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Sailors still on course

By Mark Etheridge

Two of our London Olympics sailing hopefuls have edged ever closer to a dream spot in the Games team after the recent ISAF World Championships in Perth, Australia.

Team South Africa had entries in five of the 10 Olympic disciplines and it was the Cape combination of Asenathi Jim and Roger Hudson who fared best of the team at a competition that was the biggest Olympic Class event ever held.

Roughly 1100 competitors from 79 countries were chasing a dual dream, that of the world championship titles as well as the limited number of spots available for the Olympics in London later this year.

Sailing in the 470 class, Jim and Hudson ended 42nd out of 80 entrants for the best finish by the South African sailors.

Former Olympic sailor Dave Hudson was team leader and coach Down Under and says that the 470 crew is certainly going places. “They’ve only been racing together in this class since May 2011 but the intensive training and international racing program they’ve undertaken since then is paying dividends and they’ve been moving swiftly up the international rankings.

“After their first event on the Sailing World Cup Circuit ┬áin Holland in May 2011 the guys earned an international ranking of 213 out of the 320 teams from 50 countries on the International Sailing Federation’s world ranking list. ┬áBy mid-year they had moved up to 140th, by October up to 100th, and after Perth they broke into the top quarter, with a current ranking of 76th. ┬áThis has brought SA up from 46th nation┬áin the 470 class┬áin mid 2011 to 29th nation today.”

The result in Perth saw South Africa place 26th as a nation in the ISAF 470 World Championships and vitally important inside the 27-country qualification cut-off for London.

The first 19 countries in the Perth 470 World Championships qualified for a place in the 2012 Olympics. The countries qualifying for the remaining eight of the 27 spots available will be decided at the next 470 World Championships in Barcelona, Spain in May 2012.

This means that South Africa is now very much on the radar for qualifying to compete in the 470 class at the Olympics. But Hudson is under no illusion as to the toughness of the task. ┬á”There are a good many countries with highly experienced 470 teams competing for the remaining eight spots, so Asenathi and Roger have a lot of work to do over the next four months.”

Jim and Hudson are currently in Miami, US gearing up for the next event of the Sailing World Cup, the 2012 Miami Olympic Classes Regatta starting next weekend, and will be back in the Mother City at the end of the month.

Certainly Jim and Hudson’s results and showing turned heads Down Under. Said Stanislav Kassarov, President of the International 470 Class association, after a Team Leaders’ meeting ┬á”The South Africans have achieved in one season what normally takes three years in the 470.” Another member of the ISAF executive said after meeting Jim:┬á”This is the first time an African sailor from Southern Africa has made an impact on the Sailing World Cup circuit. ┬áIts really exciting to see.”

Of the remaining four South African entries Hudson provided an insight as to their performances.

Their results were as follows:
Men’s one-person dinghy (Laser): Rudy McNeil ÔÇô 106th out of 147 competitors.
Men’s two-person dinghy, HP (49er) ÔÇô Matthew Rickard and Andrew Tarboton ÔÇô 60th out of 67
Woman’s one-person dinghy (Laser Radial) ÔÇô┬á Jessica Deary ÔÇô 94th out of 102
Men’s one-person dinghy, heavy (Finn) ÔÇô┬á David Leigh ┬áÔÇô ┬á68th out of 72.

“For Jess and David, while they were both racing in a class of boat (the Laser Radial & Finn respectively) that they have sailed for many years and are very familiar with, it was their first experience of a top level international event. They both learned a great deal from the experience,” says Hudson.

“Matt and Andrew, on the other hand, are still in the early stages of getting to grips with the 49er. They only started racing together in this class in May 2011 when they moved across to the UK to get as much international experience in Europe as possible before the ISAF Worlds in Perth. ┬áThey also learnt a great deal while in Perth.

“Rudy has been racing Lasers for about six years, with some valuable international experience along the way. He was comfortable racing at this level and was noticeably more competitive when the wind was stronger.”

Belinda Hayward, SAS High Performance Manager, is certainly encouraged by the team’s showing given the vast gulf between local and international sailing. “Many highly experienced sailors were concerned about us sending a fully representative SA team to the ISAF Worlds, knowing only too well that our sailing circuit, financial resources┬áand infrastructure┬áare┬áminuscule compared with European, American, Asian and Aus/NZ countries, thus rendering our sailors┬áhighly unlikely to do anything more than come last.

“They felt we┬áran the risk of “dis-incentivising” our┬átalented sailors. But SAS┬áput together a 10-year plan to┬ádevelop high performance sailing in South Africa in 2011, and┬áencouraged the top SA┬ásailors in each Olympic class to start looking at their own┬ágoals for 2016 and 2020 Olympic Games. We asked them to┬áconsidering training for and competing in the 2011 ISAF World Championship, an event that would have the top sailors in each Olympic class performing at their absolute peak six months before an Olympic Games, as the benchmark, the starting point for an overall SA high performance plan to 2016 and 2020.

‘There were no illusions about how we would perform at this event, but at least everyone in the country now knows┬áthe level that we are at internationally, and what it will take to get to the middle of these fleets by 2016, and the top of these fleets by 2020. We have a starting point and┬áSAS is proud of these individual sailors for taking the challenge on despite the enormity of the task ahead.

“They have set the benchmark and the challenge, not only for themselves, but for all┬áaspiring sailors in South Africa who┬ábelieved it cannot be done. Their performances showed incredible determination, courage and commitment to the SAS high performance vision for the future, against all odds. Well done Jess, David, Rudy, Andrew, Matthew, Roger,┬áAsenathi and especially your coach and mentor, Dave Hudson. We look forward to many great things to come.”


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