title after dominating the first three days of the International Kiteboard Association’s (IKA) course racing worlds – failed to win any of his four races.
Even sister Erika Heineken (USA), who had won all eleven of her previous races in the series, suffered her first defeat at the hands of Steph Bridge (GBR) in the second race of the day. But she showed her class in the two other women’s races when she clawed back deficits to score two bullets.
Day four of the event in Boao, Hainan, being organized and locally managed by Kite Tour Asia (KTA) and the resort development of King Bay, saw big changes not only in the conditions but how the riders coped with the clear skies and winds that reached 14kts, before dropping to around 7kts.
By the final races of the day the men and even some of the women were putting up their largest 17m and 19m kites, which were still capable of hurtling them across the flat waters of King Bay to the delight of the thousands of Chinese spectators who had gathered on the beach in balmy temperatures.
The story of the day was the assault on the leader board by nineteen-year-old Florian Gruber (GER) as he advanced his standing against Johnny Heineken who had proved all but unbeatable in the windier conditions.
Gruber scored two bullets and took a second place, leaving Heineken in his wake in each of the races where Andrea Beverino (ITA) also proved strong. But Gruber also took the opportunity to match race Heineken in the fourth and final race of the day, depriving both of high-placed finishes, but driving the American further off the pace.
“The lighter conditions are much more in my favour,” said Gruber, reveling in his run. “My aim in my races is really to stay out of trouble. I tend to point a bit higher, so I start in the middle of the fleet. Johnny Heineken can start a bit further downwind.”
The larger kites and lighter winds also smiled on Maxime Nocher (FRA), who in the final races of the session also scored two bullets, to the joy of the tight and well organized French team.
If anything, the order at the top of the women’s fleet was even tighter. Bridge finally halted Heineken’s winning streak in the second race of the day. But the American only faltered momentarily before reasserting her dominance.
Sixteen-year-old Elena Kalinina (RUS) pushed both Heineken and Bridge hard on her foil kite, but surrendered leads and was overhauled by both women in two of the three women’s races of the day. In the third race she held a good lead by misjudged the lay line to the windward mark and, along with Heineken, caught a trailing buoy line and fell.
“First of all I was a little underpowered on my 11m kite, which I’d chosen wrongly over my 16m,” said Kalinina. “Then at the top mark I caught a rope in my fins and fell, as did Erika Heineken. There was nothing we could do. Then the wind dropped even more, so I was just pleased to finish where I did.”
Day five to conclude the event will see the top ten ranked men and women competing in platinum fleets for the final medal positions in forecast similarly light conditions.
The video highlights from the third racing day can be found on Vimeo here: https://vimeo.com/80158842
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