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YACHTING: Clifton Webb snatches victory in Finns

Finn class youngster Clifton Webb (21) snatched victory in Saturday's deciding final race off Auckland's Eastern Beach on the last day of the Yachting New Zealand Olympic Selection Trials.

The day's cliffhanger race saw three sailors caught up in a tug-o-war for supremacy, with Stuart Bannatyne only just hanging on to a slender one-point lead with 14 points. Webb and top seed Ian Baker were tied for second, both with 15 points.

Sailed in a gentle yet steady seabreeze, Webb made tiny yet steady gains within the reduced fleet. Given the light conditions and three boats determined to beat each other, success depended on making smart sailing decisions.

Webb made tiny yet constant gains through the fleet, rounding the final wing mark and going into the final reach just over four boat lengths ahead of Baker (second), Ian Neely (third) and Stuart Bannatyne (fourth). Baker and Bannatyne ended up with 17 points each, with Baker second and Bannatyne third on countback.

That win was the fourth of the regatta for Webb, who has made steady progress through the Finn fleet this week but clearly saving his run to the very last minute and taking class favourites Baker and Bannatyne somewhat by surprise.

"You have to stay calm and treat it like any other race," says Webb of dealing with the pre-race nerves going into the do-or die contest. "You have to keep talking to yourself and concentrate on getting all the simple things right.

"I had a good speed and some extra speed in the upwind legs which allowed me to make some good gains. Then Stuart (Bannatyne) didn't fully cover me and I managed to slip by." While "a bit shocked," Webb always had the possibility of today's outcome at the back of his mind.

"I always thought I could win. When I first got into the Finn at the beginning of 1997, I thought this result was a possibility. Before the start of this week, I thought there was probably a 50/50 chance of it happening at this regatta, just as long as everything went perfectly."

And today's win is probably as close to a perfect result as anyone could ask for.

Continues Webb: "I knew I'd go all right as long as the weather was reasonably light and under 15 knots, because I'm lighter than the other guys. But then I also got some seconds and thirds on the two windy days as well, so things are obviously coming together."

Webb has been training with Atlanta Olympic silver medallist Sebastian Godefroide (Belgium) in Auckland earlier this year and he points to much of that training time as a factor in his recent success.

"We developed a windy weather sail because that was my weak point and that really helped in the first half of this week. I was also getting lots of weather information during the week and I knew that if I could just hang in during the breezy races, I'd be all right and still be able to come back in the lighter wind forecast for the rest of the regatta."

A graduate of the YNZ High Performance Academy, Webb is a previous winner of the Finn European Youth Championship, and this year was the first Kiwi in the Finn National Champs sailed in Howick in February.

There were plenty of spectators watching what racing there was in the other classes sailing the final day, as many outcomes were decided at the end of play the previous day. In most cases, the final race was a formality, with the winners electing to stay dry today.

In the Tornado catamaran class, Chris Dickson and Glen Sowry (14 points) ended up nine ahead of nearest rivals Simon Manning and Andy Robertson from Wellington and are now one step closer to Dickson's Olympic goal.

Simon Cooke and Peter Nicholas chose not to sail in the last race of the men's 470, having clinched his first Olympic Trial win last night, surviving a last-ditch protest by eventual second place-getter Nicholas Taylor and Reece Brailey.

Cooke has now equalled his brother Rohan in winning an Olympic trial regatta, the two having sailed against each other in the 1996 trial for the Atlanta Olympics. Rohan eventually got the nod for the Atlanta team but was unsuccessful in the medal hunt.

Canterbury's Melinda Henshaw and Jenny Egnot easily won the women's division of the 470 class, finishing third overall in the men's and women's combined fleet. This is Henshaw and Egnot's second Olympic trial together, the pair missing out in 1996 to Jenny's older sister Leslie, sailing with Jan Shearer.

Sarah Macky did not need to sail the last two races of the women's Europe class, winning the series convincingly with a string of first and second placings. Ex-Olympian Sharon Ferris was second overall with 17 points, easily winning the last's race. Abby Mason did not sail today.

Aaron McIntosh was another relieved spectator today, having survived the battle with arch-rival Jon Paul Tobin. Barbara Kendall was an easy victor in the women's division.

The Yachting New Zealand Olympic Selection Panel chaired by Tom Schnackenberg will now make their deliberations, with the team announcement being made by the New Zealand Olympic Selection Panel most likely this week.

FINAL RESULTS (11 races sailed with 2 worst scores discarded)

FINN
1. Clifton WEBB; 6, 3, 2, 3, 2, 3, 1, 1, 2, 1, 1, (16pts)
2. Ian BAKER; 1, 5, 4, 1, 3, 1, 3, 2, 1, 3, 2 (17pts)
3. Stuart BANNATYNE; 3, 1, 1, 2, 1, 2, 2, 4, 3, 2, 4 (17pts)

MISTRAL SAILBOARD (men & women sailed & scored as a single fleet)
1. Aaron McINTOSH: 1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, dns (10pts)
2. Jon-Paul TOBIN: 2, 2, 2, 1, 1, 2, 2, 2, 2, 3, 1 (15pts)
3. Bruce KENDALL: 3, 5, 4, 4, ocs, 4, 3, 3, 3, 1, dns (31pts)

6. Barbara KENDALL; 6, 4, 10, 10, ocs, 10, 6, 9, 4, 4, 2 (55pts)

470 (men & women sailed as a single fleet)
1. Simon COOKE / Peter NICHOLAS: 5, 1, 4, 3, 1, dnf, 1, 1, 1, 2, dns (19pts)
2. Nicholas TAYLOR / Reece BRAILEY: 4, 3, 1, 2, 4, 1, 2, 3, 3, 4, dns (23pts)
3. Melinda HENSHAW / Jenny EGNOT; 1, 4, ocs, 5, 5, dns, 6, 2, 2, 3, 1 (29pts)

EUROPE
1. Sarah MACKY; 2, 2, 1, 1, 2, 1, 1, 2, dns, dns (13pts)
2. Sharon FERRIS; 3, 4, 2, 2, 3, 2, 4, 1, 1, 1 (17pts)
3. Abby MASON; 1, 1, 3, 3, 1, 3, 2, 3, 2, dns (19pts)

TORNADO after 7 of 11 races (1 discard)
1. Chris DICKSON / Glen SOWRY; 1, 3, 2, 1, 3, 1, 1, 1, 4, 2, 2 (14pts)
2. Simon MANNING / Andy ROBERTSON; 3, 2, 1, 3, 5, 2, dsq, 3, 1, 3, dns (23pts)
3. Nigel WILLIAMS / Jeremy STEPHENSON; 2, 4, 4, 4, 1, 4, 4, 5, 2, 1, dns (26pts)

For complete results, see www.yachtingnz.org.nz

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