Miami nice for Team Asher

Mark BoggisAFTER finishing 2009 in style, Carlton Colville's sailing sensation Nic Asher and crew Elliot Willis have started 2010 with a bang.The pair have just returned from a training camp and competition at Miami in the United States - and next month they are off to training camps in Palma, Spain.Mark Boggis

AFTER finishing 2009 in style, Carlton Colville's sailing sensation Nic Asher and crew Elliot Willis have started 2010 with a bang.

The pair have just returned from a training camp and competition at Miami in the United States - and next month they are off to training camps in Palma, Spain.

Team Asher and Willis joined the rest of the Great Britain 470 class sailing squad, along with the top teams from France, USA and Holland for a 'fantastic two weeks' training in America in December.

'There was speed testing and drills completed within the GBR 470 squad in the mornings, then three races every afternoon with the others - and we finished off the two week camp with a three day regatta, which we finished third in,' 25-year-old Asher told The Journal.

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And such was the good feeling that the pair returned home for Christmas, before returning to Miami last month to prepare for the Miami OCR (2nd round ISAF Sailing World Cup 2010).

Team Asher and Willis used a warm up regatta - the 470 North American Championships - to test a new mainsail, and the pair also had five days of training to get some fast settings with the new mainsail.

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'We felt confident going into our first big regatta of 2010, with plenty of good training and hopefully better speed with the slightly deeper mainsail,' Asher said. 'With only 34 470s entered we sailed the regatta in one fleet. Most of the top 20 in the world were there. So it was very much like gold fleet racing at the World Championships every race.

'This made for incredibly close racing, making consistency the key to winning,' he admitted.

On the first day of the regatta the pair sailed 'very conservatively,' not taking too many risks on the start to make sure they secured 'three solid results to build a series upon' as they finished 8th ,9th and 14th to be placed 8th overall.

'On day two, we decided to attack the starts and take a few more risks,' Asher said. 'We had excellent speed and scored 1, 4, 1, which put us in first place overall, and seven points ahead of second.

The third days racing dawned with 8-12 knots and 20 degrees shifts. In the first race the pair had a good start and were a couple of boat lengths behind the Australian crew - but they missed the last shift into the first mark and finished 16th. With a fifth in the next race Team Asher and Willis finished the day in second overall, two points off first.

'Our silly error on the last shift cost us first overall and a nice 10 point lead going into the penultimate day,' Asher admitted.

The last two fleet races were 'very tight' as they took 13th and seventh, which was good enough to keep the pair in contention for gold. 'Going into the 10 boat, double point, no discard medal race we were two points off first, one point off second and third, and fifth were six points behind us,' Asher told The Journal.

'In the past we have been too conservative and hesitant in the medal race and one of our goals for this year is to eradicate this. We want to be decisive and not be afraid to perform in the medal race - so with the points so close, the only way to guarantee Gold was to go and win the race,' he admitted.

But despite a great start in the final race, it was still 'extremely close' at the top mark. 'We rounded in second position, ahead of the boats that made up the top three overall in the competition and held this round the bottom mark,' Asher said.

'Up the second beat we didn't control the boats in medal positions overall and allowed them to get right of us. The wind shifted right on the beat and all three of them overtook us as we went from gold medal to fourth overall in one leg and we stayed like this to the finish.

'We were extremely annoyed with ourselves as we had done the hard work to get into gold medal position, and then threw it away with such a silly error,' he admitted.

'However we are happy with how the event went as a whole. We made some big mistakes during the regatta, but were still in contention throughout. Hopefully we can iron out these errors and make our lives a little easier!

'We feel we can achieve more speed by further developing the mainsail, so we will be doing plenty of speed testing at our training camps in Palma over March,' Asher added.

This most recent result came after success in the last round of the ISAF Sailing World Cup Series, which was held at Weymouth and Portland Sailing Academy - the venue for the 2012 Olympic Games - at the end of last year.

'All of the top teams were competing so we had a chance to stamp our authority at the Games venue,' Asher admitted. After posting two second places on the first day, there was no stopping us. We put a string of top three finishes together to go into the top 10, double points, no discard Medal Race tied in first with the Australian crew. We had a 14 point gap back to third, so the scene was set for a full on battle for gold.

In the Medal Race, the light winds and flat water led to very tight racing. And with each boat pushing the line to get the best start, the Australian's were disqualified for being over the line.

'This was a huge relief, but it still wasn't over,' Asher admitted. We had to finish no more than six places behind the boat in third place overall to guarantee gold - and we managed to do this to finish the year off on a high by winning the Gold!

'Although we didn't manage to achieve our major goal of winning the World Championships in 2009, we are very pleased with what we have achieved having completely changed the design of sails we use, finishing third in the ISAF Sailing World Cup Series having missed three rounds, winning all the racing and regattas we did at Weymouth and now we're working with a different coach, and are very happy with how it is going.'

With the pair's sights still firmly set on the London Olympics at 2012, they are also looking forward to a golden year ahead with the aim of 'regaining our world title' key to their hopes.

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