Just 12 days from the start of the London Olympics 2012 Sailing Regatta, Sail-World.com continues its Weymouth news series.
New Zealand will be represented in nine of the ten Olympic sailing events at Weymouth. New Zealand heads into the regatta with a team new talent, the likes of which have not been seen since the early 80's when Russell Coutts and Bruce Kendall came to the fore. With a swelter of talent behind them they went on to make a significant footprint on the international sailing scene for the next decade or two.
The flip side of that coin is that New Zealand does not have the crutch of a windsurfer result, aside from that which JP Tobin may achieve. This discipline has delivered seven medals for New Zealand since the 1984 Olympics, but the Kiwis have not won Olympic medals outside windsurfing since 1992.
However the scene is now set for a change.
Using a base of results from the 2010, 2011, 2012 Skandia Sail for Gold (SS4G) regattas plus the 2011 Olympic Test event, all of which were sailed at Weymouth, plus the 2011 Worlds in Perth, the top New Zealand crew is Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie in the Women’s Two Hander (470).
Aleh and Powrie won the 2012 SS4G and the 2011 event, placed fourth at the Test Event (previously known as the Pre-Olympics, where just one crew per country was allowed). In the 2011 Worlds in December in Perth, they placed fourth, and were eighth in the 2010 SS4G – and at that stage they had only been in the 470 for two years.
With those results, they look comfortable performing in the Olympic sailing venue. Aleh and Powrie have been sailing together since the 2007 420 Worlds in Takapuna NZ, where they were the top performing Women’s crew. Aleh represented New Zealand in the 2008 Olympics in the Laser Radial class finishing seventh, but knowing she could probably have placed higher.
Aleh is on her second Olympic campaign, generally reckoned to be a pre-requisite for anyone to medal at a sailing Olympics. Aleh is a hard nut and together she and Powrie have often shown the other ability essential for success – to come through when the pressure goes on at the end of a regatta.
They are a crew that likes a breeze and their challenge will be to hold onto the top end of the fleet when there is racing in light winds.
For the rest of this assessment of the New Zealand team click here
Since the spectator friendly Perth 2011 ISAF World Championship, the pressure has been rising on the British sailing team, who should dominate in Weymouth with the best funding, great team depth and a home town advantage.
However it is interesting that there is not a single British world ranking leader on the nine Olympic classes across the 2012 World Cup season, if anything reflecting that the winners of the last three Olympic regattas (Sydney, Athens and Beijing) have had some up and down results and seem to be focused more on sailing in Weymouth, rather than on the world circuit.
At the Sail for Gold Regatta, looking at the results of the selected 2012 Olympians only, Team GBR would have won Gold in Finns and Laser Radial classes and silver in the 470 Men’s and Lasers, bronze in the 49ers, 470 Women’s, RS:X Women’s and the Star. They also won two of the three Paralympic Gold medals.
The biggest British Olympic story will no doubt be if ‘Big Ben’ Ainslie does not win his fourth Olympic Gold Medal.
It has not been the expected stellar preparation for Britain’s most successful Olympic sailor. The Rule 69 cost him the 2011 Finn World Championship and the veteran’s persistent back injury has been an issue this past year. He did win the Finn 2012 World title, his sixth, but a capsize in the medal race in the Sail for Gold regatta meant Ainslie finished second behind fellow Briton Giles Scott.
‘It's a bit embarrassing going for a swim,’ said Ainslie, ‘But sometimes these things happen. Thankfully it wasn't the Olympic Games. I made a mistake, we're all human.’
The USA’s Zach Railey and the Postman Pieter-Jan Postma (NED) will be amongst the large group of Finn sailors happy to hear that admission.
Perhaps the pressure is already telling on another British sailor Paul Goodison, GBR’s Laser medal hope. The 2008 Laser Gold medallist has not beaten his nemesis, Australia’s Tom Slingsby, in a regatta all year.
When Slingsby dominated the 2011 World titles in Perth, Goodison was fifth. When he won the 2012 Laser Worlds in Boltenhagen in Germany recently, Goodison struggled to a 20th place.
After winning bronze behind Slingsby, at the Skandia Sail for Gold regatta, Goodison was keen to tell the British tabloids that he’d been ‘done over’ by Slingsby and fellow Australian Tom Burton in the Medal Race. His version was that the Australians had team sailed to beat him. The British tabloids ran the story with big headlines, talking about a ‘controversial’ race.
It was an interesting perspective because Slingsby, the series leader, held a very tight cover on the second place sailor in the medal race and plainly did not need any help holding off the British London 2012 medial hope to remain unbeaten in the history of the Sail for Gold series in Weymouth.
On the beach Slingsby said ‘If I am in the lead, I always cover second, no matter who it is. Paul was run down by Tom Burton (AUS) and Andy Maloney from New Zealand on the run. That was because of a mistake he made, nothing to do with me.’
Goodison could not have expected a sympathetic ear from Slingsby. In 2006 Slingsby led the World titles until he was match raced off the course in the medal race by his now coach, Michael Blackburn. Since then Slingsby has won five World Championships and has won all the lead up regattas in Weymouth.
And if the matter of covering your rival needed reinforcing, Slingsby won the 2010 World Etchells championship with John Bertrand, the iconic America’s Cup skipper who knows, no matter what, you have to cover your rivals - a lesson learned by Dennis Conner when he failed to do just that in 1983. Bertrand and crew took the America’s Cup thus ending the longest winning streak (132 years) in sporting history.
In the Laser Radial class, Alison Young (GBR) was the surprise winner at Weymouth. Looking at form across the last year, China’s Lijia Xu, the 2008 Olympic Bronze medallist, should start favourite in Weymouth. But it’s been a curious preparation for Xu who has spent comparatively little time in Weymouth, and this might bring her undone. Come August one expects Marit Bouwmeester (NED) Sari Multala (FIN) and Sara Winther (NZ) will also be in the mix.
While Britain’s Lucy McGregor, Annie Lush and Kate Macgregor are the second ranked team on the Women’s Match Racing circuit, this event is wide open. A few months ago the USA camp had ‘gold medal’ plastered across Anna Tunnicliffe prospects. The 2011 World Champion, Tunnicliffe (USA) has held the top spot in the Women's Match Racing Rankings since September 2011. The American comprehensively defeated Lucy Macgregor (GBR) 4-0 in the final in Perth, Australia and has since gone on to notch up three regatta victories. She finished with a bronze at Sail for Gold behind Australia’s Olivia Price and French star Claire Leroy. In the Women’s World Match Racing finals Tunnicliffe was beaten 0-3 by Silja Lehtinen (FIN). Macgregor finish seventh.
Womens Match Racing - ISAF Sailing World Championships Perth 2011 - © Ocean Images
by Sail-World.com Team
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8:23 PM Sun 15 Jul 2012GMT
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