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21 April 2004, 01:51 pm
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Siren SUNDBY (NOR)

Semaine Olympique Française - Olympic Qualification Regatta
Hyères

Starting at the end of this week, Semaine Olympique Française in Hyères is attracting the world's best in ten of the eleven Olympic Sailing Events, with Olympic Qualification up for grabs in the Europe Class.
The Star Class, whose final qualification regatta is their World Championship in Gaeta, Italy, takes place at the same time and as a result the class will not be present in Hyeres.

Over 600 boats, 1000 competitors, 260 volunteers and 15 International Judges are in final preparations for what promises to be an exciting, hard fought regatta. No harder will this be than perhaps in the Europe fleet where, as the class will not hold its World Championship until July in Italy, the final nation qualification slots for Athens 2004 will be contested in France.

Currently qualified nations to be represented in Athens are as follows:

2002 2003
Australia Belgium
China Belarus
Czech Republic Denmark
Finland France
Germany Great Britain
Ireland Mexico
Netherlands New Zealand
Norway Russia
Poland Slovenia
Spain
USA
9 11


There are currently 92 sailors from 35 different nations registered in the Europe Class. The largest class at the event, for obvious reasons, will see 15 nations battling for the remaining five places available for the Olympic Games in the class, but the event means different things to different teams.

The top ranked as yet unqualified nation is Italy, who sit on the ISAF World Sailing Rankings at 28 with Larissa NEVIEROV (ITA). Whilst, Larissa is one of eight Italian sailors on the Europe World Rankings, she is clearly Italy's top hope, and will be gunning for qualification. The next nation behind Italy is Sweden, with Emma JOENSSON world ranked at 30, a sailor who found herself consistently mixing amongst the world's top 20 just over a year ago. Behind these two, sit the remaining countries who are seeking qualification in Hyeres; Portugal, Canada, Croatia, Switzerland, Japan, Lithuania, Austria, Argentina, Brazil, Turkey, Ukraine, Hungary and Monaco.

Siren SUNDBY (NOR), popular winner of the 2003 World Championship in Cadiz, and ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year 2003, will be hoping to continue her strong form over the last couple of years. In 2004 she has already won the Princess Sofia Trophy in Palma de Mallorca and coupled with her win in Hyères last year, will be hoping to stamp her supremacy on the fleet leading up the Athens. She currently leads the ISAF World Sailing Rankings.

All of last year's podium finishers at the World Championship in Cadiz are present in France, Sari MULTALA (FIN), who finished second at the 2003 Worlds will be hoping to take the Hyeres title off Siren, and Meg GAILLARD (USA), third in Cadiz, is in the final stages of her campaign leading to Athens. Having won the US Sailing Olympic Trials in February in truly dominant form, she is continuing to test her skills against the rest of the World.

Serena AMATO (ARG), Olympic Bronze medallist in Sydney in 2000, had a disappointing result in Cadiz, and will be hoping to qualify Argentina for an entry to the 2004 Olympic Games by finishing as one of the top five, currently unqualified nations. However, her aims will be much higher than purely qualifying in this final run up to Athens.

There are a number of other past World Champions here in Hyères. As well as Sari MULTALA (FIN), who won the Worlds in Portugal in 2001, Sarah BLANCK (AUS), 2002 World Champion, has made the trip from Australia.

Carolyn BROUWER (NED) despite being a double World Champion (1996 and 1998) has never represented the Netherlands at the Olympic Games. This year looks set to be her best chance yet for Olympic nomination and she comes to Hyères ranked fourth in the world. The situation in Holland is complicated with the results of last year's World Championship in Cadiz and this years Olympic Qualification Regatta counting towards nomination points. Carolijn obtained personal nomination at Cadiz 2003 and now has to stay ahead of Merel WITTEVEEN in total points from Cadiz 2003 and Hyères 2004. If she does, she also has to maintain a level of performance in 2004 by showing a pre-defined top result at certain nominated events like Hyères, SPA or Kiel. The pressure really is on!

Canada's sailors, represented by no fewer than seven boats, are leading up to their Team nomination regatta, which will be the SPA regatta, and all seven sailors will be battling hard to ensure the nation qualifies an entry to the Games leading up to the all important nomination regatta next month. China is also highly represented, with seven nations, and its sailors also chase Olympic Qualification.

As well as the Europe class Olympic Qualification, ISAF will bring you all the latest news from the nine other events at Semaine Olympique Française, as the drama unfolds.
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