Clear the stage for pure suspense

The fog lifted, the wind picked up slightly: just in time for the final race of the Star Class World Championship during Kieler Woche, the stage was set on the 1972 Olympic venue.

While Frithjof Kleen (Berlin), who had already been crowned world champion, strolled through the harbour apron and his helmsman Diego Negri (Italy) was still resting, the remaining field of 82 star class from 18 nations were fighting for medals and placings. It was a tough fight for the podium places - with some disappointments. At the end of the day, Tonci Stipanovic/Tudor Bilic (Croatia) in second and Johann Spitzauer/Hans-Christian Nehammer (Austria) in third celebrated their podium finishes alongside Negri/Kleen.

The Race Committee had their hands full at the end of the World Championships to keep the fleet in check. Three times the star class had to be ordered back behind the starting line. Photo: segel-bilder.de

In the fight for the remaining podium places, the top crews were ready to take any risk. Although several teams were not allowed to slip up - and thus not allowed to make an early start - the pressure on the start line in this last World Championship race was enormous. Race director Mandus Freese had to catch the rash fleet three times. The third time it cost 18 crews the chance to continue. They had to leave the course with their early start disqualification.

The list of disqualified crews also included sailing celebrities: the defending champions Mateusz Kusznierewicz/Bruno Prada (Poland/Brazil) had emphasised before the race that they wanted to start cautiously, as they had already caught a false start on Thursday. But then they were identified as early starters and taken out of the race. Mateusz Kusznierewicz did not agree with this. "We sailed for safety and from our point of view it was not a false start. We even had a boat ahead of us that was not disqualified." His request for redress was admittedly granted by the jury in a long protest hearing. But the credited points were not enough to still reach the podium.

On the water, the fight for the medals was decided between the Austrians Johann Spitzauer/Hans-Christian Nehammer and Olympic silver medallist Tonci Stipanovic with Tudor Bilic (Croatia). Ex-World Champion Eivind Melleby (Norway) with Guy Thomas Avellon and Denmark’s Jörgen Schönherr, who has three-time European Champion Markus Koy (Hamburg) onbord, were also still in the game.

Silver battle remains open until the finish

While Schönherr and Melleby got off to a good start in the race, Spitzauer and Stipanovic had to work their way through the field after a slow start. By the second lap, however, the Austrians and Croats had caught up to such an extent that they were already on course for the medal. Schönherr/Koy led the field ahead of Melleby/Avellon and crossed the finish line in the same way, but the points gap in the overall standings was too high to make it onto the podium.

Spitzauer/Nehammer would have needed a top result directly behind the Croatians to win silver in the final race. And for a long time they had the best cards in their hands. But then Laser ace Tonci Stipanovic, in his first World Championship appearance in the star boat, pulled off a winning move on the finish cross. While Spitzauer/Nehammer went to the left side, Stipanovic/Bilic tacked to the right in the middle of the finish cross and found the right wind to pass the Austrians. The US Americans Benjamin Sternberg/Stuart MacIntosh tipped the scales: They were also overtaken by Stipanovic, but had Spitzauer in their wake. Exactly this result was enough for the Croatians to win silver ahead of the Austrians. Behind them in the overall standings were Jörgen Schönherr/Markus Koy (Denmark/Germany), Mateusz Kusznierewicz/Bruno Prada (Poland/Brazil) and Eivind Melleby/Guy Thomas Avellon (Norway/USA).

Tonci Stipanovic and Tudor Bilic had the right eye for the wind. On the last leg they passed the Austrians and the US Americans to win the silver medal. Photo: segel-bilder.de

"We are very happy. It was a tough race. We had a good set-up, changed the sails a bit. At the start we went for safety. That paid off, because some competitors got caught," Stipanovic reported. "We were not satisfied with the first cross, but then we did very well on the downwind course. On the last cross I said to Tudor: we have to push our luck now." Then, seeing the cloud over the course and spotting a right turn of the wind in the leading duo, he set the tack. This saw the Croatian climb to third in the race. "With the changing wind, I was still a bit worried that the Americans would still be overtaken by the Austrians. But then it went exactly our way."

