Australian Finn sailors line up for European challenge

Australian Oliver Tweddell leads Finn fleet in Miami
The 2014 Finn Senior and Junior European Championship starts on Monday morning local time in La Rochelle, France on the Bay of Biscay. There will be 101 95 entries from 30 countries and with a few exceptions virtually all of the top sailors are entered.

Coming right after the Sailing World Cup in Hyeres, most sailors travelled straight to La Rochelle, so have been training this week in preparation, for what for many will be one of the last big events before the ISAF Worlds in Santander Spain, in September when the first 50 per cent of the nation places for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio will be decided.

The fleet very strong, it includes 21 former Olympians, six former European champions and three former world champions.

Finn / Oliver TWEDDELL (AUS) - 2013 ISAF Sailing World Cup - Melbourne

There are two young Australians in the fleet, 23 year old Oliver Tweddell (AUS) was ranked World number one after an outstanding start to the season but has been dogged by an arm injury and after struggling in Palma and Hyeres has dropped to second in the world.

20 year old Jake Lilley (AUS), now ranked 12th in the world, second at the Junior Finn World Champion titles in 2013 is still a growing boy, he is now 226mm (6 ´7' and 96 kg).

After mixed results in the last two World Cup events, progress for the two Australian Finn class Rio 2016 campaigners will be watched with interest.

In Hyeres Lilley started the regatta by winning the first day, was in medal race contention until near the end but faded to finish 16th, while Tweddell gradually improved to finish with 19th overall.

John Bertrand (USA) coach with the Austalian Sailing Team
The Australian Sailing Team post Olympics 2012 appointed USA's John Bertrand, the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic silver medallist as its Finn class coach and he has been taking two young Australians through the hoops, over the last year.

Sail-World talked to him late in the Hyeres regatta. John Bertrand summed up ‘I am not too worried about the score sheet. As long as they are learning.

‘Oli’s really been handicapped his inability to push as hard and train as hard as he could have. Basically so he has got a deficit that he has got to catch up on and he is aware of that so this regatta is good for it so far. On the lighter days he was spending a lot of time in the gym so that’s the direction of his program leading up to Santander.

‘Oli’s focus is more on a fitness level and his main priority right now is to get into shape. Good hiking conditions, good pumping conditions shows where he needs to get fitness wise.

Day 5, Jake Lilley leads Mark Andrews - 2013 Finn Gold Cup

‘With Jake we are working more on the finer points of racing. We are trying to bridge the experience gap that there is. I am really pleased at how well that he is going.

‘Probably his best race was the one that he was called over early in the Hyeres. He actually didn’t have a very good start. I think he broke the line maybe at 30 seconds to go so he didn’t really get an advantage at the start. In fact he had a really below average start but he was able to sail well through the fleet. The second beat he gained, made some smart decisions so there is a lot of positive stuff that I am seeing. That’s how I am looking at it and I don’t give a rip about the results at this point.

‘I am really pleased with how Jake is sailing. He is not particularly fast and I am not all that concerned about it because we know that he has got some equipment issues not using fresh sails and things like that.

‘That’s just the way his program is right now but to be able to sail well when you are not fast upwind is a bit of an art form and I am extremely pleased with how well he is doing with that and downwind he has picked up quite a bit of speed.

‘Probably in the middle of the regatta he was probably been one of the fastest if not the fastest downwind. Every race he’s rounded the top mark in contact with the top group, within the top 20 and he is able to get into the top 10 by the leeward mark. A little up and down in the middle beats just because of the speed then he gains again on the final run so what’s not to like about that.

‘Yes they are learning. Making some really good progress. Jake was a top ten contender until the end and Oliver knows he needs fitness.

‘The Europeans will be a bigger event, as the British team will be there. The Brits will be very serious about the Europeans. It’s a funding event and a selection trial for Rio, which is a selection trial for their Olympic teams. I think the French will be pretty into it as well.

‘Right now our two Australian Finn squad is still on the path of learning as much as we can and soaking it all in. We are showing here we can be competitive. We just have to be able to pull it altogether. This year is not necessarily about doing that right now. Maybe by the end of the year the expectation is going to be different. Right now I am really, really pleased.’

And the coach must have been beaming this afternoon, when Jake Lilley was first to the top mark in the practice race and then pulled out, as did the balance of the fleet, saving their energy for the Championship races.

Sail-World will follow the Finn Europeans 2014 in detail as the Road to Rio 2016 winds on.

Finn / Jake Lilley (AUS) - 2013 ISAF Sailing World Cup - Melbourne