Britain’s Olly Bridge, at just 17 one of the youngest Formula kite racers at the International Sailing Federation world cup in Abu Dhabi, swept away the opposition to clinch victory in the winner-takes-all shoot-out final, a closely contested affair played out in the new Short Track format.
Bridge pipped reigning world champion Maxime Nocher (FRA) on the line in the tight finale in light, gusty airs off the United Arab Emirates capital’s Corniche before a host of spectator boats on hand for the four-day event’s climax.
The Briton, reigning European Formula kite course racing champion, was crowned and took home $10,000 and gold in a fitting end to an almost flawless performance that saw him win every one of the heats he contested.
“That was pretty intense, actually,” said the slender teenager, beaming after claiming his prize. “I managed to make it unbeaten in all my heats and I managed to win the final. So I’m pretty happy.”
Ten riders battled it out in two pairs of semi-finals on the last day, vying for the four coveted spots in the final. The elite field of 16 men and four women from 11 nations had been whittled down after a day’s fleet racing, and two days and 32 heats of Short Track, where “round robin” five-competitor heats lasting barely four minutes.
The experimental format was being showcased before a delegate of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), whose recommendation after the event will have a bearing on whether kiteboarding can win inclusion to the 2020 Tokyo Games.
Short Track’s fast and furious heats, with course board racers fully powered on their largest 18m foil kites and hitting almost 20kts in 7kts of breeze, were specifically designed to appeal to spectators and television audiences, in line with the IOC’s desire to include more “urban” sports.
The final day’s racing in the breezes that varied wildly – hitting 15kts but dropping at times to less that 8kts in the lee of Abu Dhabi’s Lulu Island – again saw contestants flying their 18m kites. But in the technical, shifty conditions on smooth waters, the racing lived up to its mission to thrill.
In one of the two pairs of semi-finals Bulgaria’s Alexander Bachev tangled with Alejandro Climent (ESP). But the top two seeded riders, Nocher and Florian Gruber, secured their places in the final with a trio of firsts and seconds respectively. Spain’s Florian Trittel clung on in the other semi-finals to take second, but was unable to make headway against Bridge.
The helter-skelter final saw Bridge establish and early lead on the first downwind leg, while Nocher gybed early and managed to catch up on the upwind leg, only to see the Briton go away from him again. But on the reach to the finish line the margin between the two was less than 100m, just a few seconds.
Gruber snatched bronze after overhauling Trittel at the death, when he was unlucky enough to catch a plastic bag on a fin on the reach to the finish. Earlier in the final Gruber had also lost time when he had caught some debris in the water that had been dirtier than on previous days.
Markus Schwendtner, the International Kiteboarding Association CEO and race director, will now digest the lessons and rider feedback from the experimental format’s trials. The IOC delegate who filmed and took notes for the Short Track’s entire three days gave little away, but appeared fairly positive.
Steph Bridge (GBR), current Formula kite world champion and mother of Olly, had taken to Facebook after two days of competing herself to rail against the need to adopt “this crazy format to prove ourselves”, eliciting a host supporters among the racing fraternity.
But hours later after watching the finals from the shoreline she backtracked. “I take it all back,” she wrote. “I watched from the beach today as a spectator and it was awesome. Stay positive and exciting times ahead.”
Schwendtner is philosophical and expected some conservatism, yet is willing to review contentious issues. “We had a debriefing with the riders and found mixed emotions. Those doing well like it, those not, don’t. Steph gave us quite positive feedback. She’s mainly unhappy about the scoring.”
Final Results -http://goo.gl/DDD0UW Short-track finals video –
Writer: Ian MacKinnon
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