Last Summer Before The Big Do!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011, 22:39

By Wilfred Sultana

Summer is normally identified as the time for holiday, relaxation and festivity. This could be relevant for most in general but not for all in actual fact.

Malta’s young sailing ‘crusaders’ Sebastian Ripard and Benji Borg, or Malta49er team, are definitely in the latter category; for summer for them has been a strenuous instant where the demanding training programme is obviously a prerequisite in their endeavour to attain their ambition – to qualify to the 2012 London Olympics where the 49er Class will be contested by 21 countries.

Sebastian and Benji or Malta49er team, at Kiel Germany, one of the many training and competitive locations which made up their eventful summer sailing calendar.

In July Malta49er were in Kiel Germany where they did two weeks of training with their coach Kolja Volkers before moving to Germany’s largest ferry port on the Baltic Sea, Travemünde, to compete in the 49er Youth World Championships. This was another good event which gave them a moral boost as they managed to finish 13th overall, out of 40+ boats and even managed to win one of the races.

September presented the locals with another chockablock agenda where after Travemünde they moved back to Kiel, to experience two more weeks of intense training in grey and rainy typical German weather. The timetable on this visit was of a habitual style – just sailing, eating and sleeping. “We were simply exhausted by the end. However the positive aspect of this visit was that we had the opportunity to experience the guidance of German coach Max Groy, a former 49er Olympic sailor”, remarked Sebastian Ripard.

From Kiel Sebastian and Benji flew down to the Sicilian city of Trapani, known as the main gateway to the nearby Egadi Islands, to compete in the 2nd Act of their Extreme Sailing Series. Here Malta49er went through match racing with the no.2 Italian team. The racing was great, in front of lots of spectators, but also really intense as the programme was made up of about 8 races or so a day. “It was fun to go head to head with the Italians and we both really pushed each other, but unfortunately they got the upper hand and beat us on the last day”, related Benji Borg.

With the Extreme Sailing Series raced from Sicily Sebastian and Benji travelled north again this time right up to the Benaco, as it is also known in Italian, commonly identified as Lake Garda, where the Italian National Championships were to be held. Over 30 boats had entered and a couple of good foreign teams were participating such as the Austrian team, one of the likely candidates for a medal at the 2012 Games. This turned out to be an event of mixed emotions for the Maltese sailors. 8 races into the event and they were coming 3rd overall, with the Austrians first and the top Italians 2nd.

“We were right on their heels. Unfortunately Benji injured himself in the 8th race and we had to pull out of the regatta on the last day. An injured knee was an unfortunate end to the event, especially when we were all set up for a podium finish; however it was a great moral boost to be up there fighting with the top guys. We were going fast, very fast, and some good team work meant that we were finally getting some really good results in the races, like a bunch of seconds and thirds, which at this level is something to be proud of – A bit like having Valletta football team finishing 3rd in the Italian ‘Serie A’ championship”, explained Sebastian.

In the first weekend of October Sebastian headed to Nice for the final act of the Extreme Sailing Series. Unfortunately Benji could not sail in France because of his injury, so instead a friend of the local lads, Simon Hiscocks – who was a silver medal in the UK team on the 49er in Athens 2004 – was meant to race with Sebastian instead of Benji. However to Sebastian’s disappointment on reaching Nice he was informed that the 49ers’ event was cancelled possibly due to some political problems within the French team and organisers. A real annoying situation for Sebastian as following his unnecessary trip to Nice he had to rush back to Milan to organise team Malta49er equipment shipment to Perth, to await their arrival for the ISAF World Championships this December. “The boat and a whole load of equipment shipped off to Australia are all new. This we could do thanks to our sponsors and some generous individuals”, recalled Sebastian. Malta49er pool of sponsors is made up of EC Language Centres, CISK Excel, The Creative Partners and The Malta Sailing Federation.

One interesting detail in this Malta49er intense training programme is that all summer 2010 regattas have been raced on their own dinghy and equipment. Here one recalls that Sebastian and Benji travel from event to event in their 2005 IVECO ‘Daily’ van with the 49er dinghy in tow. Besides on most occasions while on this European campaign their means of transport also serve as their living quarters – the youngsters converted the van into a camper and are living out of the van which they equipped with the basic needs; fridge, two hobs, beds… well, comfortable enough.

With regards Benji, he damaged the cartilage and a ligament in his knee, so for the next few weeks he will just be solely focusing on physiotherapy and he should be ready to continue with his training come 24th October.

For Malta49er pre-Perth training camp in Malta will be from the 24th October to the 15th November. There will be two noteworthy occurrences during this exercise. Firstly both Malta49er coaches, Kolja Volkers and Max Groy, will be coming down for 10 days each respectively. Secondly, the Italian 49er team, who just won the Italian National Championships’ last month in Garda, will be joining the local lads as a sparring partner. The skipper of the Italian team, Ruggero Tita, a talented and respected sailor will be the team.

Well, definitely leaving no ‘wave’ unturned in the preparations to attain the goal. The ISAF World Championships and Olympic Qualifiers in Perth Australia being staged between December 3rd and 18th will determine 15 of the 21 places to make the 49er Class at the London Olympics 2012 – following Perth the remaining 5 candidates will qualify in Croatia May 2012 while 1 spot will be given complementary to the British. Certainly Sebastian and Benji face a tough difficult challenge but whatever the outcome the Maltese youngster should have no regrets for they are surely doing their utmost!

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