81 Entries Lined Up for a Successful 49er World Championship

As it should have been, the 49er World Championship hosted by Sorrento Couta Sailing Boat Club was close and exciting from the opening day, but on the very last day of the series, which was sailed across a variety of conditions, it came down to three boats.

Eighty one entries from 30 nations came to try their luck at the Sail Melbourne event. Some concentrated only on the Championship, but for others, there was more to win – or lose. Five lucky crews qualified their nations for Olympics at Sorrento, while others moved closer to their own Olympic selection.

Nathan Outteridge/Ben Austin, chosen late last year to represent Australia at the Beijing Games, their first Olympics, stayed strong throughout the World?s; claiming victory on the final day in the Medal Race to win the title of the 17-race series.

From a near fatal accident driving to Sail Melbourne for his first major Grade 1 49er regatta in 2005, Outteridge said his dream of competing at an Olympic Games kept him going while lying in a hospital bed with spine and head injuries. It is all I thought about and planned. I decided nothing would stop me from sailing, he said.

In winning the Championship, he and Austin became the first Australians to do so since Chris Nicholson won three world titles, the last in 1999, and the first Olympic class world champions for 2008.

We feel proud and happy, a beaming Austin said. It is all we have worked so hard for and for so long. We came here with winning in the front of our minds, Outteridge added. The two thanked their families for ongoing support, sponsors and Sorrento club and officials.

They faced particularly stiff opposition from the defending world champions, Stevie Morrison/Ben Rhodes from Great Britain, and the Athens Games gold and silver medallist crews, Iker Martinez/Xabi Fernandez (ESP) and Rodion Luka/George Leonchuk (UKR).

From Day 1 the Aussies confidently committed to winning, fending off challenges from those mentioned above and other champions in the strong line-up.

For those heading to China next year, or hoping to, the ISAF Grade 1 World’s was a realistic opportunity to sail in the types of conditions expected at the Qingdao sailing venue.

For the most part, winds were light and fluky with massive wind shifts of up to 30 degrees and strong currents and breezes conflicted. Only on Day 3, and in the Medal Race (restricted to the top ten), did competitors enjoy stiffer sea breezes.

Outteridge and Austin appeared comfortable in all conditions, although the 22 year old NSW skipper later conceded: We need to improve in the 8 knot and under range. We will be practicing our light weather sailing in the lead up to China. We will also look at our equipment options and lose a bit more weight.

Despite these comments, he and 26 year old Austin never once strayed outside the top three, and for the most part, led the series. As always, consistency in this two-race drop series was rewarded.

As a gracious Stevie Morrison said post-event: They (the Aussies) are obviously the best in the world. They did everything right and they deserve their win. He and Rhodes, like the Athens gold and silver medallists, had a roller coaster ride in the Championship.

The Brits found themselves caught on the wrong side of a shift with Outteridge, the difference being the Aussies found their way back to 13th, while Morrison/Rhodes did not recover and finished 23rd.

Hapless Martinez/Fernando were a little slow to get going, but moved to the top of the scoreboard on Day 4, the first day of the Final series. However, the following day proved disastrous; their best place a 10th, their worst a 22nd. Their Championship dream was over.

Other crews had opportunities. Olympian Sibello brothers, Pietro and Gianfranco (ITA) showed moments of brilliance, but could not convert and finished fourth overall. American crew Tim Wadlow/Chris Rast racked up a couple bullets, but found themselves fifth overall, not able to perform consistently in the shifty light airs.

German brothers Jan Peter and Hannes Peckolt and Danish brothers Peter and Soren Hansen also had chances, but their results were mixed.

In fact most suffered in the massive wind shifts which cruelly took race leaders to the back of the fleet. Perhaps most cruel of the series though, was the capsize of Luka/Leonchuck just prior to the start gun in the Medal Race. Caught on port tack, Outteridge forced the pair to tack again, and in the drink they went, never to recover.

I thought to myself, well that?s one out of the way, Outteridge said.

Going into the Medal Race, Outteridge and Morrison were on equal points, with Luka one point behind in the nail-biting finale.

On the morning of the Medal Race, breezes were almost non-existent and shifty, forcing race officials to abandon the planned Race 17. Afternoon rolled around with a solid and gusty 15-23 knot sea breeze filling the course and allowing perfect conditions for the Medal Race.

The two lap windward/leeward race was a nail-biting thriller. Sailed in front of the host venue, there were hundreds of spectators on and off the water. We held our collective breaths.

Crews Morrison, Luka and Outteridge at the pin, Luka capsizing and Morrison underneath the Aussies just off their transom. It stayed that way up the first beat, the Aussies rounding three boat lengths or so in front of the Brits. Down the run, Australia increased the lead and opened it up even more at the second windward mark.

Coming down the run the final time, Outteridge/Austin had no competition, having only to stay afloat in the gusty winds. The cheers went up before they even crossed the line. Behind them, the Peckolt brothers came home second, capsizing immediately after crossing the finish line to finish sixth overall.

Martinez/Fernandez looked set to cross next, but three quarters of the way down the run, capsized, allowing Morrison/Rhodes through to finish third to claim the silver medal, four points behind the Aussies.

Despite finishing last, Luka/Leonchuk had enough in the bank to take the bronze medal, ending their regatta with 79 points. The Sibello brothers finished fourth overall on 87 points, followed by Wadlow/Rast, the Peckolts and Martinez.

Nations quality

Brazilian crew Andrea Fonseca/Rodrigo Duarte were over the moon to make the 25 strong Gold fleet Finals and finish11th overall, just missing the Medal Race cut-off. It meant qualifying Brazil for the Games to be held next August.

Christopher Gundersen/Frode Bovin from Norway and Jonas Lindberg/Kalle Torlen from Sweden also made the Gold fleet, so qualified.

More difficult was in the Silver fleet where there were many trying their luck. Akira Ishibashi/Yukio Makino (Japan) and Pavle Kostov/Petar Cupac (Croatia) filled the last two qualification places.

China bought three crews to Sorrento. Zijin Wen/Xuehai Zhuang were best, finishing 10th in the Bronze fleet, Fei Li/Xianqiang Hu finished 12th and Wuzhi Lin/Boxiong Zhou were 14th. Considering their short time in the class, all three were impressive.

As host nation, China automatically qualifies for the Beijing Games; it is just a matter of selecting the crew.

The 49er and 29er skiffs made a colourful sight at Sorrento, a holiday destination two hours south of Melbourne. The Club put on a great regatta, and as ever, the Victorian hospitality was second to none.

Special thanks go to sponsors: State Government of Victoria; Parks Victoria; Mercedes Benz; Helly Hansen; Bayside City Council; Mornington Peninsula Shire Council; City of Kingston; Schenker Australia; Yachting Australia; Ronstan International; Ribsport; Silver Marine.

Thanks also go to Sorrento Couta Sailing Boat Club, race officials and all the volunteers who helped make this event the success it was.

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