2008 49er World Champions - Nathan Outteridge (left) and Ben Austin
Can the Australian Sailing Team keep up their momentum all the way to the Olympic Games in Qingdao in August or have they peaked already? The win last weekend at the Tornado Worlds by Darren Bundock and Glenn Ashby was the third world title in the last seven weeks - Laser sailor Tom Slingsby winning the world Laser championships and Nathan Outteridge and Ben Austin the 49er title.
In addition Aussie competitors have only missed out on medals in two of the seven world titles held so far this year. Olympic-bound sailors have also been on the podium at the Yngling - Krystal Weir, Karen Gojnich and Angela Farrell winning a silver - and Elise Rechichi and Tessa Parkinson a bronze at the 470 worlds event. And there are two more still to come, the Laser Radial and Star Class World Championships.
Australia is number one on three of the ISAF points tables for the Olympic classes and will be aiming to equal their best ever Olympic Games performance of four medals (two Gold, one Silver, one Bronze) achieved on their home patch at Sydney 2000.
The team will be attending their final training camp in Sydney, where they will undergo fitness tests, briefings and program fine tuning before the crews of the ten different competition classes head off to points around the globe to compete in various international regattas over the next five months. They will regroup in China in July, well in advance of the Olympic competition.
Australian Sailing Team Director Michael Jones said while sailing was often overlooked as a potential medal sport in predictions, the Australians are on course for success at the Olympic Games.
“This team boasts some of the very best sailors in the world – three of our crews are ranked number one in the world and most of the crews have placed in the top ten of their class worldwide” said Jones.
“Without being prescriptive about the number of medals we could win, the team is performing exceptionally well and there is talent within this team that would make it possible for us to emulate the best ever Olympic performance for sailing which saw the Australians take four medals in Sydney.
“That’s a great goal for everyone to aim for and the two gold, one silver and one bronze and two 4th places we brought home from the Qingdao test event last year proved our sailors have the ability to do it.”
While the team is about to compete on the European summer circuit, where championship titles are up for grabs, the main focus will be on using the time on the water at these regattas to train for China.
“A lot of the crews will be using the boats and gear we have developed specifically for the Games and we are making sure they fully master it in all conditions. We’ll also be very focused on refining our racing skills against the key competitors we will face on the Olympic course later in the year,” said Jones.
The extremely hot and light wind conditions of Qingdao, combined with very strong currents, mean the team are also on a campaign to drop weight – both from the boats and from their bodies.
“A lot of the team have just come out of regattas here in Australia and in New Zealand where the winds and the waves are bigger so they can carry body weight to balance out against the conditions, but in China everyone needs to be lighter and fitter to make the most of the venue,” said Jones.
Jessica Crisp (AUS) on her way to a win - SIRS 2007
“We have programs tailored for each of our sailors to help them lighten up in a healthy way and still maintain their strength, energy and stamina.
“Mental preparation is something we’re also focusing on while we’re in camp – these athletes have to sail against the best in the world for several races a day, every day, for up to nine days at a regatta.
“They need to cope with the pressure of an extended period of competition plus juggle the physical requirements of sailing the boat skilfully, constantly calculate and react to the changing the wind, current and wave conditions around them and predict what their competitors are going to do next.”
The Men’s 470 team of Malcolm Page and Nathan Wilmot will compete at their second Olympic Games and their attitude sums up the drive which exists within the broader team. As three time World Champions and Australian Champions, they’ve fulfilled many of their sailing goals and are now focused on only one thing – winning gold in Qingdao.
“We’ve achieved everything else, won everything there is to win and now it’s all about the Olympics,” said Page
“That means our focus during the upcoming European circuit is not about winning each regatta as it normally would be, but using the competition time to train to win where it really matters for us – in China.”
Krystal Weir, Karyn Gojnich and Angela Farrell - Audi Sydney Harbour Regatta