Giles Scott (GBR) trod in the footsteps of Paul Elvstrom today at the Finn European Championship at the Open Europeans Helsinki 2011. In winning his first major Finn championship he climbed onto the same podium as the greatest of all Finn heros did 59 years ago at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. Defending Champion Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic (CRO) stood where Charles Currey stood 59 years ago and bronze medalist Andrew Mills (GBR) stood to Scott's left, where the Finn's designer Rickard Sarby stood all those years ago.
In many ways it was an historic end to an historic championships as the Finn was the only dinghy class at the Open Europeans Helsinki 2011 that was used in the 1952 Olympics – in fact 1952 was the Finn's first appearance on the Olympic stage. A lot has changed in 59 years, but the class remains proud of its history.
The championship ended as it began, with the sailors held on ashore in high temperatures and little wind, as postponement followed postponement. Eventually the final fleet race was called off, but the medal race got underway about an hour later. Giles Scott (GBR) put regatta leader Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic (CRO) under pressure from the start, and the Croatian couldn't do enough to recover. Marin Misura (CRO) was the early leader but was over the line at the start and didn't return, so scored OCS. Scott overtook him on the second upwind and extended on the run to the finish as the wind topped 10 knots and Oscar flag was raised for free pumping. Kljakovic Gaspic was too far back and crossed in fourth, to equal points with Scott. Scott won the title on the medal race result.
The second battle going on was between third placed Andrew Mills (GBR) and fourth placed Thomas Le Breton (FRA) for the bronze medal. Mills took the challenge to Le Breton in the pre-start and having got ahead, covered him throughout the race, both finishing at the back. Daniel Birgmark (SWE) sailed his normal consistent medal race form to cross in second with Rafa Trujillo in third.
Scott was ecstatic in his victory, his first major championship win and coming weeks after his disappointment at losing the British trials for the Olympic test event. His first reaction, "Total relief!"
"It was always going to be tricky in that wind, especially with an individual recall. I saw Ivan go round in fourth or fifth, and I know he is quick downwind but fortunately, I did enough to stay ahead of him and did enough to finish on equal points to win."
"I am over the moon, absolutely over the moon. I needed to beat him and get boats between us so I could only do so much in the pre-start, I just wanted to ruffle his feathers and I thought it was going to go right on the beat so if I could force him to start on the left I would be happy and I managed to do that. I got a reasonably cautious start and headed out to the right and managed to find the lead, but on that second beat we had a lot on with the 470s sailing through our course, and there was a lot of screaming going on. Oscar going up on the last downwind made it easier to stay in front but I know that Ivan was very fast as well."
What's next? "A bit of time off now. Sail for Gold was for us the biggest event of the year, being our trials and I came off second best to Ben there, so to come here and be crowned European Champion just makes the whole situation a bit better, so I am going to take some time off and hopefully get a good run in to the worlds in Perth."
He concluded, "A big thanks to Peter Reggio for doing a great job. I think everyone would agree we had some great racing and he had some tricky decisions to make and I for one think he made the correct decision every time."
A clearly disappointed Kljakovic Gaspic said, "Giles had a really good week, congratulations to him because he was the perfect sailor, sailing hard and today, I was a just little below his level, but overall it was really good sailing from both of us this week. But on the race management level, I thought the course was too close in, we were not much more than 50 metres from the slipway, you had to make three or four tacks to lay the top mark, and then they let the 470s go, straight through our course."
Mills said, on winning his first major championship medal, "It feels really good. I was just really happy that the race went well and the plan worked. I was on Thomas in the pre-start and then got a penalty, but luckily with the position he was in he couldn't really chase me down and we were even off the line, but I managed to get the better of him and sat on him all the way round. It was pretty close all the way round, so I stayed with him as there were a lot of shifts so there was still a risk he could get a shift and come back into it. I've no idea what the wind was doing, the plan was just to get ahead and slow him down as much as possible."
"After Sail for Gold, this regatta was a bit less pressure and more of a holiday, but maybe it sends a message that the British trials are not over yet."
Matt Howard, the Skandia Team GBR coach had this to say, "It'd been a really good week from the perspective of the wind because we've had quite a mixed bag and it's always good to come out as champion or being on the podium when it's been such a mixed week. We've had light and strong winds, it was a very competitive medal race and we got the full series in and it's not that often you get championships when you can say that."
On the British success, "There are lots of reason, but one of the big things for us is that we have people who go sailing together. So many other countries only have one sailor and they have to train with people from other countries. We have a good group and we train pretty hard together and that seems to work, but having said that the other guys are really on top of their game at the moment, so it is going to be a interesting year next year. I have also been surprised and pleased how strong this championship has been."
The Junior title goes to Josip Olujic (CRO). Going into the regatta as one of the favourites for the Junior title, he trailed Egor Terpigorev (RUS) from the opening day and only passed him on the tricky races on Wednesday. In third place is the fast improving Julian Massler (GER).
Olujic said, "I am very happy with this, as after four years of sailing the Finn I finally won it. I was always close but now I have it. This is my last year as a junior so this was very important for me. Long term it means that it's a big step to working a lot and more training and trying to do better in the seniors. I was sixth in last year's Silver Cup, and fourth in the Junior Europeans. So this is my first medal and the last time I can do it. I had a good week, it was nice sailing, good conditions, and I remained calm all the time."
At the prize giving the Vice President of the International Finn Association Tapio Nirkko (FIN), who also finished 18th in the championship, thanked the host cub Brando Seglare and presented the club's President, Christian Borenius, with a beautiful half model of a Finn. Then the prizes were presented by Esko Rechardt, the 1980 Olympic Finn Gold Medalist and currently Chief of Training and Coaching at the Finnish Sailing and Boating Association.
For most of the sailors, this event marks the end of the European season, with most now setting their sights on Perth 2011 and the first qualification regatta for the London 2012 Olympic Games. For a select few, there is the test event to get past first and we'll have daily coverage of that from from Weymouth in a couple of weeks.
See the daily blog of the event with the @Finn_Class Twitter feed from on the water, photos, blog entries and video links on each day's action. at: http://www.openeuropeans2011.com/eventsites/classpage_microsite.asp?eventid=65354&cid=78
There are also some extensive photo galleries at: http://picasaweb.google.com/FinnClass
Final results (medal race position in brackets)
2 CRO524 Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic 34 (4)
3 GBR85 Andrew Mills 67 (8)
4 FRA29 Thomas Le Breton 80 (9)
5 NED842 Pieter Jan Postma 87 (7)
6 SLO573 Vasilij Zbogar 95 (6)
7 SWE11 Daniel Birgmark 97 (2)
8 ESP100 Rafael Trujillo 97 (3)
9 GBR11 Ed Wright 97 (5)
10 CRO25 Marin Misura 133 (OCS)
Junior European Championship
2 RUS 57 Egor Terpigorev 297 (35th)
3 GER 127 Julian Massler 327 (40th)