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Can Australia be a threat in the Finn Class??

by Rob Kothe and the Sail-World Team on 2 Apr 2013
Finn: Brendan Casey - 44th Trofeo Princesa Sofia Mapfre ©
While the British have dominated the Olympic Finn class since 2000 onwards, Australia´s prospects are looking up.

It now has a three man Finn squad and there is the possibility of a 2012 Olympic Gold medallist switching to Finns.

The Australian Sailing Team post Olympics 2012 appointed USA's John Bertrand, the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic silver medallist as its Finn class coach. The other John Bertrand' had won the Laser World Championships in 1976 and 1977 and the Finn Gold Cup in 1980. Now, at 56, he still races actively in Laser Masters events, including the 2010 World Championships where he finished third.

In the last quadrennium Bertrand had coached Australia´s Brendan Casey. Casey's 2012 Olympic campaign had a solid start as he placed 10th at the 2010 Finn Gold Cup in San Francisco which secured him a place in the 2011 Australian Sailing team.

He was the top ranked Australian in his class at the 2011 World Championships in Perth and he secured his place with a win in the 2012 World Cup event in Hyeres, France.

Weymouth was not kind to Casey, who has proven over the years to always have his best regatta if he starts well. He had an equipment issue in the first race, was penalised in the second for lack of the correct safety equipment and had to pursue a high risk catch up strategy which did not work. He finished.... overall.

Committing to Rio 2016, the Queenslander has had a much better start to this campaign. He won the first World Cup event, Sail Melbourne and was fifth in the second event in Miami and is the new season top ranked Finn class leader.

Joining him in the Finn squad are two young sailors determined to make a name for themselves. Oliver Tweddell (AUS) and newcomer Jake Lilley (AUS), who was on the Laser circuit last year. At 19 years Lilley is two meters high and 96 kg so the Finn class was a natural for him.

Then there is a big gun. Australia´s Tom Slingsby after winning London Olympics Laser Gold headed to San Francisco to join the Oracle USA America´s Cup program and has said he won´t be making a decision on future Olympic campaigns until end September 2013.

As the years have rolled by the six times Laser World Champion Slingsby, now 27 years old has been bulking up, as you´d expect. With Weymouth being a heavy weather venue, he was not particularly troubled by the optimum Laser weight but looking ahead to the expected light weather venue of Rio 2016 that would not bring a lot of joy for a 31 year old.

He has been making signals over the last 18 months that if he was going to continue in the Olympic classes anywhere it would be the Finns.

The top ranked British Finn sailor Giles Scott confirmed just a day ago in the Palma boat park, that Slingsby has 'murmured' the switch to the Finn class was on his mind.

Slingsby has always said he wanted to sail against the best and there were many pundits who considered Scott the better Finn sailor than Ainslie and with the strength of the competition with Posta and Lobert and the raft of other Brift, so the tempation to jump into the Finn class, now there is an Australian squad and a well credential coach could be compelling for the 2010 ISAF World Sailor of the Year.

With all these elements, Coach John Bertrand is having an interesting time.

'Whereas before I was Brendan’s coach, now we have an Australian Finn squad. We are adopting a squad mentality which is something that we suffered from last time because Brendan really didn’t have a dedicated training partner so we did train a lot with the Brits and the French and others but it was more on their schedule and what they wanted to accomplish so we were somewhat frustrated because we couldn’t necessarily work on some areas that we wanted to work on.

'Now we have got three dedicated, motivated sailors and we can just start rolling out all the things we want to develop and all the things we want to work on so it is pretty exciting.

'Brendan is off to a good start this time around. Obviously we worked pretty hard over the last three or four years and post Olympics some times when the pressure is off a little bit all the lessons kind of sink in but he is really keen, looking forward to the next four years. He is a good size. He is in really good shape. The physical side of it wasn’t an issue last time and nor will it be this time. It seems like these guys have all obtained a high level of fitness to do what’s needed especially when it’s downwind pumping. He is right in there.

'Yes, it is exciting right now. Obviously Brendan is doing really well and Oliver and Jake, the new guys, this is a whole new generation coming into the Finn which is what I predicted would happen and I think the old guard is starting to take notice. These guys are up to speed already. It is whether they can convert it into regatta performance. To me that is just a matter of time.

'If Tom wants to have a go at the Finn we are prepared to have him come in to take a look at it.

'I´ve been told Tom’s natural weight is 87 so getting to 95 wouldn’t be a real problem. He is getting older so the weight comes with age whether he knows it or not or wants it or not. He is good in the gym.

'For Rio, the low 90´s where it will be a light weather venue, only a few knots above Qingdao, It is probably a little more consistent. A little more wind, a couple of knots more probably.

'But it is in an area that is surrounded by mountains and obstructions and it is going to be really very shifty and puffy and very tricky and there is current. I think it will be fine. It is a matter of what you do before Rio because you have events like the World Cups and the Worlds in Santander so you want to be able to be competitive in other events and not just rely on the Olympics as a sole event. If you suffer weight wise at these other events psychologically it could be pretty tough.

'I'm really happy to work here in Australia on such an excellent program. The Olympic coaching team and management is world class and their commitment and team work is impressive,' Bertrand said.

'Of course right now, the Brits are the benchmark. We saw that on day one with Giles Scott doing well as always. Yes although they have probably been out of the boat doing America’s Cup stuff and things like that. It is going to be really interesting. I am really excited to see how things roll out here and over the next six months especially.'

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