by Craig Heydon
At the 2012 Semaine Olympique Francaise, Australia’s sailors have enjoyed a golden day on the water finishing on the top step of the podium in three classes. The final day medal haul included a come from behind gold for Finn sailor Brendan Casey, another consistent win for Mathew Belcher and Malcolm Page in the 470 men, a second straight Sailing World Cup round win for Skud 18 sailors Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch and silver for 49er crew Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen.
Belcher and Page in the medal race in Hyeres
Casey went into the final double-points race third overall with the Queenslander sailing well in the strong winds and big swell to win the medal race and take the title by the smallest of margins, just 0.4 points.
The win had added importance for Casey as it secured him a spot at his first Olympic Games.
'After today I’m feeling great relief,' said Casey. 'I’ve been trying for many years to firstly qualify for the Australian Olympic team and then have the opportunity to race at the ultimate level and I’ve finally done that.
Brendan Casey after receiving his gold medal - Semaine Olympique Francaise 2012
'I’m very happy with the overall result, I was very fortunate with some outcomes in the protest room to get into the position to win the event but ultimately it came down to winning the last two races, and in particular, my performance in the medal race. I’m more than pleased with how it panned out.'
Mathew Belcher and Malcolm Page went into the medal race with an 18 point lead over second and third, with the current World Champions and world number ones crossing the line third to take their first win in Hyeres as a team.
'With this standard of fleet and especially with the medal race being worth double points anything can happen,' said Page. 'It was great to have a bit of breeze on today, it takes a little bit of the trickiness out of the race, it becomes about boat handling and speed and we relied on that, put our heads down and went for it and came home with a good enough result.'
Belcher and Page after winning gold in Hyeres - Semaine Olympique Francaise 2012
Belcher said that the pair is pleased with where they are placed heading into next month’s 2012 470 World Championships and ultimately the London 2012 Olympic Games.
'We’ve done a lot of work in Australia and feel that we’re developing well as a team and individually,' said Belcher. 'We’re focusing on ourselves and it’s nice to have the confirmation that we’re coming along in the right areas.
'We’ve still got a lot of work to do, there are a lot of people fighting for the same position and the same results as what we’re trying to achieve,' he said. 'We feel that with three months till the Games we’re happy with where we’re at, it’s now head down, bum up and keep working hard.'
Australia’s third gold medal of the event was won by Skud 18 crew Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch, who took the title by two points after being kept onshore by the rough conditions on Friday.
The win made it back-to-back ISAF Sailing World Cup round wins for the pair who were victorious in Miami back in January.
Daniel Fitzgibbon and Liesl Tesch on the podium in Hyeres - Semaine Olympique Francaise 2012
'We put in a good performance two days ago to get on top knowing that this was coming.' said Fitzgibbon. 'We knew that we had to be on top on the race course two days ago as the weather was coming in and we were able to execute our plans and come away with the win.'
Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen won silver in the 49er class with the fleet stuck on shore for the last two days due to the conditions.
Outteridge and Jensen, competing in their first 49er regatta since winning the 2011 World Championships last December, finished just a single point behind the French crew of Manu Dyen and Stephane Christidis.
Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen on the 49er podium in Hyeres - Semaine Olympique Francaise 2012
The Australian pair was consistent all week, finishing in the top eight in all nine races as they continue their preparations for the 2012 49er World Championships taking place in Croatia next month.
Unfortunately the day didn’t go quite to plan for all of the Australians with Tom Slingsby suffering a broken mast while leading the Laser medal race, dropping him from a likely gold medal to fifth overall.
'The race was going according to plan, I rounded the top mark second, was second at the bottom, overtook the German and had a nice lead up the second beat when 100 metres from the top mark my mast broke, that’s the way it is sometimes,' said Slingsby. 'That’s sailing I guess, it’s a bit weird when your worse race all week is a third and you end up fifth overall but I’m really happy with my performance, I sailed well and very consistently and am looking forward to the World Championships next week.
The Laser fleet heads to Germany for the 2012 World Championships and Slingsby has the chance to make it five world titles in six years.
'The Olympics is the major goal this year but the worlds is one I’d like to win, winning a World Championships is always a good thing so I’m going to go for it,' he said. 'A German sailor won here and another German won last week so they’ll have plenty of support up there but I like going onto people’s home turf and knocking them off.'
Fellow Australian Tom Burton was one place behind Slingsby in sixth overall, following a seventh place finish in the medal race. Burton was in the mix all week, with two race wins and three seconds, following his World Cup Bronze medal in Palma, Spain, earlier this month.
Krystal Weir was seventh overall in the Laser Radial class, finishing ninth in the final medal race. Weir enjoyed the strong conditions in Hyeres as she builds towards next month’s Laser Radial World Championships in Germany.
From Hyeres the Australian Sailing Team will split up, with crews spreading out around Europe for a number of class World Championships before coming together again at the World Cup in Weymouth in early June for the final hit out on the Olympic course before London 2012.
Semaine Olympique Francaise website