by Di Pearson
So far 143 entries have been received by organisers of the 2008 Laser World Championship to be sailed off Terrigal, on the Australian East Coast from 4-13 February and for many there is more at stake than Championship gold.
Laser Worlds 2008
From the top ranked sailors around the globe, approximately 10 nations are depending on the regatta to qualify for the Beijing Olympic Games in Terrigal; their final opportunity to do so. Others will be seeking Olympic selection into their respective teams.
No Australian names appear on the entry list as yet. The Australian Laser Championship at Sail Melbourne in January will decide competitors for the Laser Worlds. Among them though, will be Tom Slingsby, reigning world champion and silver medallist from the just completed ISAF Grade 1 Sydney International Regatta (SIRs).
Fierce competition and close final results proved nobody is a sure bet when it comes to winning the Laser Worlds, to be sailed on offshore courses near the pretty seaside holiday destination on the NSW Central Coast.
Canada’s Michael Leigh won SIRs, but it came down to the final day of racing, after the series lead changed from day to day.
'Anyone could have won, and it will be the same at the World’s – it always comes down to the final two races in my opinion,' admits Leigh. 'Tom and Andrew (Murdoch) sometimes get away, but there are so many good sailors, it comes down to who has that little bit extra,' he says. He is right. Some of the big names finished well down the list.
Leigh, from Vancouver, is now looking down the barrel of the World’s, to be hosted by Gosford Sailing Club. 'While trying to win the World’s, I also have on my mind that I’ve got to beat nine other Canadian’s for the Olympic place,' he said.
Slingsby, who hails from the Central Coast, close to the Championship venue, will have to be at his best, and he knows it. I’ve come away from SIRs with a bit to learn – I know that,' he concedes.
Winning the opening race, the 22 year-old was disqualified for sailing in too close proximity to a Sydney ferry (according to NSW Collision Regs) and almost found himself in a ferry sandwich, such was the traffic on the harbour that day. 'I got caught between two of them. I couldn’t avoid it,' he said.
His second oops found him floundering after laying a mark, but then getting caught on the wrong side of a shift. Forced to tack twice at a busy rounding, he dropped from fifth to 22nd place in that race, and says: 'Mistakes are costly, but I’m definitely going fast and my preparation for the World's is going very well.'
With nerves of steel, Slingsby, who thrives under pressure, surged to win the final race, pipping another Canadian, Bernard Luttmar, on countback, for silver. New Zealand entries Andrew Murdoch and Mike Bullot filled out the next two places, finishing on equal points. All three internationals are entered for the World’s.
Largest numbers of entries to-date come from Great Britain (13), Canada (9) and France and Italy with eight each. Smaller nations include the Seychelles, Zimbabwe, Lithuania, Moldova, Barbados, Guatemala and Trinidad and Tobago.
As the Laser boasts the largest Olympic class numbers worldwide, it goes without saying competition will be tough. Paul Goodison (GBR) is one of the toughest when sailing at his best. He is entered for the World’s along with the considerable talents of Matias Del Solar (CHI), Gustavo Lima (POR), Deniss Karpak (EST), Vasilij Zbogar (SLO) and Croatia’s Luka Radelic and Milan Vujasinović, among others.
Of the 53 nations entered so far, 30 have qualified for the Games They are: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Seychelles, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, Uruguay, USA. China, as host nation, automatically qualifies.
Qualifying races will be held from 7-10 February, with the finals to be held from 11-13 February. Two races per day have been scheduled for each. The Notice of Race and other useful information can be found on the official website: http://aus08.laserinternational.org/ where Sailing Instructions will be posted on February 4.
Racing earlier in the 2006 Laser Worlds in Jeju, Korea