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7 January 2008, 09:00 am
Big Shifts Shake Up Fleet At 49er Worlds
Iker MARTINEZ and Xabi FERNANDEZ
Iker MARTINEZ and Xabi FERNANDEZ sailed to the top of the leaderboard today

49er World Championship 2008
Melbourne, Australia

Big shifts and fluky winds in Sorrento at the 49er World Championship shook the gold fleet up on the first day of the final series at Sail Melbourne.
In the difficult conditions at the Sorrento Couta Sailing Club, Athens gold medallists Iker MARTINEZ and Xavi FERNANDEZ from Spain took the lead of the series.

The Spanish sailed superbly in some of the trickiest conditions any have ever seen, scoring a ninth, win and a second place in the first three races of gold fleet final. Silver medallists from Athens, Rodion LUKA and George LEONCHUK are second placed after a similar day, whilst Australia's Nathan OUTTERIDGE and Ben AUSTIN, the overnight leaders, are third; winning the first race, but dropping down to 13th and 16th in the latter two races.

As OUTTERIDGE said: "I guess we did OK. Conditions were so shifty and tricky, but at the end of the day, the best results went to the pros. The best guys can sail in anything. We still have a way to go."

Starting this morning, the 81-boat fleet was split into gold, silver and bronze groups, the top 25 competitors racing in the nine-race final series for the championship title, so all were on their toes. While some are purely concentrating on winning the world title, for others it's the important job of qualifying their nation or themselves for the 2008 Beijing Games.

It was a frustrating day for all, as the land breeze fought the sea breeze, the competitors fought both, and few won.

"Every race we had there were major wind shifts. We would have been better off waiting for the sea breeze to fill in this afternoon," said OUTTERIDGE who was at the top of the leaderboard last night.

"It was all happening out there today. Normally you would get an oscillating breeze, but today the wind did things I've never seen before," he said.

"The Brits [World Champs Stevie MORRISON and Ben RHODES] were leading the first race and we passed them up the second beat. We had a major lead, but the breeze died out and the rest of the fleet caught us up, but we still won, which was great."

He and AUSTIN were not so fortunate in the proceeding two races. OUTTERIDGE: "We got off the start well in the second race and lifted up the left corner, but then the breeze went right and kept going. We nearly set a spinnaker going up the work! The breeze was anywhere between 3-13 knots and shifty. We finished 13th."

"In the third race, we had an OK start, went well up the first beat, then missed a massive shift. We kept trying to fight our way back to the top, but copped a big 30 degree shift, and back we went. We worked our way up a bit, but finished 16th.

"We could have finished in the top ten in the last two races, but the shifts made it impossible. Having said that, we're doing much better at this regatta than we've done at any other major event, so you can't knock that,"
OUTTERIDGE said.

"It was a hard day today. We've gone well up until now. It was tricky and fluky wind. It's not the end of the world though, it's a long regatta. It seemed impossible to predict the wind today, but it's the same for everyone here," said reigning World Champion skipper MORRISON, adding: "But the event and the sailing have been great."

Athens silver medallist LUKA told: "It was probably the most difficult day in terms of weather conditions. The other three days were much more stable. Today there were big lulls and gusts, so you really had to plan in advance.

"Some people risked a lot and gained heaps out of it; we were probably too conservative. It's really important to look around and see what's happening outside the boat,"
LUKA said.

Athens Olympian Pietro SIBELLO (ITA) agreed: "The wind was very shifty and it was hard to pick the shift and stay in front. We had a medium day. We were second at one top mark, but finished 14th."

However, Andre FONSECA and Rodrigo DUARTE (BRA), Frode BOVIM and Christopher GUNDERSEN (NOR) and Kalle TORLAN and Jonas LINDBERG (FIN) are just happy to be in the gold fleet. Making the top 25 cut, they qualify their countries for the Beijing Games. Two others will qualify from the silver fleet.

Results are provisional pending protests. The Sail Melbourne ISAF Grade W event continues tomorrow.

Sail Melbourne - www.sailmelbourne.com.au
Results - www.yachting.org.au/site/yachting/event/14245/

Di Pearson (As Amended By ISAF)
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