Richard Clarke and Tyler Bjorn have qualified Canada and themselves in sailing’s Star class for the 2012 Olympic Games next summer.
The Canadians finished 10th in the fleet racing after 10 races at the world sailing championships off Fremantle, Australia. They actually tied in overall finishes with the ninth-place German team of Johannes Polgar and Markus Koy, both crews accumulating 99 points. Ties are broken based on who finished ahead in the last race, and the Germans were fifth while the Canadians were 11th over the finish line in the last race of the series.
“Finishing 10th in the fleet racing was just a little too close for comfort,” said Clarke, once the world’s top-rated Laser sailor. He will be going to his fifth Olympics in London, while Bjorn is an Olympic rookie. “We had to finish in the top 10 here under the Canadian trials system to automatically qualify and we just got in under the wire.”
Clarke said that the Canadians felt a little slow at times Friday but was not certain that he could draw any specific conclusions about the performance. Any questions about the boat are moot. The pair will soon have a new keelboat, which is on its way to Europe for spring events and some training at the Olympic regatta site.
The result put the Canadians ninth as a country in the Star fleet. Spots at the Olympic start line for the top 11 countries – excluding Olympic host Britain – were available at the worlds.
Clarke and Bjorn, who have been together for two years, will be on the water once more, in Saturday’s medal race with a mathematical chance to move as high as seventh in the final standings if they place first or second.
“We will have to reassess after the regatta to see where we can improve but our focus is still on improving our position in tomorrow's medal race,” Tyler said:
Clarke and Bjorn's primary training partners will be the Brazilian team of Robert Scheidt and Bruno Prada – who look poised to defend their world championship in Saturday’s medal run. The Brazilian pair, silver medalists in Beijing, dominated the fleet racing and sits in first place with an 18-point lead over Americans Mark Mendelblatt and Brian Faith. Scheidt and Prada won six international Star events this year.
While the London Olympics will be Bjorn’s first, he has an Olympic pedigree to go with Clarke’s veteran credentials. Bjorn’s brother Kai sailed on Bruce MacDonald’s fifth-place Star boat in 2000 in Sydney and father Peter sailed a Star with Ian Bruce in the Munich Games in 1972. Clarke’s father also was a sailing Olympian in the Finn Class in 1972.
The Canadian 49ers had a much better day than on Wednesday when they couldn’t get into rhythm. Gordon Cook and Hunter Lowden sailed consistently and finally put their speed to work with finishes of 14, 1 and 4. Jonathan Ladha and Daniel Inkpen’s race finishes were 13, 18 and 3.
Based on what he saw as the 49ers drew to a close, coach Jason Rhodes feels that the team of Cook and Lowden “have an excellent chance at qualifying for the medal race at the Olympics - they just need to put together a solid series. They have the speed and boat handling to be in there.
“Obviously they need to do some work on their sailing in the highly variable conditions we saw here (patchy and shifty) but they are smart guys and I believe that they will take away lots of learning from this event and pull it all together for London next summer. There is lots of time to adjust their strategic models. The speed and boat handling is already in place.”