by Cora Zillich
Australian Sailing Squad’s Jake Lilley (QLD) wrapped up the 2014 Junior European Finn Championship (22-25 September 2014) in La Rochelle, France with a win, and fifteenth position in the senior open fleet.
The Junior European title went to the 20 year old Lilley after a great week of sailing in unseasonal weather. 'I’m really pleased with this result after some tough racing with all the world's best. It was interesting sailing in the cappuccino-coloured waters of La Rochelle, but I managed to stay warm and have some good races. It's really cool to finally get a win. It was pretty frustrating that we finished second in major junior events three times last year. Thanks to the 25 other juniors here. It's awesome that we can help to build the class and compete in the open Europeans.'
On the final race, where Lilley held a pre-race lead of 125 point over the current Open and Junior World Champion Jorge Zarif (BRA), he said: 'We had a good plan today to just have a solid race and not do anything crazy, and also keep an eye on where Jorge was. I also wanted to finish the regatta strongly and keep at least in the top 15. So I just tried to have an OK race and not go upside down.'
After mixed results in the last two World Cup events, progress for the young Finn sailors on the Australian Sailing Squad was watched with interest. At the last World Cup in Hyères Lilley started the regatta by winning the first day, was in medal race contention until near the end but faded to finish 16th, while fellow squad member Oliver Tweddell gradually improved through the regatta to finish 19th overall.
Over the last 18 months Tweddell and Lilley have been working hard with U.S. 1984 Olympic silver medallist coach John Bertrand.
In a recent interview with Sail-World.com John Bertrand summed up 'Right now our Australian Finn squad is still on the path of learning as much as we can and soaking it all in. We are showing we can be competitive. We just have to be able to pull it altogether. This year is not necessarily about doing that right now. Maybe by the end of the year the expectation is going to be different. Right now I am really, really pleased.'
Though still a junior, Lilley is sailing and talking like a senior, confirming his coach’s direction. 'We worked really hard over Australian summer. We came to the event with no expectations, but with a bunch of objectives that we were able to successfully tick this week. As for the junior title, it wasn't our focus for this week. Going into the event we knew we would have a good shot at winning if we did all the right things, but it would be hard as we were up against the likes of Jorge Zarif from Brazil. 15th overall is a really pleasing outcome and to be so close to cracking the top 10 at such a young age is quite an achievement.'
Looking to the future, 'We feel we are in a good position leading into the Worlds in September and know we have plenty more to work on and even more to give in terms of results. Our main focus is on the worlds and the Olympics from now. I'm really happy that all the juniors were here and we're racing with the big boys, so that's the big one for this year.'
While the Junior European title is a nice success, Lilley remains realistic about the bigger picture and the steps ahead:
'We have a whole list of both process and execution orientated objectives that we are constantly trying to work through, and this extends to the results as well. The Junior Europeans title is just the start of what we hope is to come on the road to becoming a World and Olympic Champion.'
This week all the best Finn Sailors in the world were in attendance at the European Championship in La Rochelle, France and for the Finn Class, it was the last big hit out before the ISAF World Championship in Santander (8-21 September 2014), which also be a qualifying event for the 2016 Olympic Games.
Over the next few months the Australian Sailing Finn squad will ramp up their preparation for the World Championship with events in the Netherlands (Delta Lloyd Regatta, Medemblik, 20-24 May 2014) and Germany (Kiel Week, 21-25 June 2014) as well as training for Santander.
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