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1 August 2008, 10:00 am
Nathan Wilmot and Malcolm Page: "We Have Unfinished Business..."
Nathan Wilmot and Malcolm Page
Nathan Wilmot and Malcolm Page say they have unfinished business after finishing 12th at the Athens Olympic Games

2008 Beijing Olympic Games

Nathan Wilmot and Malcolm Page are one of the leading lights of the rejuvenated Australian Sailing Team heading for Qingdao and have 'unfinished business' in the Two Person Dinghy event.
At the 2007 ISAF Sailing World Championships in Cascais, Australia's Nathan WILMOT and Malcolm PAGE won the World Championship title in the 470 class for the third time. After winning the title in 2004 and 2005, they narrowly missed out on gold in 2006 to Great Britain's Elliot Willis and Nic Asher in a controversial Medal Race, finally taking home the silver medal. At the 2008 Worlds on their home waters in Melbourne, Australia they finished a disappointing eighth overall, but since then the Aussie duo have hit a great run of form. Consecutive victories at the ISAF Grade 1 Delta Lloyd Regatta in Medemblik and then the 470 Europeans on Lake Garda mean they go start the 2008 Olympic Sailing Competition as the #1 crew in the ISAF Sailing World Rankings and one of the firm favourites for medals.

In January of this year, Wilmot and Page announced that they would be retiring from the 470 class following the 2008 Olympic Games. This made their victory in Medemblik even more significant, as it gave them the full set of gold medals from the major European multi-class regattas. Along with their three World Championship titles, all the ingredients appear to be there to write the Australians into the history of the 470 class. However there is just one, "minor" thing they have to accomplish: to win Olympic gold.

Back in 2004, Wilmot and Page went to the Athens Olympic Games amongst the favourites for medals as the reigning World Champions and the #1 crew in the Rankings. However their series got off to a disastrous start with a disqualification in race 2 from which they never fully recovered. An OCS (early start) in the final race eventually saw them finish well down the fleet in 12th place overall.

A Dream One Cannot Describe

An Olympic campaign means four years (or more but no less) of travelling around the world, training, developing and racing regattas. Not even to mention the intensive sailing programme that started at a very young age.

Then in the end, if one makes it and qualifies for the Olympic Games, the culmination of those four years takes place in the Olympic arena in a battle over the course of approximately two weeks. Some sailors say it's a dream already just to be there, but of course, in the heart and the mind of any athlete, there is this dream one cannot describe: Olympic medals!

There is no doubt that at the Olympic Sailing Competition, one must be ready and able to apply all information, knowledge and experience gained in the past years at one single event. With four years behind you racing international championships, often attended by mostly local media only, all the Olympic sports and their athletes gather at one event with the world's media on top of it, putting more pressure on the athlete's efforts as the event develops.

Minds Set To The Next Milestone

After the 470 class Medal Race of the ISAF Sailing World Championships in Cascais, Nathan, Malcolm and their coach, the so-called 'Medal Maker' Victor Kovalenko embraced each other, the Australian Flag was hoisted to the mast and the course set to the harbour to climb the podium.

Of course there is happiness, but there were no tears of joy, and the focus on the next milestone was the subject of the conversation just a few moments after the prizegiving ceremony. It gave one the feeling that obviously there are other things on their minds. By winning the Worlds again, they just reached another goal on their campaign.

A question might raise: how is the feeling within the Australian camp, led by Victor Kovalenko? How do they work towards the next Olympic Games? What are the plans and strategy? It is the only issue that is not spoken about openly.

Is The Medal Maker Going Do It Again?

Shortly after the 2007 ISAF Sailing World Championships in Cascais, the 470 athletes moved to China, for the Olympic Test Event in Qingdao. Wilmot and Page won in the 470 Men, and their Australian female team mates Elise RECHICHI and Tessa PARKINSON in the 470 Women.

Are Victor Kovalenko and his teams on their way to do it again? Gold for Australia at the Olympic Games for both the 470 Men and Women, just like Sydney 2000? In less than a month the answer will be known.

It does make the developments in the 470 class interesting. Maybe you cannot always get a view on the race course during one event, but the overview of results is like a checkerboard for a game of chess during four years on the way to the Olympic Games. If you find the backgrounds and get track of the trends, it makes it more interesting.

The Australian 470 Women are moving up fast. Just four years ago, they won gold together in the 420s at the 2004 Volvo Youth Sailing ISAF World Championship in Poland (Rechichi also won one gold and one silver in 2003 and 2002 respectively). They have rapidly turned success on the youth circuit onto the world stage, winning the ISAF Grade 1 Kieler Woche twice and finishing third at this year's Worlds in Melbourne.

