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11 January 2002, 01:45 pm
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Sail Melbourne

While a number of classes in Australia’s largest dinghy and keelboat regatta, the Sail Melbourne International Regatta 2002, have already been sailed, the main event, the Olympic and Invited Classes Regatta, kicks off on Monday 14 January.
The Olympic classes are: 49er, Tornado, 470 (Men & Women), Star, Yngling, Europe (Women), Finn, Mistral (Men & Women), and Laser. The invited classes are: Laser Radial, 29er and 420 - the junior stepping stones to the Olympic classes. Entries have been received from all over the world and a number of classes will boast former Olympic sailors, including medal winners.

In the 49er class, those to watch will be Sydneysider Michael Blackburn, fresh from his Bronze medal win at the Sydney Olympics in the Laser class. Blackburn is yet to nominate his sailing partner for this event, as his helmsman, 49er Olympian Chris Nicholson, is currently racing in the Volvo Round the World race. Victorian Mark Turnbull, who won Gold in the Mens 470 class at the Sydney Olympics, will also contest this class with former sailing mate Nick Partridge.

On the international front, Euan McNichol will represent Ireland as crew for Tom Fitzpatrick. McNichol has just won the World 29er title as crew for Sydney's John "Herman" Winning. Japan's Olympic reps Kenji Nakamura and Masato Takaki, and the Italian Sibello brothers, ranked 7th in the world, and currently contesting the 18' skiff titles in Sydney will be a threat.

Sydney Olympic Silver medallists, Darren Bundock and John Forbes from NSW will head the new-look Tornado contingent for their National titles. Included in the 16 entries thus far received are Victoria's Robbie Lovig and Josh Fugill, the current Hobie 15 World Youth Champions. This will the pairs maiden voyage in the Tornado, their sights set on an Olympic campaign.

International entries truly outweigh the locals in the Mens Mistral - 19 internationals versus 8 Australians. The latter includes successful Sydney youth sailor Jonathan Bonnitcha and Lake Macquarie's World Youth medal winner, Michael Lancey. It is rumoured that Sydney Olympic 4th placegetter, Lars Kleppich, will come and join the fray. Ranked 10th in the world, Jon Paul Tobin, from New Zealand is expected to dominate; his counterpart, Scott Radley also in contention. Other entries have come from Great Britain, Singapore, Slovakia, Japan, Korea and New Caledonia.

The Mistral Womens is no less daunting, Australia being represented by Sydney Olympic sailor Jessica Crisp and World Youth representative, Allison Shreeve. A seasoned campaigner, New Zealand's Julie Worth will be "worth" watching. Natasha Sturges from Sydney's south coast is likely to represent Great Britain. Sturges represented Australia at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics and is a three-time World Youth champion.

Australia is also well represented in the Europe class with Sarah Blanck and Jo Dikkenberg. Both are former World Youth sailors from the Laser Radial class. Blanck recently finished 3rd Europe at the Sydney International Regatta (SIR) to two international competitors who will be her strongest competition at Sail Melbourne. They are Min Dezille from Denmark, currently ranked 8th in the world and the impressive winner at the SIR. Second place-getter at that event was the currently ranked 7th in the world, Monika Bronicka from Poland.

As the Laser's have just completed their National titles in Perth, entries for Sail Melbourne are still trickling in, but large numbers are not expected. Of those entered, the two "most likely" are Australia's Brendan Casey and Olympian, Kevin Lim, representing Singapore.

Sydney Olympic Gold medal winners, Jenny Armstrong and Belinda Stowell from Australia, head the Womens 470 line-up. Currently ranked 3rd in the world, they recently won at the SIR Their toughest competition will come from Germany's Nicola Birkner and Alexandra Goltz, and the French pair of Ingrid Petitjean/Nadege Douroux, currently world ranked 4th and 10th respectively.

World champions from the 420 class, Australian's Matthew and Daniel Belcher have their sights set on the Olympic Games, signing on in the Mens 470. They will be pushed to the limits by the two Japanese crews of Nobuyuki Kobayashi/Tomoyuki Yamada and Kazuto Seki/Kenjiro Todoroki and the Polish crew of Rafal Sawicki/Pawel Nowakowski.

One of Victoria's many successful sailors will represent in the new Olympic Womens keelboat, the 3 crew Yngling. Melanie Dennison, representative of Australia at the Sydney Games in the Europe class, is currently ranked No.1 in the world in the Yngling. Keeping her honest at Sail Melbourne will be Sydney's Nicky Bethwaite, herself a former Olympic representative in the 470 class, and sister of 49er designer, Julian Bethwaite. Joining them will be twin sisters from Sydney, Pat and Joyce Warn. Now in their seventies, the pair are nevertheless extremely competitive.

Belgium's Olympian, Sebastien Godefroid, is ranked 2nd in the world in the Finn class. He recently won at the SIR in Sydney, and is unlikely to have any trouble in Melbourne. Australian competition will come from Melbournian, Paul McKenzie, who campaigned for the Finn spot at the Sydney Olympics, and newcomer, 21 year old Josh Beaver from Perth, W.A. A former Laser Youth Worlds sailor, he is new to the class, but shows great promise, and is looking forward to racing against Godefroid, .

With his eye to the Athens Olympic Games, Andrew Palfrey has teamed up with old sailing mate Andrew Hunn to contest the Star class, as his usual skipper, Iain Murray, is unavailable for Sail Melbourne. Other entries come from Australian's Ian Walker and Phillip Baker.

A small entry list is expected for the 420 class; their National titles having just been sailed in Perth, Western Australia. The 29er's have a similar problem in that their World Championships finished in Sydney last weekend. However, both are expected to field at least five boats on the start line.

The Laser Radial fleet is a healthy one - already 15 nominations have been received, with 16 year old Krystal Weir from Sandringham Yacht Club expected to perform well. Weir placed 15th at the 2001 Laser Radial World Championships and recently finished first placed female at the SIR. New Zealand's Jake Bartrom heads the male field, having won convincingly at the SIR.

Racing Programme:

The 49er, Finn, Star and Yngling start on Monday 14 at 12.00pm

470, Europe, Tornado, 29er and 420 start on Monday 14 at 3.00pm

Mistral, Laser and Laser Radial start on Tuesday. Monday has been set aside for the latter three for registration and measurement.

All classes will aim to have two races on their first day with the exception of the 49er and Star, which will aim for three races each.

Di Pearson/News Editor
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