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10 August 2009, 10:39 am
HAHLBROCK And BERNTSSON Jellyfish-Dodge Their Way To European Match Racing Titles
Silke HALBROCK to leeward of Renee GROENEVELD
Silke HALBROCK to leeward of Renee GROENEVELD in the women's final

EUROSAF European Match Racing Championships 2009
Middelfart, Denmark

Silke HAHLBROCK of Germany and Sweden's Johnie BERNTSSON are the new EUROSAF European Match Racing Champions, after drifting their way to victory in an almost windless Middelfart on Sunday.
The German women's team and the Swedish men's team described their championship wins as the pinnacle of their match racing careers.

With high pressure sitting over the middle of Denmark, the final day of the EUROSAF European Match Racing Championship 2009 was always going to be difficult, and it was impossible to fit in the full schedule of races. With the quarter-final round robin unable to be completed, the organisers scrapped the semi-finals and put the top two teams straight into finals and the third and fourth-ranked teams into a petit final.

The lighter, more nimble Match 28 keelboats enabled the women to compete in a best-of-three final, while the heavier DS-37 keelboats were much slower to accelerate in the faint breeze, forcing the men to do battle in a winner-takes-all final race. Despite the slow-motion action it was a humdinger of a fight for the Open title between Denmark's Lars NORDBJERG and Sweden's Johnie BERNTSSON.

In the early stages NORDBJAERG held the upper hand, leading by two or three boatlengths at the first windward mark. BERNTSSON said afterwards: "We misjudged the start line so were behind in the beginning, but felt we had some advantage with the boatspeed. In these light conditions it's all about millimetres, getting the speed up. The water was full of jellyfish, so our strategy was to go for speed through the jellyfish, and sail higher in the clear water."

Down the run BERNTSSON got back on level terms with the Dane and managed to roll over the top. He then luffed NORDBJAERG three times, on each occasion appealing for a penalty but the umpires green-flagged it each time. Denmark regained the lead as both boats rounded the leeward mark overlapped. Sweden was forced to tack away for clear air to the right and now it was a split to see who picked up a crucial zephyr of wind. The wind blew to BERNTSSON first and he led at the next cross, defending his lead to the finish. Having come from behind to win, he was elated. "Winning a championship is wonderful. Being the best match racer in Europe is a great honour."

In the open petit final, it was a surprisingly undramatic pre-start with Philippe PRESTI (FRA) happy to go for the left and Mads EBLER (DEN) for the right. At the first cross the Dane was ahead of the Frenchman and EBLER made no errors, sailing home for the bronze a good distance ahead of the America's Cup skipper, the top-ranked sailor in the Open event.

The top-ranked skipper in the women's division, world #3 Lucy MACGREGOR from Great Britain, was not so fortunate. In the one and only heat of the quarter-final round robin to be held this morning, MCGREGOR was leading Camilla ULRIKKEHOLM (DEN) quite comfortably all the way round the course but a little puff of breeze carried the Danish spinnaker down to the British boat and they were neck and neck across the finish line. ULRIKKEHOLM won by a nose, and it was enough to put her into the petit final.

ULRIKKEHOLM was less lucky against her compatriot Lotte MELDGAARD PEDERSEN (DEN) in the battle for bronze. The World No.5 won both the first two matches and wrapped up the bronze, a good recovery from a poor start to the regatta, as even MELDGAARD admitted. "We were getting better every day, and we're still sad we didn't complete the quarter-final round to have a chance of competing in the final, but we're very happy with our performance today."

In the women's final, Silke HAHLBROCK (GER) won the first race from Renee GROENEVELD (NED) fairly comfortably. When you consider their respective ISAF World Rankings #5 for the German skipper compared with #64 for the Dutch newcomer to match racing, it doesn't seem like a fair fight. But raw statistics disguise the talent and determination GROENEVELD and her team, which includes 2008 Olympic silver medallist Annemieke BES. The second match was a duel to the death, with the Dutch luffing the Germans all the way to the finish. The umpires judged the Dutch luff to be too fast and gave GROENEVELD a penalty. As it turned out, HAHLBROCK scraped across the line just ahead, so the Dutch penalty was irrelevant. The German team had won the European Championship, 2-0 in the final.

