Morrison, Rhodes and Cornish all compete at Sail for Gold event in Weymouth.

PUBLISHED: 10:32 18 August 2010

Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes (49er)

Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes (49er)

Mike Rice/Fotoboat

LAST week the latest event in the build-up for the 2012 Olympics took place at the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy, writes Mike Rice.

The Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta attracted almost 1,000 sailors from 57 nations, all keen to test the waters where the next Olympic Games regatta will be held.

The competitors ranged from experienced Olympians, including many medal winners from 2008, to those bidding to catch the selector’s eye for their national Olympic teams in 2012 and beyond that.

The event was also the final leg of this year’s International Sailing Federation World Cup.

The competitors experienced the full range of conditions Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbour have to offer, from flat calm to winds gusting over 30 knots, accompanied by everything from bright sunshine to sea-level cloud and pouring rain.

The three Exmouth sailors on the water during the week spanned the full range of experience.

Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes represented Great Britain in the high-performance 49er class at the China Olympics in 2008. They are former World Champions in the class, and this year took the silver medal at the European Championships.

By contrast, Ben Cornish, who sailed in the Laser class, is in his first year of top level competition.

On Tuesday, sailing correspondent Mike Rice was out on the water.

The day started wet and quiet, with barely enough breeze to get the first racing fleets off the shore and out into the harbour, but, when the first of a pair of accurately forecast weather fronts came through, there was breeze aplenty. During the lull between fronts the rain almost stopped, but then the second front arrived and the breeze gusted up to 30 knots, bringing yet more rain.

This was enough to keep the 49er blue fleet, in which Morrison and Rhodes were sailing, on shore under postponement. With apparently no prospect of the wind abating and increasingly rough seas as the tide turned, it seemed that 49er racing would be abandoned for the day.

But, late in the afternoon, the decision was taken to launch.

After the fleet had taken a white-knuckle blast across Portland Harbour and out into Weymouth Bay, the race officer changed his mind and sent them ashore, racing abandoned for the day.

The weather on Wednesday was much better and all the fleets sailed a full programme, with the 49ers catching up their lost races.

Morrison and Rhodes had an excellent day, with a 2-4-1-3 scoreline lifting them into third place overall.

Ben Cornish was finding the competition in the Laser fleet tough, as was to be expected, in a fleet including practically every Olympic and World Championships medallist in the world, as well as Olympic hopefuls from more than 30 countries.

Ben’s fitness training was good preparation for the long days on the water, often with a long, challenging sail back to the shore from out in Weymouth Bay when racing was over.

By the end of racing on the Friday, the 49ers had completed 13 races and Morrison and Rhodes were still sitting in third position overall in the Gold fleet, easily qualifying for Saturday’s ten boat medal race.

Right behind them, on equal points, were their Team GBR training partners and Olympic selection rivals Chris Draper and Peter Greenhalgh.

Morrison described their rivalry as: “the best in sport - we are good friends and I have sailed against them since we were in our teens”.

However, with only one boat per nation in the Olympic regatta, competition is intense!

Saturday’s weather was a return to Tuesday’s cloud and rain and, with only a fitful, shifty breeze from the NW, the medal races were never going to deliver any physically exciting sailing.

But the medal race scores double points, which cannot be discarded, and with only 19 points separating the top 5 boats in the 49er fleet, it was always going to be exciting tactically.

A few more statistics before we cut to the chase; the 10 boats in the medal race came from 7 nations: three British boats, two Danish and one each from Australia, Austria, France, Italy and New Zealand.

Six out of the 10 boats were in the top 10 at the last World Championships, sailed in the Bahamas in January.

The medal race start saw the first upset, when the French team of Manu Dyen and Stephane Christidis, in second place overall, were over the line and had to go back and start again, putting them out of contention for a podium finish. For a time this elevated Morrison and Rhodes into silver medal place, but their final placing of 6th dropped them back into 3rd overall. Rivals Draper and Greenhalgh had a medal race to forget, finishing last and 5th overall. But the surprise winners of the medal race were Dave Evans and Ed Powys, in the third Team GBR boat. This result lifted their overall position to 6th. With two other Team GBR boats in the gold fleet, the competition for that one place in 2012 is fierce indeed.

Former World Champions from Australia, Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen, took the gold medal, with Danes Peter Kruger Andersen and Nicolai Thorsell in silver medal place.

Interviewed afterwards for the event’s online TV service, Stevie said that he and Ben were pleased with the result and relished the challenges that lay ahead in the battle for selection for the coveted 2012 Olympic place.

Eighteen year old Cornish describes how the regatta went for him: “My week began with some fairly poor results, which left me wondering if all my training this year had been worth it. By the halfway stage of the regatta on Wednesday some better results needed to come from somewhere. Race one got off to an average start and ended up with an OK result, but nothing special. Race 2 was my race of the week. At the top mark I was 10th and first GBR boat, ahead of the current Olympic, world, European and under-21 world champion. It was a pretty strange feeling knowing that I had somehow to hold off all these sailing legends for another two laps, which would take about an hour. I told myself if I was good enough to get there I was good enough to stay there. I let a couple slip by, including event winner Australian Tom Slingsby, but I stayed close to them to finish 18th. A good day on Thursday pushed me up the results into the top 10 of under-21 GBR sailors. I ended the regatta 35th in my fleet and 150th overall. This week has been great preparation for my major event of the year, the World Championships, in two week’s time. Many thanks to my sponsors: Cranford sports club, for getting me in the right place physically before all my events, Knobblies bikes for their great help and also ExeWake for their continued support”.

Coming 150th may not sound like a great result, but for an 18 year old in a fleet of that quality, it was good going. We look forward to following Ben’s progress at the Worlds, to be sailed at Hayling Island at the end of the month.

Full results and lots more information about the Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta can be seen on the website at http://www.skandiasailforgoldregatta.co.uk/.

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