Over 100 sailors from around the world are now registered and arriving in La Rochelle, France for the 2004 Finn European Championship and final Olympic Qualification Regatta for the 2004 Olympic Games In Athens.
32 nations are represented and amongst them some of the world's best single-handed sailors in recent years. Olympic Champions, World Champions and America's Cup sailors have all descended on this west coast resort in France for some fierce competition.
No harder will the competition be than that amongst those nations for whom this is the final chance to qualify for the Olympic Sailing Competition. Currently there are 21 nations qualified for Athens, including Greece as host nation, with a further five places available in La Rochelle.
Current qualified nations are as follows:
Of the 32 nations represented in La Rochelle 21 have already qualified for the Olympic Games, leaving ten nations fighting for the final five spots. The big battles will be between Italy, Russia, who have Evgeny TCHERNOV in the top forty in the world and is the second highest ranked unqualified nation, and Finland who is just behind Russia in the rankings. Finland will be looking for a place at Athens in the Men's single-handed fleet, to augment their qualified teams in the Europe, Laser and 49er. Italy, whose star performer and Silver medallist at the 2000 Olympic Games Luca DEVOTI
retired from elite Finn sailing last year, has yet to be replaced. As the highest ranked unqualified nation, Italy will be hoping that Michele MARCHESINI
who has been making steady progress up the ISAF World Sailing Rankings and currently sits at 35 will secure the honour.
Alongside Russia, there are several other countries who were on the startline in Sydney, but are as yet to secure their spot for Athens, namely Hungary, Italy, South Africa, US Virgin Islands, Estonia, and Sri Lanka. South Africa and Sri Lanka do not currently field sailors on the ISAF World Sailing Rankings, and will therefore not be in this year's game.
Hungary's top sailor, Balazs HAJDU, is currently ranked 65 and carries Olympic credentials having represented his nation at the 2000 Olympic Games. The US Virgin Islands may put in an appearance with Ben BEER,
who was also on the startline in Sydney, and similarly Estonia have a chance with their top sailor Janno HOOL.
Three times World Champion Ben AINSLIE
(GBR) will be out in La Rochelle hoping to assert his authority once again on the world-class fleet. After his recent result in Palma at the Princess Sofia Trophy, few will bet against him repeating the feat, however, the Popular Polish sailor Mateusz KUSNIEREWICZ,
on top-form in Hyeres at the Semaine Olympiqe Francaise, will be hot on Ben's heals.
As the countdown to Athens drops below 100 days, all athletes with their heart, minds and bodies set on the Olympic Games, will be sailing hard in La Rochelle.
Local sailor, Guillaume FLORENT
(FRA), who was fourth at last year's ISAF World Championships in Cadiz, commented on the forthcoming Europeans." It's with great pleasure that I shall participate in this Championship. It's a fact that La Rochelle has the chance of benefiting from an extraordinary expanse of water. Current, Atlantic swell, high low pressure or low thermal current, La Rochelle isn't lacking in persuasive arguments to challenge the contestants. The SRR [Organizing Committee] experience will be an additional advantage in the organization of a Championship which we hope will remain in every Finnist's memory."
Measurement started today in France, with the opening ceremony taking place on Sunday evening and racing continuing from 10 - 15 May. Further information can be found on the event website at the address below.