Bronze for Morrison and Rhodes at Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta

PUBLISHED: 18:58 13 June 2011

Morrison and Rhodes in action at Weymouth

Morrison and Rhodes in action at Weymouth

Mike Rice/Fotoboat

Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes won the bronze medal in the 49er class at the Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta at the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy, which finished last Saturday, writes Mike Rice.

After fighting back into third place overall in the penultimate day of racing, they secured their podium place by finishing third in a thrilling medal race.

The gold medal went to Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen of Australia, with the French team of Stephane Christidis and Peter Hansen taking silver. As the highest placed team GBR crew, this result leaves Morrison and Rhodes firmly in the running for Olympic selection, and the RYA Olympic selectors have just announced that they will represent Great Britain in the 49er class at the Olympic Test Event at Weymouth in August.

After their first race, last Monday morning, the outlook did not look too bright. Over-enthusiasm at the start had resulted in disqualification.

Over the course of the regatta, teams are allowed to discard their one worst result. This had now gone, leaving no margin for error during the remaining five days. “This was a bit like starting the marathon with a blister”, Morrison said.

In the remaining five races of the qualifying phase, Morrison and Rhodes strung together an excellent series of results, including two race wins, taking them up to third place overall but with another GBR boat, sailed by John Pink and Rick Peacock, ahead of them in second place.

Conditions on the Wednesday, the last day of the qualifying phase, were on the margins for 49er sailing, with winds well over 20 knots. The 49ers were racing in two groups of around 30 boats each. In the last race before the increasing breeze forced the race committee to send the boats back to the shore, Morrison and Rhodes took a hard-fought 4th place in a race which resembled a demolition derby at times, with multiple capsizes on the downwind legs. With no more racing that day, this left their group having sailed one more race than the other. The following day, the 49er fleet was due to be split into Gold and Silver fleets for the finals phase, based on the results to date, and the race committee was forced to ditch the results of the extra race so that both qualifying groups had sailed the same number of races.

Thursday, the first day of the finals phase, was a day of two halves for the Exmouth team. They finished the first two races well down the fleet, almost dropping them out of the top ten overall and making a good outcome to the regatta increasingly less likely. But in the next two races the team raised their game, with one race win and a 5th place. “We played the first half with two left boots”, said Morrison.

A solid performance in the four races on the last day of the finals phase lifted them back into third place overall. As in all Olympic class regattas, the final outcome is decided by the medal race, in which the top ten boats from the qualifying and finals phases race against each other. Score totals from the previous races are carried forward into the medal race. Morrison and Rhodes were too far behind the leaders to have a chance of taking gold. While they had an outside chance of taking silver, they would have to work hard to hold onto third place –Pink and Peacock, their closest rivals, were only two points behind them.

The medal race was as dramatic as any seen at recent Olympic regattas. Half the fleet was over the line before the start. Four of the five offenders returned to re-cross the line, but the Sibello brothers from Italy did not and their race ended in disqualification. Morrison and Rhodes avoided this problem by sailing across the back of most of the fleet and crossing the line on port tack. Throughout the race they swapped places with Chris Draper and Peter Greenhalgh, another team vying for 2012 selection. On the last beat Morrison and Rhodes tacked out to the right hand side of the course, away from their rivals. In the final downwind leg they extended their advantage and crossed the finish line in third place, two places ahead and enough to secure the bronze medal.

“A bronze medal here feels great , it’s a really good achievement and to have five British boats in the top ten as well just shows that the 49er squad is alive and kicking and something to be reckoned with,” said Morrison. “It’s been a really stressful week – starting your event with a disqualification is never a good thing - but we’ve delivered something at the end of it. But I’m a bit bored with bronze medals, we quite fancy one of Nathan’s [Outteridge] gold medals but we’ve got a year to work on catching him up!”

The Olympic Test Event, known as the Weymouth and Portland International Regatta, is designed to test every aspect of the event in preparation for the real thing next year. It takes place at the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy from 29 July to 11 August.

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