Photo: Thom Touw

470 victory for Australia and Spain

As Open Europeans conclude in Helsinki

Friday July 15th 2011, Author: James Boyd, Location: Finland

The Open Europeans in Helsinki 2011 concluded today with the last titles awarded in the 470 class.

Overall Spain has claimed three European titles in the Women Match racing, Star and Women 470. Team Echegoyen was the first to step on the 1952 Olympic Games podium after defeating defending champion Ekaterina Skudina and team from Russia. In the Star class, Fernando Echevarri and Fernando Rodriguez Rivero added a second win for Spain after gradually gaining ground on their closest rivals from Greece, Emilios Papathanasiou and Alexandros Dragoutsis.Finally the third European title for Spain was taken by young Spanish duo of Tara Pacheco/Berta Betanzos (ESP) who have sailed to a very high level this year concluding with a 470 European title in the women 470 fleet.

In the strong Laser fleets, the European title went to Evi van Acker from Belgium with Olympic medallist China's Lijia Xu winning the event. In the Men, Croatia was present with a strong team as this regatta was their first Olympic qualifier. Tonci Stipanovic took an early lead over his team mates.

Britain's Giles Scott stole the European Finn title from defending champion Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic (CRO) in the medal race while Josip Olujic (CRO) took the Junior title.

The Australians will not add their names on the 49er and 470 trophees despite winning both events. Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen won the 49ers, but the title went to Britain's Dylan Fletcher and Alain Sign. Mat Belcher and Malcolm Page controlled the fleet from the start of the 470 Men's event but Croatia climbed on the podium for the fourth time in Helsinki, this time with the title going to Sime Fantela and Igor Marenic who were crowned 2011 European champions.

A good breeze greeted sailors as they arrived at the venue on the final day of the 2011 470 European Championships, which increased to about 14-15 knots for the start of the 470 Medal Races. The addition of rain did nothing to dampen the killer instincts and desire to win.

470 Men

Australia had sealed victory at the Open 470 European Championships after Thursday's race 12, so their result in the Medal Race was immaterial. For the other teams in the Medal Race it was all about securing the remaining podium places.

With medals already secured in the Laser Radial, Laser and Finn, the Croatian focus was today turned on the 470 medal contenders Sime Fantela/Igor Marenic to continue their sailing fortunes. Fantela/Marenic did what they needed to do, covered their opponents and crossed the finish line in sixth place to win the Gold – and a resounding cheer from their supporters. Marenic commented: “This is one of the best results we have. It was a really hard regatta a hard event, but we sailed very constant and that was the key. Today was really, really hard a very shifty medal race and we had to pay attention to the British and Israelis and luckily in the end it all worked well for us.” Fantela continued that being being awarded their medals and listening to the Croatian national anthem was “a perfect feeling.”

For the Aussies, the European Championship is another addition to their already impressive sailing CV, which includes winning the 470 Worlds in 2009 and 2010 and taking gold at the 2009 European Championships.

The Silver Medal went to Luke Patience/Stuart Bithell (GBR) who crossed the line just behind Nic Asher/Elliott Willis, but just ahead of Spain's Onan Barreiros Rodriguez/Aaron Sarmiento Padilla.

“We’ve had a very good week,” said Bithell. “After the disappointment of Sail for Gold, we came here to try and win the event so it feels really good to have come so close. We got caught out a couple of times, but we’ve had some good results across the series and saw the Europeans as another chance to put our case forwards, and I think we’ve done that well.”

“We missed out on the title by just one point, one place over the week,” added Patience. “You can always look back at the event and think of where you might have just picked up that one extra place, but that’s what it’s like at the top of sport. The margins are so small.”

An eighth place for Gideon Kliger/Eran Sela (ISR) was all they needed to claim the Bronze Medal.

470 Women

An eighth place finish in today's Medal Race was more than enough for Tara Pacheco/Berta Betanzos (ESP) to become the 2011 470 Women's European Champions. Responding to how she was feeling after the race, Pacheco said: “My heart is pumping more slowly now. The wind was too shifty and I was a bit afraid in middle of first upwind, so I preferred to stay with the Brazilian and if we were the last two boats, I didn't care.”

On their plans for celebration, Betanzos said she would be “enjoying a chocolate muffin!” According to Pacheco this has been Betanzos' planned reward if they won Gold. Betanzos continued: “We are really happy. We are doing a good job, so we have to continue like this so we can continue in the best for our objectives and the Olympics.”

The 2011 470 Women European Championships title follows on from some stunning results the Spanish secured at junior level, including the 2009 470 Junior World Championships.

Denmark's Henriette Koch/Lene Sommer won the Silver Medal, which marks a career best performance and provides a superb platform as they move forwards on their Olympic campaign.

Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark came back from a difficult start to their regatta series to claim bronze and their third medal from the four major events they’ve contested since teaming up in February. The duo finished in style, winning the medal race to seal bronze  Brazil’s Fernanda Oliviera-Ana Luisa Barbachan were overall third ahead of Mills and Clark, but ineligible in the European standings.

Mills described the first two days of her and Clark’s regatta as “horrendous – couldn’t really have gone any worse!” with two black flag penalties and a 37th due to a capsize marring their scoresheet after four races. The pair managed to get the first of the black flags overturned and came out fighting on the third day of their regatta where they posted a 1,3 and started to turn their fortunes around.

“It was a pretty shocking start to the event, but it’s really great that in spite of that, we picked ourselves up, kept fighting and kept ourselves in with a shout of the medals going into today,” Mills explained. “We’re chuffed with how we’re progressing – we’ve won three medals now, and two out of three of those – our Hyeres silver and now this one – have come about through awful lot of hard work and having to fight back. That’s really important for us as a team, and we’re continuing to learn lessons every event we do which is great.”

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