Satisfaction among the organisers

So the new medal winners were happy all around. And those responsible for the World Championships were also satisfied with the way things went. After the first two days of slack water, Star Class World President Hubert Merkelbach from Lake Constance had some concerns that the World Championship title might not be awarded at the end of his term of office at the home event of all things. "But then the Kiel area was again very well dressed up. It was a long few days at sea, but all the participants are happy. Kiel was a great host. It was fantastic." Now, after four years at the head of the class, Merkelbach’s task is to prepare the field for his successor. There is a high probability that Enrico Chieffi will be elected as the new president in the winter. The 58-year-old Italian sailed to the Starboat World Championship title in 1996, is the current European Champion and, as a former Olympic participant, America’s Cup sailor and CEO of maritime companies, is very well connected in the sailing scene.

For Kiel’s fleet captain Helge Spehr, the World Championship was the highlight of a true championship series in the region after the Northern European District Championship, the 2017 German Championship in Kiel and the 2018 European Championship in Flensburg. After the European Championships three years ago, he sat down with the former Kiel Starboat World President Dierk Thomsen and thought about how a Star Class World Championship could be brought to Kiel again. The application was finally successful. Dierk Thomsen, however, did not live to see the World Championships. He died last year. His memory was kept alive at the World Cup - with the awarding of the Dierk Thomsen Trophy, which 27-year-old Phillip Kasüske received as the top junior at the gala dinner of the World Cup.
 

The Austrians Johann Spitzauer/Hans-Christian Nehammer seemed to have the silver medal in their hands, but then slipped back to third place. Photo: segel-bilder.de

Jan Borbet/Jesper Spehr the best juniors

In the overall ranking of the best juniors, however, Kasüske had to admit defeat with crew-mate Michael Schulz. "I couldn’t start today because Michael caught an infection in his foot and was banned from starting by a doctor while on antibiotics," said Kasüske. The unofficial junior world champions were thus 25-year-old Jan Borbet and his one-year older crewmate Jesper Spehr in twelfth place overall. "This is our first real star boat season and we didn’t expect the junior title. It was all about getting the best out of it for us. It’s a pity that the real junior world championship had to be cancelled," said Jan Borbet. "We definitely want to stay in the Star class. After finishing our studies, we both started our careers and now have a bit more time."

Youth work is on Helge Spehr’s agenda: "You can get a good used Star for a few thousand euros. But parental support or that of the class is still necessary if the youngsters are to keep up with current sailing material in the regattas." Some changes in the traditions of the 111-year-old class are necessary for this, however. The length of the races, for example, needs to be considered. This was precisely what had not made the conditions for the Kiel Worlds any easier. In the end, however, Helge Spehr was also able to conclude: "The World Championships were a success. The race committee worked well and the Kieler Yacht-Club showed great hospitality. We would like to compete again as a class in Kiel next year for the 50th anniversary of the 1972 Olympic Games!"

The unofficial title of Junior World Champions was taken by Jan Borbet and Helge Spehr in twelfth place overall. Photo: Sascha Klahn

Perhaps there will also be a reunion with the stars at Kiel Week. "It was a super atmosphere at the World Championships. Despite the hectic pace in the last race, we managed six beautiful races," said Kiel’s regatta boss Dirk Ramhorst. "There was already a wish from the class to be back at Kiel Week. We are including that in our considerations if a respectable field is to be expected."

Visibly moved, Diego Negri accepted the silver winner’s trophy at the late award ceremony: "This is the highlight of a long story. It was great. When I heard that this World Cup would be in Kiel, I was immediately excited. It is a place with a great Olympic history. To win here you have to be ready for anything." His thanks went to his wife, his sailmaker and his boat builder, and to crew Frithjof Kleen: "There’s no one who pushes you so hard." Kleen, who had already been world champion in 2014, was happy with his helmsman about his first world championship title: "You deserve it more than anyone else - after twelve attempts at the world championship title and three runner-ups."

The top three of the Star Class World Championships on the podium, from left: Tonci Stipanovic, Tudor Bilic, Frithjof Kleen, Diego Negri, Johann Spitzauer and Hans-Christian Nehammer. Photo: segel-bilder.de


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