The JP Morgan Asset Management Falmouth Finn Festival continues this weekend with the opening of the Finn Gold Cup, the class world championship with 94 entries from 30 countries registered.
As an Olympic Qualification Regatta, the principal objective of the week is to select the remaining six nations for the 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition. Of course many nations are also using the regatta as their final sailor selection event, so the stakes are about as high as they could possibly be for many sailors here.
The regatta is being hosted by the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club, though the event is based at the Falmouth Watersports Centre with racing taking place in Falmouth Bay. A series of 10 races will constitute the opening series from Sunday 13 May to Thursday 17 May, with a medal race for the top 10 and an 11th race of the rest on Friday 18 May. The festival concludes next Saturday when the sailors will take part in the Olympic Torch relay, which passes through the town on the first day of its route around Britain.
The Finn Class has a quota of 25 entries into the London 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition. Eighteen nations qualified last December at the Perth 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championships: Australia, Brazil, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Russia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine and the USA, in addition to Great Britain as the host. The final six nations will be known by the end of next week.
The top favourites for the remaining places include Austria, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Germany, Poland and Turkey, though there are also others sailors from Bulgaria, China, Hungary, India, Ireland, Lithuania, Norway and Switzerland competing, and some of them stand a good chance of qualification if the week goes their way.
The entry list includes four former world champions and three Olympic medallists. Seventeen out of the 26 Olympians from 2008 are also competing here. It is perhaps the highest quality fleet the class has fielded for several years.
With a few exceptions it is fairly hard to predict any sort of form going into this regatta. It has been a very strange start to the season. Sailors peaked at the 2011 ISAF Worlds in December last year and since then many have preferred to train in small groups rather than compete in the major events. Numbers at all events this year have been down with groups training in Cadiz, Valencia, Palma and other venues with only the Princesa Sofia regatta in Palma attracting the bulk of the top ranked sailors. In addition, the Europeans and Palma were generally very light while Hyeres was very windy.
Last week's UK National Championships provided a brief indication of form. Though Giles Scott (GBR) won the event, one man who arguably has some unfinished business next week is the five times world champion Ben Ainslie (GBR).
Ainslie said, "For me it's great to be sailing back in Cornwall where I grew up. I've never really raced here so I am learning a lot. It will be tough and I'll have to raise my game a little bit. It will be easier without Giles there, though it's still incredibly tough out there to win these races."
Current world champion Scott is not able to defend his title next week due to a clash of dates with the AC 45 event in Venice and his commitments to Team Korea. Scott explained, "I am sad that I'm not sailing the Gold Cup, but as much as I like Finn sailing, it is quite a good year to go off and do other things and get some new experiences."
Other former world champions Edward Wright (GBR), Rafael Trujillo (ESP) and Jonas Høgh-Christensen (DEN) will also be in contention, as will the 2008 Olympic silver medallist Zach Railey (USA), who also picked up the silver medal in Palma earlier this year.
However Ainslie's main threat will probably come from the last year's runner-up, Pieter-Jan Postma (NED). Having won two races last weekend, he is clearly on form and should revel in the conditions if the wind and waves are up. Ainslie famously denied Postma the silver medal at last year's test event and Postma is determined not to let that happen again, coming back more focussed and prepared, and promising to race harder than ever before.
The silver medal at the test event went to Jonathan Lobert (FRA), who is another favourite next week. Double European Champion Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic (CRO) is also likely to figure highly. He won the last windy race at the UK Nationals and is one of the most focussed sailors on the circuit. Historically he has always performed better in light winds, but now seems to have overcome that and looks to be equally as quick when the breeze is up.
Kljakovic Gaspic said, "Getting ready for the Gold Cup I feel really good. I seem to have more speed especially in stronger winds which was a problem for me for a couple of years. So I am now quite competitive and I can't wait for the Gold Cup to begin."
Other race winners or top performers could include Deniss Karpak (EST), Andrew Mills (GBR), Mark Andrews (GBR), Daniel Birgmark (SWE), Dan Slater (NZL), Chris Cook (CAN) and Brendan Casey (AUS), who recently won the Hyeres regatta.
Finn Gold Cup Website