Perth 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championships, 3-18 December 2011, Perth Australia

Under a blue sky and one of the hottest days of the Championships so far, the 2011 470 World Championship title contenders, Medal Race teams and nineteen Olympic qualifying nations were confirmed. Perfect sailing conditions ranging between 12-17 knots were delivered by the Fremantle Doctor out on Success Course for the 80 boats from thirty-nine nations in the 470 Men fleets. The temperature which had heated up a notch or two was matched by the intensity of racing amongst the teams in the concluding two races of the final series.

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The results from today originally looked as though the World Championship medals were guaranteed to be between Mat Belcher/Malcolm Page (AUS), Luke Patience/Stuart Bithell (GBR) and Sime Fantela/Igor Marenic (CRO), as the points margins secured were unassailable. But a series of decisions regarding protests changed things somewhat. After revised results were issued at 2227 hours tonight, the situation is that the only team guaranteed a medal is Belcher/Page. Gold isn’t quite in the bag as the Australians could still be caught out in tomorrow’s double points Medal Race. To lose the gold medal, they would need to finish at the back of the fleet in tenth and score 20 points and the British win the race – unlikely but theoretically possible.

The defending World Champions Belcher/Page struggled in mid-teen placings for the first few legs of both races, but gained a track to finish 6,5 respectively and give themselves more breathing space for Sunday. Page commented, “A lot was at stake today as everyone was fighting for the last Olympic berths. We were a little conservative, finding ourselves back in the fleet most of the day, but pulled through to post 5,6 – a good day considering. We moved another 6 points clear to take a 17 point advantage into the medal race. Fingers crossed for tomorrow.”

The performance of the day goes to Israel’s Gideon Kliger/Eran Sela who climbed a personal Everest. They went into race 9 way down the leader board in 17th overall after yesterday’s two penalty scores, but each day is another day, and their fifth place in race 9 put them up into eleventh overall and with a stab at the Medal Race. A subsequent win in race 10 safely secured their Medal Race appearance.

However, Kliger/Sela’s run of luck was even better a few hours later, when their request to re-open yesterday’s protest by Nic Asher/Eliott Willis (GBR), which left them with a disqualification in race 7 after a port/starboard incident, was this evening overturned by the International Jury. The Jury decided to reinstate their original fourth place finish and the Israelis now go into tomorrow’s Medal Race with a shot at both the silver and bronze medals.

After a supreme day of sailing, with a win in race 9 and third in race 10, Fantela/Marenic also found themselves in the protest room again tonight after the Dutch team of Sven and Kalle Coster requested a re-opening of yesterday’s protest involving a windward/leeward boat situation. The International Jury had originally dismissed the Dutch protest, but armed with photographic evidence, which showed the Croatian’s spinnaker touch Kalle’s head, the Coster brothers succeeded in having Fantela/Marenic disqualified from race 8. This outcome, which means they have the Israeli team snapping at their stern with a one point deficit and the British now eight points ahead, potentially brings to an end the Croatian dream of a podium finish – a massive shock the night before the Medal Race.

Patience was pragmatic about today, “We came here to win the Worlds and if Mat and Mal are a good chunk of points ahead of us then that’s going to be a very hard thing. We haven’t come here to stand on the podium in silver position, but things change through the week and you have to reassess your goals if you lose points, which we did in some races.”

Disappointment for some, delight for others. Paul Snow Hansen/Jason Saunders are thrilled to be the Kiwi team that has achieved the first top ten at a 470 World Championships since Simon Cooke/Peter Nicholas in 2003, when they won the worlds. In eighth overall they are too far down the leader board for a medal chance, but have every possibility of moving up to a best possible fifth place. Snow Hansen said, “It’s very close racing, so we just have to race the best we can and see what happens.”

With the front of the 470 Men gold fleet focused on World Championship medal positioning and Medal Race qualification, the racing at the back of the fleet was just as intense with position changes at one instant rewarding teams with nation qualification to the 2012 Olympics and the next taking it away.

