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Sports

German duo aims to capsize competition

Many spectators would know the sailing events only as people in boats racing against each other. But the ten total medal events involving 63 nations and 380 athletes are much more than that.

Take, for example, the women's 470. Named after a type of boat. In essence, two-woman teams compete against each other in 15-foot dinghies - a term for a small rowboats - in a series of 11 races through a set course. While that sounds simple enough, the competition demands quick reflexes, prodigious nautical knowledge and teamwork - and that's just to prevent the boat from tipping over. To win, a team must be able to function as seamlessly as their boat must be watertight.

Women's sailing team Kathrin Kadelbach (right) and Friederike Belcher (left)

Kadelbach (right) and Belcher (left) are close both on land and on the water

German duo Kathrin Kadelbach and Friederike Belcher are about as watertight as a team can get. The two squeaked in to London after a controversy over who should represent Germany in the women's 470 had to be settled in court, but the difficulties of spring, like a storm on the open water, seems to be behind them now.

Part of their secret to success, they say, is their close friendship. "We do not just sit together in the same boat, we are also friends on land," Kadelbach, who began sailing at age six, told German newspaper "Die Welt."

Belcher - whose first victory was the 1999 Hamburg State Championship - compares their sailing relationship to a marriage, though she's actually married to Australian men's 470 champion Matthew Belcher. "At the wedding [Kadelbach] said in her speech a sentence that describes our relationship very well," explained Belcher. "'If a marriage is for better or for worse, then Rike is unfortunately already married - although with me.'"

Moored mates

First joining forces in 2006, Kadelbach and Belcher (born Ziegelmayer) began competing in German competitions, later moving up to international 470 races. At the 2011 International Sailing Federation (ISAF) World Championships in Australia, they earned a respectable 28th place out of a 48-team field. By the time the Olympics began, they'd blitzed their way to a ninth place worldwide ranking in the 470 class by the ISAF.

Now their friendship - and uncanny ability to anticipate what the other is thinking, has led them to the Olympics, which has proven to be anything but "smooth sailing."

The sailing events are taking place near the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy, located in Dorset on the south coast of England. While the area boasts some of the best natural sailing waters in the UK, it is also notorious for high winds, which can easily blow a boat off-course or capsize it.

"There are really very challenging conditions [in Weymouth and Portland] with the tidal currents and the wind [that] goes there often creates a tunnel effect," explained Kadelbach, who serves as the skipper of the German duo. In nautical terms, a skipper - also known as a sea captain or shipmaster - is the person in ultimate command of a vessel.

There's also competition from the other teams vying for a gold medal. The British team of Saskia Clarke and Hannah Mills entered the competition as favorites. So far, they haven't disappointed, scoring 18 net points on their way to a firm grasp on first place. Similar to golf, the team with the lowest number of points wins. Kadelbach and Belcher have 42.

Despite sitting in ninth place as of August 7, Kadelbach remains upbeat. After all, there are four more races to go, plus the medal round if they qualify. The two have also gotten better as the competition has gone on: Kadelbach and Belcher came in fifth place in the sixth race on August 5, among their best showings yet.

"The Olympic Games are for me the highlight of the sailing regatta, a unique experience," Kadelbach told "Die Welt." But, she added, "Of course, everyone dreams of a medal."

Author: Benjamin Mack
Editor: Rina Goldenberg