Shenzhen, China (16 December 2023) – Action-packed and filled with unexpected turns, day four of the 2023 WMRT Final in Shenzhen, China saw the emergence of the final four. The conclusion of the last two flights of the round-robin phase set the stage for the top eight to progress to the quarter-finals. Among them, New Zealand’s Megan Thomson clinched the final spot in the top eight, triumphing over Denmark’s Jeppe Borch and Italy’s Rocco Attili on countback. Thomson, steering 2.0 Racing, capitalised on their eighth-place finish, dethroning the regatta’s reigning champion.
In a classic selection process, first-place finisher Sweden’s Björn Hansen chose to race eighth-place finisher Thomson in the quarter-finals. The day’s conditions on the water presented a stark contrast to earlier races, with a shift in wind direction, substantial gusts, and consistently stronger breezes.
On the selection, Thomson wasn’t surprised, “We were expecting to get picked by the first-place finisher since we only just scraped through to the quarter-finals.”
But never discount an underdog. Thomson has sailed well this regatta with her crew of Leo Takahashi, Nicholas Heiner and Niall Malone. Throughout the week, the team has made smart decisions on the water, and some of their losses on the scoreboard were much closer in competition than a simple ‘1-0’.
The quarter-finals, where the first team to secure two points would advance, saw Hansen secure the initial victory before Thomson leveled the score in the second race. The last race between the two would determine the semi-finalist. It was close, with a tight second top mark rounding, including last-minute gybes, strong gusts, and penalties. Hansen had an issue with his kite halyard, which led to it dropping completely in the water, and ultimately, Thomson kept her lead and secured the final win to advance to the semi-finals.
“The goal was to make the top eight, and we achieved that, so anything is a bonus from here,” says Thomson. “We’re just happy to be here and racing against the best. We’re going to focus on having fun tomorrow.”
Thomson’s advancement to the semi-finals isn’t just a personal triumph; it’s a watershed moment for the sport. She is the first female skipper to be in the top four of a World Match Racing Tour Final.
Seventh-placed Johnie Berntsson knocked out second-placed Eric Monnin in their quarter-final match with a score of 2-0. Berntsson is not sailing with his usual crew this week, as he has brought young Swedish sailors along to help grow depth in the sport. He admits that their hardest fight is with themselves as they learn how to work together as a team.
“We are ticking a lot of boxes – mistakes that we have done, that we are rarely doing again. I think that is the key,” says Berntsson on the team’s improvement over the week.
Racing Monnin in new conditions was another challenge. Berntsson highlighted the nature of match racing, where the final scores don’t always reflect the tightness of the competition.
“2-0. The score doesn’t really reflect the challenge we had with all of the shifts. They came up to us on one of the races in the second beat, just right next to us; we were head-to-head. Even though we were ahead when finishing, it could have gone either way,” remembers Berntsson on the challenging conditions.
GBR’s Ian Williams, who placed third in the round-robin, upheld the traditional pairing and chose USA’s Chris Poole, who placed sixth in the round-robin. It was two prominent match racers, both vying for the overall win and world champion title, faced off in the quarter-finals, with one of them knowing they wouldn’t make it to the podium.
Not surprisingly, the prestarts were heated while dial-ups and circles drew out numerous Yankee flags, and both teams used their experience to try to play the game better than the other. Both Williams and Poole received and killed penalties in their battle for semis, but it was Williams and his Chinaone.Ningbo team who walked away victorious at the end of the day.
Williams claimed the initial win over Poole, who retaliated to even the score, creating another sudden death race on today’s course. The competition remained neck and neck until Williams caught a favorable breeze after the second top mark and crossed the finish line for the win.
“It was a crazy quarter-final. We won two races and he won one, which was the only difference in the end. Anybody could have won,” comments Williams on the racing. “My mind is blown, there have been so many decisions today. Non-stop. Most of them wrong, but fortunately, we got some right, and it came good at the end.”
In the concluding matchup of the day, New Zealand’s Nick Egnot-Johnson and his KNOTS Racing squared off against USA’s Gavin Brady’s True Blue Racing, placing fourth and fifth, respectively, in the round-robin. Egnot-Johnson, the 2022 WMRT World Champion, aimed to defend his title, having experienced the new day’s conditions in an earlier race, while Brady’s team felt somewhat unprepared as they had finished their round-robin yesterday and had yet to be out sailing in the breeze.
Brady and his team have experience sailing against KNOTS, which they used to concentrate on preemptively addressing their vulnerabilities. Brady noted, “One thing about the KNOTS team is that they sail together all the time. I know from racing them that they’re really good in the last minute of the prestart. In the past, I’ve felt like it’s been an even start until the last 30 or 40 seconds, and then they jump me every time.”
Identifying their weakness as a team turned into a strength for Brady. Their focused prestart communication translated into two strong starts, ultimately resulting in consecutive wins, securing their spot in the semis and knocking out KNOTS Racing.
It’s a never-ending learning curve for Brady, who is adjusting back to match racing after spending time away from it over the last decade on bigger keelboats like Maxi72s and TP52s, where the game is much different. For the prestart communication, Brady emphasizes, “It’s something we’re going to have to carry into tomorrow.”
The final four going into the semi-finals tomorrow are:
- (GBR) Ian Williams Chinaone.Ningbo
- (USA) Gavin Brady True Blue Racing
- (SWE) Johnie Berntsson Berntsson Racing
- (NZL) Megan Thomson 2.0 Racing
Day four highlight