"This is definitely the top of our match racing career," said a bedraggled HAHLBROCK after hauling herself out of the water, following the traditional post-prizegiving custom of dunking the winning skipper. "We've been at many prizegivings before and we've said, 'we want to be up there on the top of the podium,' and today we are. This is just amazing and we're so happy. Our boatspeed in the lightweight Match 28s was amazing, and team spirit was our main advantage. Now we're aiming for the Olympics in 2012."

Even though she'd just lost a Championship final, GROENEVELD had plenty to be pleased about. "We learn fast, and we're getting better and better every day. That was a very exciting finish."

At the prizegiving the men's and women's teams hugged each other and hoped to see more of each other at future mixed championships. The climax of this championship was also the culmination of more than a year's preparation and hard work for Soren LAUGESEN, the head of the event organization. "This has been more than 12 months work, it has involved more than 120 people, and now I feel happy, tired and excited that it went really well. We've had a lot of good feedback from sailors as to how we handled the difficult conditions. I'm so pleased for everyone who's been a part of this, and to thank them for making this championship a success."

The EUROSAF European Match Racing Championship 2009 is one of a number of high profile sailing regattas taking place in Denmark this summer as part of wider festival of different sports, called Denmark's Year of Sport. To do their utmost to ensure that their events are held to the highest possible standards the Danish Sailing Association is working with the support of the insurance company CODAN (part of Sun Alliance Group), to provide TracTrac tracking during the Laser Radial Europeans, Finn Gold Cup, EUROSAF Match Racing Europeans and 470 World Championship. The Danish Sailing Association has purchased 150 state-of-the-art GPS tracking devices, allowing races to be followed in real time over the internet.

Last year the TracTrac tracking of the Volvo Youth Sailing ISAF World Championship in Aarhus, Denmark was followed by nearly 30,000 viewers from 69 countries all over the world.

Results

Open Division

Final

Johnie BERNTSSON (SWE) d Lars NORDBJERG (DEN) ,1-0

Petit-Final

Mads EBLER (DEN) d Philippe PRESTI (FRA), 1-0

Women's Division

Final

Silke HAHLBROCK (GER) d Renee GROENEVELD (NED), 2-0

Petit-Final

Lotte MELDGAARD PEDERSEN (DEN) d Camilla ULRIKKEHOLM (DEN), 2-0

Entry List

Women
(Skipper's Name, Nation, ISAF Match Race World Ranking as at 8 July)

Lucy MACGREGOR, Great Britain, 3
Lotte MELDGAARD PEDERSEN, Denmark, 5
Silke HAHLBROCK, Germany, 6
Julie BOSSARD, France, 9
Camilla ULRIKKEHOLM, Denmark, 13
Anne-claire LE BERRE, 14
Karin HAGSTROM, Sweden, 17
Rita GONCALVES, Portugal, 18
Giulia CONTI, Italy, 22
Charlotte LAWRENCE, Great Britain, 35
Susanne WARD, Denmark, 41
Anne LE HELLEY, France, 42
Mary ROOK, Great Britain, 50
Renee GROENEVELD, Netherlands, 64
Ekaterina SKUDINA, Russia, 118
Katie ARCHER, Great Britain, 257

Open
(Skipper's Name, Nation, ISAF Match Race World Ranking as at 8 July)

Philippe PRESTI, France, 8
Paolo CIAN, Italy, 9
Johnie BERNTSSON, Sweden, 10
Mads EBLER, Denmark, 12
Jure OREL, Slovenia, 15
Álvaro MARINHO, Portugal, 18
Pierre-Antoine MORVAN, 20
Staffan LINDBERG, Finland, 23
Eric MONNIN, Switzerland, 27
Gian Luca PERRIS, Monaco, 29
Lars NORDBJERG, Denmark, 31
Marek STANCZYK, Poland, 32
Jan- Eike ANDRESEN, Germany, 38
Ali HALL, Great Britain, 53
Jurjen FEITSMA, Netherlands, 70
Maxim TARANOV, Russia, unranked
Danish Sailing Association
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