At the Beijing 2008 Olympics Australians Nathan Outteridge and his crew Ben Austin were leading the Olympic 49er drama filled medal race in a very heavy seaway and heading for a Gold Medal, when just 100 metres from the finish line they capsized in their final gybe, after many of their rivals had eariler lost control of their boats.
Three years on, Outteridge is preparing to qualify his country and gain selection in the 49ers but that Qingdao medal race capsize looms large in his mind.
Nine months before the 2012 London Olympic regatta in Weymouth, he and childhood friend Iain ‘Goobs’ Jensen (AUS) are considered the 49er favourites. The duo has won all four regattas they have contested at the 2012 Olympic site in Weymouth.
The Outteridge and Jensen combination burst onto the 49er scene in 2009 with stunning success.
Outteridge explains. ‘We had done a lot of sailing together as kids and I actually started sailing 49ers with Goobs, coming from the 470’s. (Iain Jensen was called Gooby as a toddler by his family and it’s stuck as Goobs.)
‘Goobs would come home from school every day, he was in year ten or something at the time, and we would go sailing on the lake (Lake Macquarie NSW) and we did that for six months. He had the natural skill but he wanted to do a university degree and could not campaign, so I started sailing with Ben Austin and we went through to Beijing (Qingdao 2008).
‘For me to start back on a 49er with Goobs after almost four years was great. We get along really well and it was nice and fresh and easy for us and we just had a lot of fun. We had a good coach and at that time the new 49er rigs came in and we got our head around how to make them go fast pretty quickly.
‘I think we kind of knew more about the rigs than everyone else in terms of the sailing. Other sailors watched and learned but we had an amazing run, winning regatta after regatta. Over time everyone has caught up and now it is more about racing and making smart decisions.’
While the Australian pairing has results on the board, the 2011 Test event win was a very close call. They finished on equal points with 2004 Olympic champions and 2008 silver medallists Iker Martinez and Xabier Fernandez of Spain, winning the gold only by a count back.
Outteridge considers their New Zealand training partners Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, their most serious threat beyond the Spanish team and perhaps the Brits on their home turf.
‘They are quite young and we have been training with them for a while and they are probably one of our toughest teams.
‘It’s great because we just keep getting better and they just keep getting better because we sail against each other all the time.
‘Come the Olympics, if we are the two best boats and it’s a fight between us and them to win a Gold medal, then I’d be more than happy to do that rather than have five or six boats all very equally paired.’
It’s been a big year for Outteridge beyond the 49er scene. He won the 2011 Moth World title on his home lake, Lake Macquarie (NSW) last January and was in the top 10 in the Farr 40, 505, SB3 and Melges 32 World Championships in 2010.
And he was been named as a finalist for the 2011 ISAF Sailor of the Year award, while sailing at the Melges 32 2011 World Championship in Spain.
He considers the break away from the 49er class a major plus in Olympic preparation. ‘Every time I come back to the 49er after sailing another boat it is fresh.
Everything on the Moths happen so fast that when I go back to the 49er I feel like I have all this spare time, whereas the 49er happens really quickly so now I have time to make better decisions.’
‘Weymouth and Perth are somewhat similar for racing but there are a couple of factors that will set Perth 2011 apart. It is probably going to be 20 degrees warmer so that's a big change to start with. Instead of it being 15 degrees it is probably going to be in the high 20s or 30s, maybe higher.
‘The biggest difference for the 49er class is if we are racing in the afternoon in the sea breeze there are going to be massive waves and massive chop.
‘At Perth 2011 we are scheduled to race in the afternoon. With a 20 to 25 knot big afternoon sea breeze, I think it’s going to be a challenge to get the boat around the course let alone race it.
‘Pre Perth 2011 we will be competing at Sail Melbourne and we’ll hopefully get some good sea breezes with some big waves. I watched the video of the 49er Worlds in Melbourne back in ‘99. I’ve been talking to 49er sailor and fellow Australian Adam Beashel and guys like that and they said it was all about keeping it upright. They reckon if you keep it upright you are in the top five nearly in every race when it’s blowing 20 knots. The waves are so steep and a capsize costs you a few minutes and then you are out of the race.
‘That's our main focus - trying to ensure we can survive the down winds and the big waves, as you can see what happened in China in that medal race. It is extremely difficult. In Perth if you avoid having any capsizes you probably are going to finish top five in any of those races.
‘You have just got to hope you make the Gold fleet. If we get some fresh stuff in qualifying anyone could miss Gold fleet by breaking a mast and then the regatta is over. Perth is going to be different to a lot of other events in terms of how you manage the rig.’
Outteridge and Jensen are training for Sail Melbourne, the first round of the ISAF Sailing World Cup, before heading to Perth for the Perth 2011 49er World Championships and the wind and the waves.
This time however the Qingdao 49er Finalist is much better prepared.