Countdown To A Stimulating Ambition!

Saturday, August 13, 2011, 11:07

By Wilfred Sultana

Friday 27th July 2012 is just one of the 365 days which makes up a calendar year. But for many young determined sportspersons and their various technical and admin background collaborators this date stands out exclusively on next year’s almanac.

For this day, just 350 days: 08 hours: 55 minutes: 12 seconds away – at the time when passing this feature to the media – marks the start of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, officially known as the Games of the XXX Olympiad, where London will become the first city to officially host the modern Olympic Games three times; 1908 and 1948 being the other years the UK Capital played host to the Games.

Sebastian and Benji, Malta49er team, are looking at the countdown with optimistic enthusiasm as they travel far and wide sailing in chase of a dream!

Sebastian and Benji, Malta49er team, are looking at the countdown with optimistic enthusiasm as they travel far and wide sailing in chase of a dream!

Countdowns are bound to be demanding and can lead to frustration and anxiety but in today’s competitive world one must be a Scout; “Be Prepared for life” – to live happily and without regret, knowing that one has done one’s best is the best interpretation of the Scout.

Maltese sailing youngsters Sebastian Ripard and Benji Borg, or Malta49er team, are certainly doing their utmost to “Be Prepared”. I’ve been following their ambitious venture for some two years now, although their names and sailing flair have been familiar since their Euromed Malta Championship childhood participation.

In such a scenario what are the main characteristics that distinguish a ‘professional’ athlete?

“Sporting success at a high level basically boils down to practice. So what distinguish a ‘professional’ athlete are on the one hand the facilities and infrastructure which enables him to practice as efficiently as possible, this boils down to funds. On the other hand it is also about the athlete’s dedication and determination, which give him the motivation to keep pushing against all the odds, this boils down to bloody single-minded hard work”, enlighten an outspoken Sebastian.

During this period were there any moments in your build-up that you were disappointed about?

“There are always a few set backs, whether it is losing a sponsorship deal, or a bad regatta where you know you could have performed much better, or a logistical nightmare like crashing your van in the middle of Europe on the way home from an event. But you just got to keep on pushing”, recalls Benji.

The last time we featured was in May when you raced in Medemblik (Netherlands). What were your activities and results since then?

“After Medemblik we went to Weymouth (UK), the venue for the Olympic sailing events for 2012, for a regatta: Skandia Sail for Gold. At this event we had some good races and some bad ones but we finished on quite a high since we managed to place 46th out of 70+ boats finishing 19th country overall. A good enough result to qualify the nation where it a qualifying event!

We then took a couple of weeks off, end of June / beginning of July, before heading to Kiel Germany where we did two weeks of training with our coach Kolja Volkers and then competed in the 49er Youth World Championships. This was another good event giving us a moral boost as we managed to finish 13th overall, out of 40+ boats and even managed to win one of the races”, related Sebastian.

What is your main competitive programme leading to July 2012?

“So leading up to 2012…. Well, the foremost priority is to prepare for the ISAF World Championships in Perth, Australia, which will serve as the 1st qualifier for the Olympics. To prepare for this event we will spend all of September in Germany training with some top German teams. Hopefully we will then invite an international group of top 49er teams to come and do some training in Malta during October, since then we have conditions similar to Perth. Then we will take some time off before we head to Australia for the big event – 3rd to 18th December 2011”, continued Sebastian.

Are you still confident you will make London 2012?

“We are very confident that we will make London 2012 as long as we have the backing to keep up our intense training programme”, reacted together Sebastian and Benji.

Ultimately Sebastian and Benji are hoping to place within the top 21 countries which is what they would need to do at the Australian Olympic Qualifiers in December, in order to be invited to the 2012 London Olympics where the 49er Class presents twenty places. In fact 15 will qualify in Perth this December and 5 will qualify in Croatia May 2012. 1 spot is given complementary to the British.

A final comment from German coach Kolja Volkers: “The boys are on track with their preparations. It is a race against time especially considering that they are fighting against much older and more experienced teams, but they are on track to qualify for the 2012 Games and have a good chance of medaling in 2016 if they keep up the fight!”

Without doubt following such an intensive training and racing programme is an expensive campaign indeed but it is the only approach for a possible successful attempt at qualifying Malta for the Olympics; racing against the most talented sailors in different environment and in major events. Whilst Malta49er team are striving stanchly to “Be Prepared” they are enthusiastically backed by a team of sponsors, namely, EC English Language Centres, CISK Excel Beer, RLR Yachting, Yacht Help Ltd, and Big Exhibits as well as other contributors such as The Creative Partners, Body Works and Kurt Arrigo.

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