by Craig Heydon
When the Perth 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championships begin on Saturday there will be plenty of eyes on Australia’s sailors.
470 sailors Mathew Belcher and Malcolm Page - Perth 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championships
Australia’s reigning World Champions Mathew Belcher, Malcolm Page and Tom Slingsby will likely come in for special attention.
The three sailors are all current World Champions, World Cup Champions and are also ranked number one in the world. They have the chance to defend their world titles on home waters after winning in 2010 in Europe Belcher and Page claimed the 470 World Championship in the Netherlands and Slingsby stood on the top step of the Laser podium in England.
For Belcher and Page their 2010 World Championship win was their first since teaming up together in early 2009 with the win making Page the most successful sailor in 470 history following his string of wins, and an Olympic Gold medal, with former skipper Nathan Wilmot.
'Our win at the Worlds was an important one for us as a new team, it gave us the opportunity to show that we can defend Australia’s Gold medal from 2008 and also the opportunity to develop and succeed which is great for a new pairing to have,' said Belcher. 'After the event we had two years to prepare for London 2012 and the event showed that we could put together a consistent series of results and was an important stepping stone for the coming years.'
Page said that the pair won’t approach racing in Perth any differently as defending World Champions but there is a different feel psychologically.
'I remember that winning my first world title was a lot harder than winning the second,' said Page. 'That’s why 2010 was such a big step for Mat and I, to get that first win as a team was a big boost.
'At the start of 2010 we sat down with our coach Victor Kovalenko and set out our objectives for the year and at the time I thought they were tall orders but we came out the other end achieving them all,' he said.
Belcher is looking forward to the challenges and the opportunities that Perth 2011 will present the pair as they continue their journey towards next year’s Olympic Games.
'Perth is going to be an event different to anything we’ve ever sailed in together,' he said. 'There is so much sailing history here in Perth, with the America’s Cup defence and the great sailing conditions, the community knows the sport and embraces it.
'The event’s going to provide a great opportunity to get Australian sailors out to the Australian public, we haven’t had a chance like this to expose the sport before,' he said.
Belcher said that there will be a lot on the line for many in the 88 boat 470 fleet as crews compete not only for the World Championship title but for positions at London 2012.
'It’s certainly going to be a very intense environment, it’s the last Olympic trials for a lot of countries and could be the end of an Olympic dream for many so there’s going to be a lot of distractions but we’re going to focus on our own performances,' he said. 'Our preparation has been good, our speed is good, we’ve got the right tools at our disposal and are in the best position we could be to win.'
'It’s a cool feeling heading into this event with Mal’s record and to be the current World Champions and world number ones, to spend so long representing our country in Europe and to now get to defend that title on Australian waters is a fantastic honour, it’s going to be great to be able to hear people cheering us on here in Perth.'
Perth 2011 will be Page’s third World Championship on Australian waters following events in Melbourne in 1999 and 2008.
Malcolm Page, Nathan Wilmot (AUS)
'In 1999 I was relatively new to the class, it was just my third worlds and we didn’t expect to be at the front of the but came home 14th,' he said. 'Then in 2008 Nathan and I were going for our fourth World Championship as a team and there was a lot of pressure on us and we ended up having the worst result ever together, an eighth.
'For a lot of countries next week will determine who will go to the Games so there’s going to be a lot happening out there, we’re in the good position that we’ve ticked a lot of the boxes already so the event is about qualifying Australia for London 2010.
'It’s going to be interesting to see what the others do and what tricks they bring out,' said Page.
Belcher and Page hit the water for their first day of racing on Monday December 5 with the 2011 World Champion to be decided on Sunday December 11.
Tom Slingsby leads the Laser fleet in Holland - Delta Lloyd Regatta 2011
27-year-old Tom Slingsby is no stranger to winning World Championships, having won three of the last four Laser titles.
The Gosford-based sailor is also no stranger to winning on Australian waters, having won his second title in Terrigal in 2008.
'In a way I see this event as a chance for me to help to raise the profile of sailing in Australia,' said Slingsby. 'I want to do well here and show Australians how good a sport sailing is.
'Heading into the event as defending champion brings with it a different type of pressure, there’s going to be a few more sets of eyes on me than usual but I’m just concentrating on the event and sailing the best I can.
The conditions throughout the regatta are expected to challenge the best of sailors but feature Slingsby’s favoured bigs winds and big waves.
'On paper the conditions should favour me but since I’ve arrived I haven’t been as quick as normal so I’ll be training hard until the first day of racing to catch up,' he said.
The Laser class will be the biggest at Perth 2011 with many sailors in with a shot at the title in what will be a hard fought regatta.
'The two quickest guys so far in training are two that I wouldn’t have expected, they’ve set the level that we all need to get to by the time the Worlds begin,' said Slingsby. 'There are plenty of guys who can win and it’s going to come down to who puts it together when it counts.'
Tom Slingsby after winning his third Laser World Championship
The triple World Champion and 2010 ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year knows that World Championships success doesn’t automatically translate to Olympic success but will be working hard to right those wrongs come London 2012.
'After winning the Worlds in 2008 I thought it was going to be a good confidence booster heading to Bejing but it didn’t pay off,' he said. 'I want to win here. I want to head to London as World Champion. I just want a different result come the end of the Games next year.'
The Laser class begins racing on Monday December 12 with the final medal race to be held on Sunday December 18.
Perth 2011 website
For more information on the Australian Sailing Team visit www.australiansailingteam.com.au and follow the team on Twitter at www.twitter.com/AusSailingTeam.