Just five months after the close of the 2003 ISAF World Championship in Cadiz, Spain, Finn sailors from across the world have gathered once again to compete for one of sailing's most prestigous trophies, the Finn Gold Cup.
In the past, the Finn Gold Cup has been sailed in some very attractive and exotic venues, but perhaps none quite match up to the awe and splendour of Rio de Janeiro. It has been a long held dream of the Brazilian Finn Class to host the Gold Cup here, after the success of the 1998 Gold Cup in Ilha Bela, some way to the north of Rio, and these are finally being realised.
53 boats from 23 countries are in Rio for this carnival of Finn sailing, just a week before the real Rio Carnival gets underway. The line-up includes thee previous world champions and a host of would-be hopefuls looking for a first win.
Since their arrival, the sailors have been out practising and have sailed two preparation regattas. The Brazilian Championship, sailed from 28-31 January, was the first chance many of the sailors had to test the waters here. France's Guillaume FLORENT beat the one of the local favourites Joao SIGNORINI as well as current world champion Ben AINSLIE.
Straight after this regatta, the South American Championship was also sailed out of Rio de Janeiro with 47 sailors taking part. Croatian sailor Marin MISURA sailed an excellent regatta to win two races and beat Ainslie on count back after the two ties on points. Rafael TRUJILLO, who was second in last year's Gold Cup, finished third.
The racing so far has been very testing with many sailors up and down the results. If the preparation regattas are anything to go by then the Gold Cup should be a very interesting regatta, and it is hard to pick a clear favourite, although with a third and second in the two regattas so far, most money would have to be on Ainslie to make it three in a row.
Finn sailing has a special place in the hearts of the Brazilians, as it was their very own Jorg BRUDER who was the only Finn sailor ever to score three successive wins at the Finn Gold Cup. Between 1970 and 1972 Bruder won two Gold Cups by the narrowest of margins and one comfortably, after six times of previously finishing in the top five. Fate decided he would remain unbeaten as he was tragically killed in an air crash on the way to France to defend his title in 1973.
If Ainslie has his way here over the coming week, it will be ironic that not only will Bruder have to share his record with an Englishman who acheived it on Bruder's home waters but that it was this same Englishman who so famously beat another of Brazil's sailing heroes, Robert SCHEIDT, in the last Laser class race of the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.
In the preparation regattas over the past two weeks, several sailors put in some good results. Andrew SIMPSON won two races, Ireland's David BURROWS finished top five in both regattas, and a battle royale seems to be developing between Brazil's Joao SIGNORINI and Bruno PRADA, who are fighting to determine who will represent Brazil in the Olympic regatta later this summer.
After some changable weather recently, yesterday brought almost unbroken sunshine and high temperatures, which will make for some testing racing. The practice race was held in the afternoon on the course outside the harbour in mainly light and variable winds.
With the opening ceremony last night, today sees the first races of the 2004 Finn Gold Cup.