Sailing: Duo close in on London

By Grant Chapman


Hamish Pepper and Jim Turner have every reason to celebrate their seventh placing at the Star world sailing championships at Hyeres, France, yesterday.

The performance was enough to earn New Zealand, and presumably Pepper and Turner, a last-chance spot in that class at the London Olympics.

There were other reasons - Turner didn't properly toast the birth of daughter Sophia five days before the start of the regatta and Pepper turns 41 today. But, while quietly satisfied with their achievements, the pair aren't popping champagne corks just yet.

"We've done part of what we had to do, but it's not worth celebrating yet," says Pepper.

The "Kiwis" - British-born Turner (36) only received his NZ passport in March - had the Olympic spot wrapped up after winning the penultimate race. With one day remaining, they sat sixth and still within shot of a medal finish, but the last race was sailed in changeable conditions and turned into something of a lottery.

Eventual champions Robert Scheidt and Bruno Prada of Brazil managed only 39th, runners-up Lain Percy and Andrew Simpson of Britain were just ahead of them, while Pepper and Turner lurched home in 19th.

"It was just one of those tricky days when there was a lot on the line for placings and everyone was keeping an eye on each other," says Pepper. "It's pretty hard to cover everyone and a few people got away.

"The biggest job for us at this regatta was to be pretty conservative, don't make any big mistakes and just qualify the class.Weput in a reasonable performance and qualified the nation."

Other top yachtsmen weren't so fortunate. Spaniard Fernando Echavarri, a Tornado gold medalist at Beijing four years ago, was out of the hunt in 14th, while former Finn world champion Hans Spitzauer was a place back.

"It was a tight regatta in terms of countries to qualify, sowe're pleased, but we realise we've got a big job cominup."

The New Zealand crew didn't have the best preparation for this event.

Turner barely had time to welcome his newborn into the world before boarding a plane for Europe and they had only four days on the water to acclimatise-not to mention the fact the pair haven't sailed together all that much.

"It was a magic moment for him and something he could never miss, but it means we're only just getting over the jet lag in time to fly home again," says Pepper. "The preparation wasn't perfect.

But we were very unlucky not to win a [World Cup] regatta a month ago, when we'd done all the training, got there early and prepared properly. We're improving as a team, which is important, but we've got two months of hard work ahead of us and we're not underestimating that.

We're only 80 per cent there and the Olympics is a high-pressure regatta. We have to sail our best, but if we do all the little things right, we can definitely win a medal."

Pepper has contested three previous Olympics, finishing seventh in the Laser at Athens 2004. He also won the 2006 Star world title with Carl Williams but only hooked up with Turner six months ago. They missed their first chance to qualify-the world championships in December-while awaiting Turner's passport.

One more obstacle still remains to their participation in London - endorsement by the New Zealand Olympic Committee.

"We'd be a bit upset if they selected someone else, since we're the only team to make the guidelines," says Pepper.

"Still, it's one of those things-the selectors have got to believe in us, and that we're capable of performing well and winning a medal. It's not like we're a couple of young up-and-comers. They won't want to pour a lot of money into some old hacks like us unless they think we can do well."

- Hamilton News

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