The world's most talented women match racers will be in action next week at Newport, Rhode Island for the ISAF Women's Match Racing World Championship.
The 20 teams set to compete for the coveted title are loaded with Olympic medalists and world champions and it is on course to be an exciting contest.
The ISAF Women's Match Racing World Championship has been run annually since 1999 and since the selection of women's match racing to the Olympic Games for 2012 interest in the discipline has increased. The 20 teams at this year's event are representing 14 nations, include two past World Champions and the winners of each of the 2009-2010 ISAF Sailing World Cup regattas.
The 2009 World Champion Nicky Souter (AUS) returns to defend her title and will sail with Nina Curtis, Olivia Price and Laura Baldwin. Souter is on great form leading up to this event, winning both of her most recent regattas, Skandia Sail for Gold in Weymouth, UK and the Buddy Melges Challenge.
Souter's win in Weymouth made her the sixth skipper to win one of the 2009-2010 ISAF Sailing World Cup regattas, and all the other gold medallists will also be in Newport to challenge for the world title. Claire Leroy (FRA), long time leader of the ISAF World Match Race Rankings and World Champion in 2007 and 2008 claimed the overall World Cup title and finished on the podium on four of the five regattas at which she sailed. Matching Leroy's World Champion titles is Sally Barkow (USA) who won in 2004 and 2005 and is always a force to be reckoned with. Australian Katie Spithill has been top five in the championship the last three times and is poised to win her first world championship with top results this year.
Leroy's tuning partner, Anne-Claire Le Berre (FRA), says her team has been training with the expectation that this world championship will be the toughest yet. "Since the Olympic designation, the teams are more professional," says Le Berre who started match racing in 2004. "This championship is very important to us because it is a world title. We hope to be the best, but there are so many good teams it is difficult to know who will win."
Denmark's Lotte Meldgaard pedersen knows only too well how hard this championship is to win. The talented Dane has sailed at every championship since her bronze medal winning debut as skipper in 2001. Meldgaard-Pedersen went on to win the silver in 2003 and her second bronze in 2007 but is yet to lay her hands on the trophy and complete her set of medals with a gold.
Not to be discounted is British star Lucy Macgregor, who finished third in the 2009-2010 ISAF Sailing World Cup standings and sails with former World Champion crew of Sally Barkow, Annie Lush one of the top women's match racers. Macgregor finished a disappointing ninth in 2009 but is a clear favourite for the 2010 title. One of the very best women's match racers in the world, MacGregor will be fighting to become the first British skipper to ever reach the podium at the Women's Worlds.
Two of the most decorated sailors at the event are Olympic gold medallists Anna Tunnicliffe (USA) and Sofia Bekatorou of Greece. Tunnicliffe, who finished second overall in the 2009-2010 ISAF Sailing World Cup, dove head first into match racing shortly after her Olympic victory in 2008. Bekatorou won the gold medal in the 470 in 2004, a bronze medal in the Yngling in 2008 and has four 470 World Champion titles to her name. Relatively new to match racing in comparison to some of the other skippers, Bekatorou's sheer class on the race course can not be discounted and she has been steadily climbing the rankings.
Another new face on the match racing scene is Renee Groeneveld from the Netherlands who claimed her first major victory at the 2009 Skandia Sail for Gold regatta. Since then she has worked her way up the rankings, winning the Trofeo Princesa Sofia MAPFRE, ending the World Cup season in fifth overall and finally reaching the top of the ISAF World Match Race rankings at the latest release on 15 September.
With support from their nation's men's match racing teams, Portugal, Russia, Denmark, New Zealand and Spain, are all beginning to play the game well and could easily upset even the top ranked teams.
The 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition will be sailed in the three person Elliott 6 Meter but event will be sailed in the New York Yacht Club's fleet of four-person Sonar keelboats. "The Sonars change the playing field a little bit," says Sally Barkow who has been competing in open match race events over the past several years to gain experience. "Four people change the communication, and it should even things out."
Le Berre and the other French teams have also been training in Sonars used for Paralympic sailing in France, hoping to gain an advantage in the championship.
As the sailors continue to improve their match racing skills leading up to the disciplines Olympic debut in 2012, it is early enough for them to take some big risks in order to learn and win. "No team has won consecutive events this year," says Barkow. "Teams that have won events have missed qualifying for the quarter finals in the next event. It's anybody's game."
Name (Nation) - ISAF World Ranking at 15 September 2010
1. Nicky Souter (AUS) - 4
2. Lucy Macgregor (GBR) - 3
3. Renee Groeneveld (NED) - 1
4. Anna Tunnicliffe (USA) - 5
5. Claire Leroy (FRA) - 2
6. Katie Spithill (AUS) - 7
7. Anne-Claire Le Berre (FRA) - 6
8. Julie Bossard (FRA) - 9
9. Genevieve Tulloch (USA) - 11
10. Sally Barkow (USA) - 13
11. Lotte Meldgaard Pedersen (DEN) - 10
12. Camilla Ulrikkeholm (DEN) - 19
13. Samantha Osborne (NZL) - 16
14. Juliana Senfft (BRA) - 20
15. Silja Lehtinen (FIN) - 14
16. Ekaterina Skudina (RUS) - 12
17. Silvia Roca mata (ESP) - 15
18. Rita Gonçalves (POR) - 23
WC. Sofia Bekatorou (GRE) - 31
WC. Petra Kliba (CRO) - 25
All the latest details on the 2010 Worlds, together with an archive of results from previous championships is available on the ISAF Women's Match Racing World Championship microsite at www.sailing.org/wmatchworlds