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Thu 9 Oct 2008 04:00 AM

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International relations

Following Adel Bastaki's brave fight in the Olympics Laser Class, our intrepid reporter tacks and jibes through international waters.

Following Adel Bastaki's brave fight in the Olympics Laser Class, our intrepid reporter tacks and jibes through international waters.

Nothing beats being part of a national team at the Olympics, if you haven't tried it I highly recommend it. Being part of the U.A.E team was an honour and a thrill I'll never forget. The U.A.E. Laser Sailor Adel Khalid Mohammed Al Bastaki not only met expectations, but exceeded them.

His best result in nine races was 11th in a field of over forty. I don't often cry, but was struggling as at the first downwind turning mark he was third - I couldn't believe my eyes! Only top boys passed him in that race.

I was struggling not to cry as he rounded the mark in third...

The next best result was a 27th. Overall he ended up near the bottom of the table, but it didn't tell the real story.

The real story? Did Qingdao live up to its reputation? In a nutshell - yes.  If Sydney Harbour was the washing machine for the 2000 Olympics, then Qingdao was the tumble dryer. A long slow swell rolled in with a cross chop over a strong tidal current. Add winds that swung wildly over 20 degrees and fluctated from five to seven knots, and you'll understand what I mean.

Gold Medal winner Paul Goodison had spent several months in practice races at the venue, mastering the conditions. World number one, Tom Slingsby, just couldn't hack it. He ended up a sorry sight mid-fleet.

ISAF Race Management struggled to get in nine races to complete the series. The first two days were light and complicated, with long delays before the races could be held. Adel did the right thing and followed Tom Slingsby. Why not - he is the World's Number one? Wrong move. Slingsby went the wrong way, again and again! Fortunately, Adel got the message and started sailing his own race, and he began to move up the rankings.

But what heart the boy had! On race day four Qingdao changed. The wind blew at 25knots, gusting 31 knots! The rain was blinding, the seas were grey and nasty. Spectator boats were cancelled, so they huddled along the breakwater as umbrellas were ripped apart. Out went Adel, undaunted, fighting his way to an admirable 36th.

Having survived everything that Qingdao could throw at him, Adel finished his last race of the series only a handful of boats behind the Silver medal winner, Vasilij Zbogar from Slovenia. It was a fine performance for a 19 year-old who had only learnt that he was going to the Olympics one month before. With his talent and determination to win, Adel Khalid is destined for greater things.

With the fleet series finished, the top ten rankings entered the Medal Race. This is a new innovation by ISAF to ensure that at the end of the race, Gold, Silver and Bronze medal winners would be declared. On-the-water judging left little scope for protests that could mar the event. Hats off to ISAF, it worked like a charm. The races were held close inshore with spectators lining the break water; cheering, whistling and screaming. The atmosphere was electric.

I had breakfast with Paul's mum that day. Although her son was favourite, she was a bundle of nerves. She didn't eat a thing. There was no need to worry; Paul Goodison took Gold with Diego Romero from Italy Bronze. Slingsby, down the fleet in 22nd, missed out on the Medal Race. The weather had it all up in the air!

Qingdao organisation could not be faulted. Chinese hospitality was inscrutable, friendly and truly brilliant. I was met at the airport by one of our teams PRO, complete with uniform and white gloves. We sped down the special lane through the traffic the car resplendent in its Olympic livery, driven by a uniformed driver also wearing white gloves.  Nothing was too much for the Quindao Olympic Sailing Committee. And, as for the Olympic Village? It was five-star plus.

Not surprisingly, ISAF rose to the occasion and did an equally magnificent job along with their Chinese partners. Although I am a strong critic of them, when the politics are removed they know their stuff.

Exciting moments? Well apart from Adel, I guess the 49er Medal race did it for me. Held in the strong gusty wind of nearly 30 knots, it was all crash and boom. Before the race started, the top Danish boat of Jonas Warrer and Martin Kicketerp Ibsen broke its mast on the way out. By sheer luck, the Croatian boat was fully rigged on the hard standing and Warrer and Ibsen jumped on it with glee. This did cause a problem for the race committee but that's another story.

Spectators were on their toes. Every boat in the fleet nosedived at least once. My team, (I'd changed hats by then) the Aussies were in the lead with Gold almost in their grasp, when they jibed for some unknown reason. Straight in they went to the horrified screams from the Aussies including me. They were passed by the whole fleet. How easy to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory!

I spent most of my time on the spectator boat and it was great sport. Is it possible that Americans are such easy bait? A woman called Dorrit from the U.S.A (of course!) couldn't believe that the Chinese ate dogs and the French ate horses. Well you have to do your bit for international relations!

Barrie Harmsworth has been sailing since boyhood. His first voyage was with Captain Cook and together they discovered Australia. Having been involved with all aspects of sailing in the U.A.E for longer than he is prepared to admit, he brings his unique slant to what is happening in the world of Sailing and the activities of the International Sailing Federation.

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Cynthia Goodison 9 years ago

I can assure you that the reporter did not eat breakfast with Paul Goodison's mum, that she was not a bag of nerves and that she did eat a hearty breakfast. i should know, I am his mum!!