SSL Finals 2014: Mendelblatt and Fatih rules the waves in Nassau

The last day of the second Star Sailors League Finals in the tropical waters of the Bahamas held plenty of surprises. The direct elimination rule and shifty winds made the course extremely tactical. The defending champion, Brazilian supremo Robert Scheidt and SSL ranking list number 1, Italian Diego Negri, both paid the price. Neither made it to the final which featured the four top qualifiers: Mendelblatt, Loof, Kusznierewicz and Zarif who finished in that order.

10 teams raced for the Quarter Finals with the top six yachts joining Freddy Loof and Anders Ekstrom in the semi. After two general recalls, the fleet finally got away. In the first few metres of this unforgettable day, the right-hand side seemed the place to be. But Negri/Lambertenghi and Gaspic/Sitic didn’t get off to a great start. The Croats then chose to go to the far right of the course, while a good part of the fleet went left. In the second leg, Kusznierewicz, Scheidt, Mendelblatt and a rejuvenated Negri had the look of being in charge of the race but on the third leg, the Italian lost ground to Scott and Rohart. However, coming up to the second mark, the Poles took control of the fleet, ahead of Mendelblatt, Scheidt, Rohart and Scott. The last leg was incredibly exciting, the main aim was not to win outright but to stay in the top six to go forward to the semi-final. Negri/Lambertenghi spent most of the time in the middle in sixth position. The first of the challenger to the Italians were Polgar/Koy who tried to make up ground on the left. Zarif, Polgar and Negri made all the armchair sailors grip the edge of their seats. For the last 10 minutes, they were clustered together just two boat lengths apart. This group were continually swapping the important sixth position so often, it was hard to keep up with them even on Virtual Eye. Zarif, The young Brazilian Finn sailor racing with Boening held sway in the end, sending Polgar, Negri, Stanjek and Gaspic back to the Nassau Yacht Club. The finish was incredible including a broken pole on the Italian’s boat just metres from the line.

Semi-Final: Rohart and Ponsot seemed to come out worst at the start while Mendelblatt, Scheidt and Zarif fared best in the beat all the way to the first mark. In the last few metres, Mendelblatt taking a middle, as he has done all week, while Zarif was on the far-left and Scheidt and Scott were on the other side. The Americans were first to the top mark and behind them, a compact group formed with Loof, Scott, Zarif and Kusznierewicz all taking turns to chase the leaders. In Leg 3, Zarif flirted with leading, playing the slight shifts well. However one of the toughest and most experienced sailors out there, Mendelblatt stayed in control. On the offensive were Kusznierewicz and Rohart, who made a protest about Scott at the last buoy, resulting in a red flag then cost the young British sailor dearly. The fourth leg was the fieriest of all, with a memorable battle that will go down in the annals of the sport and definitely merits watching again and again. It was tough for everyone as the new free pumping proved extremely physically demanding. All the big names fared worst at the line, Scheidt/Prada, Rohart/Ponsot and Scott/Milne’s aim of winning the Star Sailors League came to a shocking end as none of them made the cut.

The eagerly-awaited grand finale was a four-horse race: two Europeans, one American and a Brazilian. Zarif got off to the best start but Mendelblatt was ahead of him at the mark with Loof and Kusznierewicz third and fourth respectively. The American quickly proved well capable of holding the lead for two legs, followed the whole time by the Brazilian. The three chasers had the toughest battle – to stay on the podium yet pose some kind of threat to the leader who has been unwaveringly consistent all week long. But just when it all seemed sewn up, the wind shifted left moving the mark 20 degrees and turned everything on its head, with Loof now in front and Mendelblatt slipping back to fourth. Then once again in Leg 5, the third and final upwind in the series, Loof was behind and Mendelblatt in front. Kusznierewicz sliced in front of the American just a few metres from the turn with surgical precision. There was no protest as he snatched leadership but once again, he was only able to hold on to it for a few minutes. The last downwind seemed like it would be the do-or-die one. In the end, the last leg was the real decider. The much-hoped-for edge-of-the-seat three-boat gallop for the last kilometre materialised with Mendelblatt in the middle, Kusznierewicz to the right and Loof left. Zarif was lagging slightly behind. Despite the best efforts of the other three, however, the Tampa Bay skipper held sway. And Mark Mendelblatt and Brian Fatih won the race of a lifetime with a two and a half-length lead on Freddy Loof and Anders Ekstrom, ahead of the two heroes that won Gold in the Star in the recent Olympics. For the record, Mendelblatt/Fatih also acquitted themselves very honourably last year taking the third step on a podium that also featured Scheidt and Kusznierewicz/Zycki. This year the podium was rounded off by the Pole but just a hair’s breadth behind him was the 22 year old two-time Finn World Champion Jorge Zarif, definitely the strongest rookie of the week.

The SSL Finals delivered superbly competitive sailing that showcased the world’s finest talents and also added an important new chapter to the history of the sport because of the novelties introduced this year by the Star Sailors League, not least Virtual Eye 3D sports graphics. A spectacular event for which thanks must go to the hugely committed organisers, the Nassau Yacht Club for its hospitality and the beautiful backdrop of the Bahamas itself.

Star Sailors League Finals 2014 results:
1) Mark Mendelblatt – Brian Fatih
2) Freddy Loof – Anders Ekstrom
3) Mateusz Kusznierewicz – Dominik Zycki 4) Jorge Zarif – Henry Boening
5) Robert Scheidt – Bruno Prada
6) Xavier Rohart – Pierre-Alexis Ponsot 7) Giles Scott – Stephen Milne
8) Johannes Polgar – Markus Koy
9) Diego Negri – Sergio Lambertenghi
10) Robert Stanjek – Claus Olesen
11) Ivan Kliakovic Gaspic – Ante Sitic
12) Eivind Melleby – Mark Strube
13) Torben Grael – Guillerme De Almeida
14) Josh Junior – Myles Pritchard
15) George Szabo – Edoardo Natucci
16) Emilios Papathanasiou – Antonis Tsotras
17) Luke Lawrence – Joshua Revkin
18) Augie Diaz – Arnis Baltins
19) Luke Patience – Jamie Buchan
20) Marcelo Fuchs – Ronald Seifert

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