Beijing-bound sailors Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes got their Olympic year off to a medal-winning start, clinching silver at the 49er World Championship which concluded in Melbourne today (Wednesday 9 January).
The duo, defending the world title they won in Cascais (POR) in July 2007, clinched silver for Skandia Team GBR behind the home pairing of Nathan Outteridge and Ben Austin, following a week of windy conditions off the Sorrento Couta Sailing Club.
Morrison and Rhodes – whose official selection to Team GB for the Beijing Games was announced yesterday by the British Olympic Association – went into Wednesday’s final day of racing tied on points at the top of the leaderboard with the Australian duo and just one point ahead of the third placed Ukrainian team, setting the stage for a nail-biting medal race to determine the final podium positions.
The final race was sailed in 15-18 knot gusty winds on choppy waters in front of host venue, with Morrison and Rhodes hot on the heels of on their Australian rivals to round the first turning mark just three boat lengths behind them.
But Outteridge and Austin managed to edge away on the second lap, with a third place in the final double-points scoring medal race enough to see the Exmouth pair take the silver medal in their first major event of this Olympic year.
'They were a bit quicker than us in that breeze,' Morrison explained. 'There was nothing we could do about it.'
'It’s been a pretty challenging week with some tricky racing and gusty conditions for us out here,' explained Rhodes, 'but we’re pleased with how we sailed and are really over the moon with silver.
'It would have been nice if we could have defended our title, as our reign as World Champions has been relatively short-lived with the Worlds so early this year. But all our plans for this year are geared towards China so we’ve only really had two weeks training out here for this event.
'Our eyes are on the bigger prize in Beijing, so if we have swap our World Championship title for an Olympic gold this year then we’ll be happy with that!'
Paul Campbell-James and Mark Asquith also scored a top ten finish for Skandia Team GBR, crossing sixth in the final medal race to end their regatta in ninth place overall. 49er - World Championship leading results:
1. Nathan Outteridge-Ben Austin, AUS (60pts)
2. Stevie Morrison-Ben Rhodes, GBR (64pts)
3. Rodion Luka-George Leonchuk, UKR (79pts)
Other selected GBR:
9. Paul Campbell-James-Mark Asquith (116pts)
16. Dave Evans-Alex Hopson (121pts)
23. John Pink-Simon Wheeler (151pts)