Learning more about Rechichi and Parkinson, we find interesting names who have been coaching them: Eric Stibbe, a Dutch coach who has settled in Australia. Stibbe sailed 470s with John Stavenuiter, who designed and developed the KD 470, one of the most popular 470s in those days. Than there is Belinda STOWELL, gold medallist in the 470 class of Sydney 2000 with Jenny ARMSTRONG. And last but not least, Victor Kovalenko, "maker" of two Olympic medals (gold and bronze) for the Ukraine in Savannah 1996 and two gold medals in Sydney 2000.

Looking Back On The Athens Games

Reflecting on their experience in Athens, Wilmot and Page point to their lack of experience as an important factor.

"We had the ability and the opportunities, we only didn't know how to use them under the pressure of the Olympic Games," Page says.

"It is a matter of experience, we were not consistent enough, sometimes going up and down like a yoyo. Sometimes pushing it too hard and not pushing it enough at other times," Wilmot adds.

Wilmot and Page have a good sense of humour and although Wilmot is not as much of a speaker as Page, it is obvious that they speak as a team and never for themselves as a separate crew member.

Wilmot has a background in the 420 class. As a youth sailor, he and his coach did not know at that time how the future would bring them further together: Page, sailing 505s, 18ft skiffs and 470s starting in 1997.

Both Wilmot and Page campaigned in separate teams for the Olympic Games in Sydney 2000, which they both missed. In 2001, they teamed up and so began their booming Olympic Men's Two Person Dinghy career.

Just to expose themselves to the high expectations of the public in preparation for the Olympic Sailing Competition in Athens 2004, they decide to participate in the 420 Worlds of 2004. Page, who has never sailed in 420 in his life, trusted in Wilmot's experience and they finally won the event.

Also times are changing. Being an athlete and having a business career is out of the question. At least that is what sailors in the 470 two person dinghy experience.

So what is the difference between following the Olympic dream and making a business career or to become an entrepreneur?

"It is the passion that is driven differently," Page said, "We're doing what we love, and dream about winning. I guess in many cases, winning for an entrepreneur is building a business, make money and establishing a personal life. What we do have in common with an entrepreneur is that you need to get good results to get investors believing in you and invest in your campaign. The sport of sailing is getting more and more professional and finding funds and resources is essential to even get started. Our team is much bigger than the both of us. We are, and have been supported by parents, family and friends to whom we owe so much".

Beijing Awaits

"The Olympic Games is the pinnacle of the sport," Page says. "It is not only the Olympic Sailing Regatta which is your goal during four years, but you also meet athletes from all other sports. Of course our dream is about winning a medal at the Olympic Games. You work hard for fours years to get there with in mind that it is possible that it will not happen. The only thing you have in your own hands is to make that if you do not win a medal, you have to be convinced by yourself that you have done everything in your power to maximize the chances for a medal.

"In the current situation, and besides dreams, we have unfinished business".

Looking at the 29 crews who will competing for medals in the Men's Two Person Dinghy event at Qingdao, the Aussie pair are taking nothing for granted.

"We sail a 470 because it is an amazing technical boat with a lot of controls that makes it go or not. It's also a well established class around the world with a high calibre of sailors in most nations. Competition is phenomenal," says Page.

The Australians are known as best performers in strong winds, an image they built within the previous Olympiad. Whilst wind conditions in Qingdao are expected to be predominantly light, during both the Test Events days of extreme weather conditions with 20 knot winds and large swells made big impacts on the overall leaderboard.

During the ISAF Sailing World Championships in Cascais, conditions got pretty rough sometimes by wind gusts reaching far over 35 knots and waves rolling in from the Atlantic. It demanded the utmost from the sailors to keep control over their boats.

On day three of racing, conditions got so rough that the boats were kept ashore. "We are used to such conditions where we come from. Going out now would be terrifying, however it would be entertaining," Wilmot said at the time with a smile, "Sailing with these conditions can be freaky now and then, gripping the tiller with white knuckles sometimes. But it adds some excitement".

"When it gets this rough I guess there is some kind of silence in our boat, maybe that's out the scariness of the moment," Page added.

Unfortunately, the spectators do not always see what is happening on the water. On a Formula 1 race course cameras are positioned at the dangerous spots around the course, for the pleasure and excitement of the spectators.

Page recalls, "I remember this regatta a long time ago in very rough conditions. We approached the mark full planning on a reach and crashed into a coach boat. It was a miracle that no one got injured. Maybe it was not with the same speed of a Formula 1 racing car, but the power of the wind and waves has a lot of impact and the fact that you are much less protected as in a F1 racing car, sailing can be more dangerous as one might think."

Wilmot and Page have shown they can rule the waves in both heavy winds and light air. With Athens behind them, they now have the Olympic experience they lacked four years ago. Can the Medal Maker do it again?

Rick van Wijngaarden (adapted from an article originally published in 470 eTimes November 2007)
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