It doesn’t get much closer than a tiebreak to secure your nation’s place on the Olympic starting line, but that was the outcome for Canada when Luke Ramsay/Michael Leigh claimed the final nineteenth nation qualification slot for Canada, ahead of Switzerland’s Yannick Brauchli/Romuald Hausser. A celebrating Ramsay admitted that he didn’t realize how close things were whilst they were chasing round the track in race 10, “It was interesting as we didn’t really know the points going into the last race and we were just trying to sail the same as we had for most of the event. We gave up a little bit too much at the start – it was not a great start and we got forced to the right. We had to struggle to get back to where we wanted to go and then we struggled with our upwind fleet pace. That was why it didn’t come together for us.”

Ironic for the team to post their worst result of the series on such a crucial day, but still deliver Canadian success. Ramsay admitted he was not sure of the final outcome until a few hours after racing had finished as he could see the provisional results were incorrect, “We were not really sure what to expect so we were a little bit hesitant. We didn’t want to get excited and then have it taken away. So we went off with the coach and had a debrief.” According to Ramsay, tonight’s celebrations will include a beer and a meal with their new found 470 friends.

Years of experience proved invaluable for the Portuguese team of Marinho Alvaro/Miguel Nunes, whose campaign in Perth marks their seventeenth appearance at a 470 World Championships. Their goal is to compete at what will be their fourth Olympics in 2012 and the first step has been achieved by securing Portugal’s Olympic qualification today. Subject to meeting Portugal’s national criteria, it is now almost certain this pair will be on the 2012 Olympic start line.

The observer here in Perth can’t ignore the impressive show of talent by Team GBR who fielded five 470 Men teams, three of whom have made the cut to the Medal Race. Due to its host nation status, Great Britain has automatic qualification to the 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition, so Perth is a critical selector event for the teams. The battle has been harsh and Patience/Bithell are hoping they have done enough in Perth to secure their selection. Bithell said, “Three boats in the top ten at a 470 World Championships – that just says that we have a great programme in place. Having not got the Olympic slot selected for the 470, everyone is fighting at the top of their game. It is really good and nice to see the younger lads banging in some great results. It is good for British sailing.”

On their realistic chances of unseating the Aussies to claim the Gold medal, which would take a race win from the British and a last place for the Australians, Bithell commented, “I mean if it is physically possible it can happen. They could have a capsize or anything. Up to now they have had a solid series and shown really good skills in the racing and it will be very hard to beat them, but we will look forwards, try and do the best we can and try and win the race.”

The nineteen nations confirmed as qualified for the 2012 Olympic Sailing competition are Argentina, Australia, Austria, Canada, China, Croatia, Spain, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Sweden and the USA. The remaining seven Olympic qualification places will be awarded at the 2012 470 World Championships in Barcelona, Spain, 10-19 May 2012.

Medal Race Top 10
1. BELCHER Mathew/PAGE Malcolm (AUS) – 20 pts
2. PATIENCE Luke/BITHELL Stuart (GBR) – 38 pts
3. FANTELA Sime/MARENIC Igor (CRO) – 46 pts
4. KLIGER Gideon/SELA Eran (ISR) – 49 pts
5. CHARBONNIER Nicolas/MION Jeremie (FRA) – 76 pts
6. LEBOUCHER Pierre/GAROS Vincent (FRA) – 78 pts
7. ROGERS Nick/GRUBE Chris (GBR) – 86 pts
8. SNOW HANSEN Paul/SAUNDERS Jason (NZL) – 88 pts
9. MANTIS Panagiotis/KAGIALIS Pavlos (GRE) – 90 pts
10. BARREIROS Onan/SARMIENTO Aaron (ESP) – 92 pts

Racing in the 470 Men silver fleet wrapped up today with Vianney Guilbaud/Mathieu Fountain (FRA) finish in the lead, with Deniz Cinar/Ates Cinar (TUR) second and Asenathi Jim/Roger Hudson (RSA) third.

The Medal Race for the Men’s 470 competition is scheduled for 1410 hours on Sunday 11 December on Centre Course.

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