Iain Percy and Steve Mitchell (GBR), mere rookies among many of the world's best sailors, won the final race of the 2002 Star Class World Championship to give Britain its first title in the venerable class.
"That's the way to take the pressure off, isn't it?"
Mitchell said as they sailed into the California Yacht Club dock with the Union Jack flying from their mast. "He put that in the cool box this morning and didn't tell me,"
Percy said. "I would have thought it was bad luck."
The way they sailed, luck didn't matter. Neither Percy, 26, the 2000 Olympic Finn class gold medallist from Winchester, Great Britain, nor Mitchell, 32, of London, Great Britain, had sailed a Star until 10 months ago, although they had already worked their way up to the rank at 17 in the ISAF World Rankings.
With finishes of 4-1-3-2 in the 103-boat fleet in the previous four races, they entered the sixth and final race with a four-point lead over 1990 champions Torben Grael and Marcelo Ferreira of Brazil and nine points over France's Xavier Rohart and Yannick Adde. Although Grael finished fourth and Rohart tenth, neither ever threatened seriously Percy and Mitchell, who led at every mark.
Boosted by breezes as strong as 14 knots, which they prefer, they finished 41 seconds ahead of 1998 winner Colin Beashel of Australia, who had David Giles as crew. Three-time winner Bill Buchan, 67, of Seattle, with Mark Brink, was third---by far the best performance of the week by one of the class's enduring icons.
Counting Grael, Beashel and Buchan, Percy/Mitchell put away 11 former champions. Paul Cayard, the '88 champion sailing with Hal Haenel---also a world and Olympic champion as crew---placed fifth Friday to score fourth overall.
Percy and Mitchell tried to hide near the left end of the 1,000-meter starting line to avoid being drawn into a confrontation with their nearest rivals---Grael and Ferreira---that could suck them out of contention.
"They never really got to us,"
Percy said. "We were keeping our heads down before the start, so we couldn't set up early because he'd come at us. But we had really good speed on the first beat---really good speed."
Both boats went left while most of the fleet went right. The Brits broke back toward the middle first as the Brazilians stayed on starboard tack for the first 15 minutes.
Rohart/Adde fared better on the 2.1-mile upwind leg to round the first mark a few lengths behind Percy/Mitchell, with Grael/Ferreira eighth. The French dropped away downwind as the Brazilians climbed to fifth, then third, but that's as close as they got.
Percy said, "Steve was giving me a running commentary on where Xavier and Torben were. We stayed on top of it. He's one of the best crews around. We complement each other's strengths."
Percy had always been a solo sailor until joining up with Mitchell last autumn. They came to California knowing little of the class history, let alone the UK's lack of a champion in it.
"We didn't know that until this week,"
Mitchell said. "It certainly adds something to it,"
They will continue to campaign with a goal of representing Britain in the 2004 Olympics at Athens. Their chief competition could be Ian Walker, the head of the UK's GBR Challenge for the America's Cup and a silver medallist in the Star Class at the 2000 Olympics, when San Diego's Mark Reynolds, sailing with Magnus Liljedahl, won the second of his two Olympic golds.
Reynolds, also a double Star class champion, finished 22nd Friday to wind up ninth overall.
It was a tough second place for Grael and Ferreira, the only entry with all single-digit finishes (3-1-5-9-5-4). Percy and Mitchell, the only team to win two races, were able to discard their opening 19th place.
The top 5 finishing nations qualify for the 2004 Olympic Regatta, which therefore secures the following nations' places - Great Britain, Brazil, France, USA and Bermuda. For full details on the Olympic Qualification System, go to http://www.sailing.org/olympics2004/ISAF%20OQ%20system.pdf
Final Top 10 Results Overall - worst score discarded
1. Iain Percy/Steven Mitchell (GBR) - (19), 4, 1, 3, 2, 1 - 11 points
2. Torben Grael/Marcelo Ferreira (BRA) - 3, 1, 5, (9), 5, 4 - 18
3. Xavier Rohart/Yannick Adde (FRA) - 6, 8, 2, (33), 3, 10 - 29
4. Paul Cayard/Hal Haenel (USA) - 7, 9, 4, 8, (40), 5 - 33
5. Rick Merriman/Bill Bennett (USA) - (53), 7, 8, 4, 15, 12 - 46
6. Peter Bromby/Martin Siese (BER) - (33), 2, 32, 5, 1, 9 - 49
7. Colin Beashel/David Giles (AUS) - (41), 19, 11, 2, 18, 2 - 52
8. Mark Mansfield/Killean Collins (IRL) - 2, 13, 17, 25, 7, (104) - 65
9. Mark Reynolds/Magnus Liljedahl (USA) - (78), 5, 29, 1, 10, 22 - 67
10. Howie Shiebler/Rick Peters (USA) - (70), 21, 30, 6, 4, 6 - 67