Hans Wallén is looking to uphold the honour of the Swedes in Marstrand, venue for the climax of the World Match Racing Tour. The 55-year-old is the last of five Swedish skippers standing as the World Championship Finals enter the Quarter Final stage on Friday.
Wallén, an Olympic silver medallist from Atlanta 1996, put in a superhuman effort to overcome Sam Gilmour’s early advantage in their Super 16 battle. Gilmour has been one of a number of young Australians that have really surprised some of the more experienced teams with their mastery of the M32 in the high-wind short-course racing on the Marstrand fjord this week. But the veteran Swede kept faith in his own abilities, and the commitment of his crew.
With Gilmour sailing fast and sitting on match point, Wallén would have to summon the energy, nerve and skill to win four straight matches, virtually unheard of at this level. “I was quite confident we could do it,” he said. “We had solid speed, solid manoeuvres, the spirit in the boat was really high.”
IT’S THE CAPSIZE THAT TURNED IT
The Swede was in little doubt about when the turning point in his fortunes occurred. “I think the race yesterday when they [Gilmour’s crew] flipped at the top mark. They were ahead, made a tack, we got around between them and the mark, they flipped and capsized. That was the moment where we turned the match around.”
Where one young Australian failed to advance, another lit up the race track to secure an unexpected place in the last eight. Matt Jerwood beat the Danish skipper Nicolai Sehested convincingly. “I don’t know if Nicolai was slightly off his game, because he’s a great match racer,” said Jerwood. “We stuck to our guns, worked to our plan and the starts just worked out for us. And with the 49er racing we’ve done in Fremantle out in the big waves, the M32 really isn’t that much of a handful, even in today’s strong breeze.”
While the first half of the Super 16 draw was full of surprises, the higher-seeded skippers in the second half of the draw progressed with little trouble. Johnie Berntsson ended up on the rocks after fluffing a tack in the prestart of match 2 and was pulled off by a safety boat. This mishap made Ian Williams’ job easier than expected, the reigning World Champion from Great Britain beating the Swede 3-0.
Young Sydney sailor Murray Jones pushed Taylor Canfield all the way round the track, showing a similar knack of taming the beast as his compatriot Jerwood. The difference came in the start, however, with Canfield always in control and managing to keep Jones at bay for a 3-0 victory. Yann Guichard dominated Switzerland’s Eric Monnin in their contest, the fast Frenchman also going through on 3-0.
SPANISH IN THE GROOVE
It was a tighter battle between Iker Martinez and Mattias Rahm, the Spanish Olympic Champion against the Swede with long experience of the M32. A few days of practice in Marstrand have worked wonders for the fast learning Martinez, however, and he beat Rahm 3-1. It was a brutal day’s sailing, and Rahm took a blow to the face during a gybe when he was hit by the taut mainsheet as the traveller car rocketed across the back of the boat. “It was a nasty smack in the face,” said Rahm. “We had almost 25 knots of wind at times, it was survival conditions, and you have to do everything you can to stay on board the boat. We won one race, but we didn’t have a chance in the other ones. Iker sailed better.”
With Wallén the only Swede still in the competition, the thousands of spectators who crowd the rocks and cliff-tops of Marstrand will be cheering him on tomorrow against Taylor Canfield, who is many people’s pick for taking the winner’s bonus cheque of $1 million two days from now. For all of US One’s reputation, Wallén was sounding bullish in front of the crowd at the evening press conference. “Taylor has a big advantage with his tactics, and in lighter winds. But we hope to bring a few tricks of our own. I think we’re going to win quite comfortably, 3-0.”
Canfield escalated the good-natured trash talking with his own comeback to his Quarter Final opponent. “The limping old man over there? I don’t think it’s going to happen. Definitely, the old boys are going to struggle. It’s day five in the event, they’re getting tired and the young guys on US One are just getting started.”
Live coverage will be shown here at www.wmrt.com from 1400 local Swedish time.
Tomorrow’s Quarter Finallists are paired off against each other as follows:
Super 16 Knockout