Friese turns up the heat

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The Independent Online
For Germany's Tomas Friese it was a second consecutive triumph at the very highest level, but for Britain's John Merricks and Ian Walker the Mumm 36 World Championships here was a disappointment.

Friese is nothing if not determined, and to his campaigns he brings organisation, budget and top-level players. In an 18-boat fleet oozing Olympic medallists and America's Cup talent his I Punkt was still a league apart. With the New Zealander Gavin Brady on the helm and the American John Kostecki calling tactics they finished nearly 20 points clear of their nearest rivals.

Strangely, Friese did not win a single race in a series of 10 short inshore sprints and one 94-mile overnight race, but his consistency of performance and results reflects nearly three years of racing all round the world and has made him a certainty for confirmation today as the 36-footer in Germany's Admiral's Cup team.

Behind Friese was the American team's Jameson, with Chris Larson and Dee Smith winning three races, while in third was the Italian team member Breeze, steered by Tommaso Chieffi. A few other famous names were out of the silverware, with New Zealand's Georgia Express fourth overall with David Barnes steering.

Seventh place overall for Merricks and Walker was outside their goal of a top-five finish. Earlier in the week, they had been pleased at the way things were going, including a win in the second race and a second place in the fourth. All the time they were learning, though they had an unhappy introduction to overnight racing, ending 15th. By contrast, apart from one 11th place, Friese never finished below fifth.

By the end of the week Merricks and Walker were reassessing the work to be done in terms of boat-handling and new sails. After a dauntingly concentrated fortnight in Italy they turned round at the end of the regatta to sail the boat the 250 miles to Cogolin in southern France, from where it will be shipped back to England. That provides some more offshore work, and they will also compete in one or two of the Royal Ocean Racing Club's Channel races at the end of this month.

Mumm 36 silver medallists last year, Merricks and Walker set themselves and others high standards, but are having to do a lot in a short time as they make the switch from Olympic dinghy sailing to an eight-man keelboat. Kostecki, one of the world's best, paid the British pair a big compliment when he said he respected them. But he added that they were still prone to making the small mistakes which, in such a tight fleet, would quickly be exploited by merciless rivals.

Russell Coutts, the world's No 1 match racer and winner of the America's Cup for New Zealand, who was helping one of the German entries, described the regatta as one of the best one-design competitions, and Friese's victory as "one of the most impressive performances I have ever seen."

Coutts', and many people's, worry is whether the Mumm 36 will be given an early nod to continue as an Admiral's Cup boat beyond this year. Some would even like to see it fill two or three of the slots in the three- boat Admiral's Cup teams.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 23