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SA duo in Barcelona

By Mark Etheridge

It’s all aboard for our Olympic sailing hopefuls as they busy themselves over the next 10 days in a bid to secure a starting berth at this year’s London Olympics.

Capetonians Roger Hudson and Asenathi Jim are aboard a 470 class boat and this week’s 470 World Championships represent a final chance for the duo to fly the SA flag in London.

Their watery road has been long and hard since starting out on the circuit 12th months ago but they’ve been steadily improving their world ranking.

At the ISAF World Championships in Perth late last year they were inside the 27-country cut-off for Olympic qualification.

An important milestone came two weeks ago in France when the duo qualified for the Gold Fleet (that’s the top 50%) in the finals of the Semaine Olympique Francaise event which was sailed in Hyeres on the French Mediterranean coast.

That regatta is the fourth of seven events that make up the international World Cup circuit that starts in Melbourne each season.

The others are in Miami (US), Mallorca (Spain), Hyeres (France), Medemblik (Netherlands), Weymouth (UK) and then Kiel in Germany. Weymouth will be the sailing venue for the Olympic sailing competitions.

Should Jim and Hudson make the Gold Fleet for a third time they’ll have sailed their way into an Olympic spot.

Says Roger’s father Dave, himself an Olympic sailor with Team South Africa at the 1992 Games in Barcelona: “While the news is positive, the guys are under no illusions about the challenge they face in the qualifiers.┬áThere are plenty of teams with impressive track records and many seasons of experience and success on the World Cup circuit all going for the limited number of slots available. ┬áIf Roger and Asenathi sail at the level they’ve proved they are now capable of, they stand a good chance of making it. Anything less than their best and it will be a struggle.”

The opening ceremony takes place in Barcelona on Friday and racing proper gets underway on Monday.

Meanwhile in the Laser class, young Rudi McNeill is also attempting to get to the Games and is taking part in the Audi Laser Standard Men’s World Champs in Boltenhagn, Germany.

That event ends on Friday.

It’s not for the faint-hearted with air temperatures averaging five degrees Celcius and even colder water temperatures and sailors look a lot more like Arctic explorers.

McNeil, who was part of Team South Africa at the All Africa Games in Maputo, Mozambique last year, has been sailing in a wetsuit, rash vests, hiking pants, booties and a beanie to keep his nose and cheeks from freezing.

Sailors compete in a total of 14 races, two races a day with the 170 line-up divided into two fleets.

Rudy’s first day started well with a 27 and 23. Day two was an 18 and 4, day three 17 and 45 and day four he got 51 and 45.

On day five five winds picked up a bit to between seven and 12 knots and the Durban youngster was pleased to net a fifth and eighth spot to be second overall in the bronze fleet.