A buzz hit the boat park as the race committee announced their intentions to protest two contenders for the title here in Porto, Portugal. Vicky Jurczok with Anika Llorenz (GER) in the 49erFX and Erik Heil with Thomas Ploessel (GER) in the 49er each had identical spinnaker poles, purchased legally but modified/repaired with reinforcement in the inboard end to prevent damage and a clear cote protective seal or paint over the length of their poles.
While neither modification would be considered performance enhancing to boat speed, each modification could be considered performance enhancing from the view point of durability. As the protest committee revealed their findings that both teams would be disqualified from all races sailed to date Sailing Team Germany were already researching options to reopen the case. The STG argument stems from the view that the penalty is disproportionate to the crime. 49er sailing is not accustom to such definitive penalties stemming from judgments on equipment issues.
The jury did reopen the case, and upon hearing more evidence of the vastness of these types of repairs across the fleet changed their penalty applied to be that each team must change their spinnaker pole but their scores will remain. German Olympian Marcus Baur agreed with the updated ruling, “I agree that the measurer and race committee must enforce the rules to the letter of the law, however the consequences of any new precedent must be introduced at a suitable pace. The class, sailors, and officials must all change their ways in lock step and it is unnecessary to shock the class at any point.”
The significance of these potential disqualifications could not be overstated. The Jurczok/Llorenz were leading the 49erFX fleet here at the 2015 Europeans while the Heil/Poessel were in 17th overall, only 20 points off a podium position with three days of gold fleet remaining. Heil/Ploessel was also the top Europeans at the 2014 European Championship, where they came second overall and were looking to repeat that feat in Porto.
Of even more significance is the fact it is part of the German Olympic selection process, along with the 2016 World Championships in Clearwater, Florida and the 2016 Palma Regatta. In each case the teams are engaged in a very competitive battle to represent their countries in Rio 2016.
The 49er selection would not have been considered a close battle, with Heil/Ploessel the large favorites until recent regattas with Max Boeme and Justus Schmidt improving their game significant recently.
Jurczok/Llorenz are in a very tight battle within STG with five competitive teams all trading better performances back and forth throughout the past two seasons. Jurczok would seem to have the greatest potential of the group, with their best performances being greater than the others, but the dominant observation would be that all the German teams seem quite inconsistent in their finishes. The relief of these teams was visible after they emerged from the re-opened case battered emotionally, but unhurt on the scoreboard.
The initial reaction from Anika Llorenz could not have been more emotional, as she burst into tears while being consoled by team mates and coaches. The impact of ruining an Olympic qualification bid is so complete on an athlete, these folk who live and breathe Olympic sailing to the point where it is their whole life, that the shock was all encompassing.
– 49er Assn