Michael Blackburn gets into 49er

Laser bronze medallist teams up with triple world champion Chris Nicholson, Andy Rice reports

Wednesday January 24th 2001, Author: Andy Rice, Location: United Kingdom
Michael Blackburn, the Laser Olympic bronze medallist, has teamed up with three-time 49er world champion Chris Nicholson for a campaign for Athens in 2004.

Blackburn recently won the Australian national championships and the Sail Melbourne regatta in what has proved to be his swansong in the Laser class. He said: "It's time. I've had 12 years in the Laser and while I was still enjoying sailing the boat, I'm no longer excited about sailing a Laser through to the next Olympics.

"The 49er is a fast, sexy and exciting boat - just what I'm looking for. I've followed Chris's career for a number of years and have been impressed with his on-water skills, mental drive and attention to detail."

Nicholson commented: "I'm looking forward to sailing with Michael and welcome his experience from the Laser class which brings a new tactical strength to the boat." Since the Olympics Nicholson has been keeping his hand in, racing a 16ft skiff at the Belmont 16ft Skiff Club with his girlfriend.

"Good combination," observed the Australian Yachting Federation's head coach, Victor Kovolenko of the link-up with Blackburn. "They may start with wet sails, but strategy, tactics, and boat handling will be little problem for Michael and Chris. But he had this warning: "They will need to pay special attention to how their personalities work as a team."

With a view to the 49er Worlds in Italy in September, the pair started training last weekend, the first time they have sailed together. Their first significant competition will be the Sail Sydney regatta at Easter. Later, they will compete on the European circuit in the lead up to the World championships.

In the latest world rankings, Blackburn is 2nd in the Laser class and Nicholson 3rd in the 49er class. Many had tipped Nicholson as the hot favourite for gold in Sydney, but he finished in a very disappointing sixth place after an erratic performance. For him, perhaps, this is a chance for him to make amends and earn the medal that many know he can win.

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