As well as the final Europe Class Olympic Qualification Regatta taking place at Semaine Olympique Francaise, the final Olympic Qualification Regatta for the keelboat men, the Star World Championship, kicks off in Gaeta, Italy on 24 April.
The world's best Star Sailors from 30 nations will contest the 2004 championship.
The Star Class has always been a fleet that attracts a diverse range of top class sailors from around the world and the World Championship is not just about Olympic qualification. With the huge number of boats participating over the six-race schedule, the class, for many sailors represents a return to their roots of big fleet, one-design racing after a foray into diverse projects.
So far 12 nations have qualified for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, with a further four having the opportunity to qualify based on their results from the 2004 Worlds.
Current qualified nations for Athens 2004 are as follows:
Although diverse, the class is as competitive as they come, and the challenge for the four qualification places up for grabs could well come from amongst nation in the top twenty of the ISAF World Sailing Rankings. Germany, Denmark, Canada, and Portugal all have sailors on the first page of the rankings, but have yet to qualify for the Olympic Games.
Of these four, both Germany and Canada were in Sydney, but for Denmark and Portugal their last appearance on the Olympic startline was at the 1996 Olympic Games where they placed 9 and 21 respectively.
At the 2003 World Championships, eight different nations appeared in the top 10 finishers, with an overall of 13 different nations in the top 20 places. Similarly in the ISAF World Sailing Rankings, 9 different nations can be found amongst the world's top 10.
In addition to Germany and Canada, the other countries who participated in the Star fleet at the 2000 Olympic Games but have yet to qualify for the 2004 Olympic Games are Argentina, Spain and New Zealand.
Past World and Continental Champions are numerous, especially in the form of converts from the Finn Class, Iain PERCY and Steve MITCHELL (GBR), and Xavier ROHART and Pascal RAMBEAU (FRA), dominant winners of the Class at the ISAF World Championships in Cadiz last year. France did not participate in either the 2000 or 1996 Olympic Games, with the country's last appearance being at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain where the French team placed 18 overall. Defending World Champions, Rohart and Rambeau will certainly be aiming higher.
At the recently held European Championship held in L'Escala in Northern Spain, Canadians Ross MACDONALD and Mike WOLFS had a fantastic start to their European Campaign to finish fifth in the championship and set themselves on the path to Olympic selection. They will need to qualify Canada in Gaeta if they are to be nominated to their National Olympic Committee (NOC) to make the gold paved trip to Athens in August.
Germany, in the form of Michael KOCH and Max GROY have been consistently in the chocolates over the last few years in the ISAF World Sailing Rankings and currently lie top out of the unqualified nations in seventh place. They finished a disappointing 30 in the Europeans, and will be looking to raise the bar in the World Championship, as with competition fiercely close between the eight German teams present in Italy, and the added pressure of needing to secure an Olympic berth, things will be tough at the top.
At the close of registration for the six race series there were 118 entries to the event, the last entry being USA's representative at the 2004 Olympic Games, Paul CAYARD and Phil TRINTER. They proved that preparation was key during the USA's first-past-the-post trials last month in Florida, and will hope to prove that they are on the ball and set to perform at a World Championship where the winner could come from anywhere.
The event is organized by an association between the Lega Navale Italiana of Gaeta, the Club Nautico of Gaeta, the Sezione Vela of the Fiamme Gialle and the Base Nautica Flavio Gioia in collaboration with the City of Gaeta.