Thursday, 9 July 2009

Finn Gold Cup: The Young Blades

Close finishing at the Finn Gold Cup 2009. Image copyright Vallensbæk Sailing Club.

by Sailing Intelligence

One of the surprise results from day one of the Finn Gold Cup, here at Vallensbæk Sailing Club on the outskirts of Copenhagen, was the 13th place in the 89 boat fleet of the event’s youngest competitor, 16-year-old Brazilian Jorge Zarif.

One of 13 ‘Junior’ Finn sailors here in Vallensbæk (they must have been born after 1 January 1988), young Zarif holds the advantage of having Finn sailing in his blood. His father Jorge Zarif Neto represented Brazil in the Finn at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 1984 and again in Seoul in 1988, finishing eighth and 13th respectively. He was Finn sailing all the way through until March last year when sadly he died from a heart attack, aged 50.

From Sao Paolo, Zarif junior says he came to his first Finn Gold Cup in 2002, but it was only when he saw his father win a race at the Finn Gold Cup in Rio in 2004 that he decided the Olympic men’s heavyweight singlehander was the boat for him.

“This is my third year sailing a Finn, but before that I was a Laser sailor,” he says. This is not his first time to Denmark. Zarif was here last year in Århus for the ISAF Volvo Youth Sailing World Championships in the Laser, where he admits he did well because it was a very strong wind regatta and even though he was only in his mid-teens even then he was still large for the boat. The Youth Worlds are in his native Brazil this year, but he isn’t taking part because he is definitely too big for the Laser Radial.

Unfortunately he is at present still not quite big enough for the Finn, even though he is a burly 16-year-old. “I am getting big, but I need to be a little bigger, because in big winds, I don’t have good speed. Today with strong winds I was a little worse than yesterday when it was light.”

Before his father died he got to compete against him and last year both Zarifs took part in the Brazilian Finn trials to go to the Beijing Olympics. He came second, just a point behind Eduardo Couto who ended up going, while his father was fourth.

Certainly Olympic prospects are on the cards and Zarif says he would love to go to Weymouth in 2012, although he suspects Couto will be hard to beat. “He will probably go. It will be difficult, but I will do it if it is possible. Ben Ainslie got his first medal when he was 19. So I would like to do that too.”

In Brazil funding from the national authority is hard to come by, although it paid for him to go to the Youth Worlds last year and he won the trials to compete at the Finn Gold Cup this year. But there is no shortage of top role models within Brazilian Olympic sailing and two of the greats have already helped him. “This year and last year at the Delta Lloyd Regatta I was in the same bungalow as Robert [Scheidt] and with Torben [Grael], my father was friends with him. So I talk a lot with him and I have got some things about racing and about the life from him.”

Racing at the Finn Gold Cup 2009. Image copyright Vallensbæk Sailing Club.

The path to this year’s Finn Gold Cup for 18-year-old American Caleb Paine also came from the Lasers, but the significant difference was that he was ‘the chosen one’. Recently the US arm of the Finn class has bought a Finn to try and get a youth development program off the ground. Paine is the first recipient of this leg up.

“It was just my size and sailing Lasers had really helped me a lot - I’d showed I was a decent Laser sailor,” says Paine of how he got the opportunity. “The [US] Finn class then approached me and asked me if I would sail a Finn. So that was pretty cool.”

Paine admits that he hasn’t won anything of great significance in the Laser but has frequently come second at major events such as the North American Youth Championship. “There was another guy, Luke Lawrence, who has been my competition the whole time in the Laser, but he decided to stay in the Laser. He is a little smaller than I am and he is doing really really well at that. So I decided to do this!”

The deal includes a heavily discounted charter of the US class’ Finn to use as and when he wants. “And it is really cool, because all the guys [the US Finn sailors] have been really really supportive, they have given me sails and things like that.”

The logistics of Finn sailing at Olympic level within a country as large as the US also has its own problems. Paine heralds from San Diego in southern California, while most west coast Finn sailing takes place up in Long Beach, Newport. However the most serious Olympic Finn contenders, such as Zach Railey and Brian Boyd, sail out of Florida. “Hopefully this next year I am going to go to Florida a lot where I will train with them. My whole philosophy is that if you hang around the best in the world, then hopefully some of it will wear off, even if you aren’t trying for it to.”

Like Zarif, Paine has Olympic aspirations, most probably for 2016 rather than 2012, and the Finn is better suited to his size than the Laser. Meanwhile he too is working on getting his weight up to the ideal Finn fighting weight of around 95kg and so at present he prefers it when conditions are light.

“This is like my fourth month in the boat, so I can’t really handle it in the breeze, I am not really fit enough, but it is good to experience it and learn what every one else is doing and it all goes to a better cause.”

Young Finn sailors are currently gearing up for their Junior Finn World Championship, know as the Finn Silver Cup, to be held on Lake Balaton, Hungary in early August. At present 45 are registered to take part.

Meanwhile here in Denmark consistent American Zach Railey leads at the end of day two, eight points ahead of the UK's Giles Scott. However tomorrow when the discard kicks in after race five, New Zealand's currently fourth placed Dan Slater could well take over the top spot.

Finn Gold Cup 2009

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