With a host of World Championship and final 2004 Olympic Qualification Regattas now completed, the latest rankings released today 6 May 2004 show some big movers in the build up to the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens in August.
The Yngling, 470 and Laser classes all have their World Championship starting within the next few days and with them the final opportunity for nations who have yet done so, to qualify for an entry to the Olympic Sailing competition.
But as well as World Championships and Olympic Qualification Regattas, we have also seen the ever-popular ISAF Grade 1 Semaine Olympique Française just completed in the French sailing mecca of Hyères. As well as the final Olympic Qualification regatta for the Europe Class, it was a regatta attended by a world-class fleet in eight of the nine classes. The Stars were hosting their World Championship in Gaeta, Italy at the same time so the fleet did not attend Hyères.
The Grade 1 and World Championship events tend to be those that produce the most movement at the top end of the ISAF World Sailing Rankings, but slightly back from the top few, events such as the Laser Europa Cup and Youth Grand Prix, The United 4 and the SSECS Europe Regatta proved much scope for picking up valuable ranking points.
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Nations with sailors in the top three
Windsurfer Men - Mistral
Maxim OBEREMKO (UKR) still occupies the top spot that sees him remain as one of the favourites for success at the Olympic Games in Athens. Just behind him, and looking forward to perhaps peaking at the right time is the 2003 World Champion "Pont" MIARCZYNSKI (POL). The top three is rounded out by French windsurfer Nicolas HUGUET.
Piotr MYSZKA, Polish team mate of the 2003 World Champion, has rocked up the rankings into fourth position after a ninth at the 2004 World Championship in Turkey consolidated a consistent few months in the class. Although he will not be competing at the Olympic Games as this honour was claimed by Pont, his current position shows what depth there is in Polish windsurfing.
Nick DEMPSEY (GBR), on the back of his selection as the British nominee for Athens has picked up his game a little to step back into the top ten after falling to a low point of 13 following the 2003 ISAF World Championships in Cadiz. He finished fifth in Turkey, a result that can only have been confidence boosting in his build up to Athens.
Tom ASHLEY (NZL) is the biggest mover in the top twenty this time around, although he didn't start the day in the top twenty, he moved a massive 14 places higher amongst the best sailors in the world to 17 overall in the rankings. His seventh place in Turkey, along with runner up position in the ISAF Grade 1 event in Hyères, gave the young sailor all the points he needed to make a break for the top tier.
Windsurfer Women - Mistral
In the Mistral Women there are again some bold appearances in the top flight from some of the younger sailors in the world. 2003 ISAF World Sailing Championship gold medallist Lee KORSIZ (ISR), following a strong presence on the tour this year, has almost emulated the rise of Tom ASHLEY, and has broken into the world's top 10 at 10, a rise of eleven places.
Jannicke STALSTROM (NOR) was ranked in 27 in the last ranking release, and she has also popped up in the top twenty, now residing firmly entrenched behind Amelie LUX (GER), following a 12 place finish at the 2004 World Championship in Turkey and a fifth in Hyères.
Lee LAI-SHAN (HKG) is making her comeback to the top of the windsurfing tree as she builds-up to represent Hong Kong in August. San-San, as Lee is known will be on a quest for the second sailing medal for Hong Kong since she won a Gold medal in Atlanta in 1996, the first gold medal in any sport ever achieved by the country. She is now in second and replaces Romy KINZL (GER), who has dropped to fourth. Faustine MERRETT (FRA) is another who has popped back into the top three, jumping from fifth to third.
Single-handed Dinghy Women - Europe
No change in the top three for the class who used Semaine Olympique Francaise as their final Olympic Qualification Regatta. The event was won by the ever assertive Siren SUNDBY (NOR), who is now suggesting that after a fantastic year in 2003, which culminated in her becoming ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year, she has no intention of letting her grip on the fleet falter leading up to Athens. She is tailed by Sari MULTALA (NOR)
Christiane DE NIJS (GER), along with German teammate Petra NIEMANN, round out in third and fourth. De Nijs actually having closed the gap on her rival by rising up from eighth to fourth.
There is not much other movement amongst the remainder of the top ten, although Trine Julie ABRAHAMSEN (DEN) has dropped from sixth to 11 and Meg GAILLARD (USA), recently granted the spot to represent the USA in Athens, appears in the top ten.
Single-handed Dinghy Open - Laser
The World Championship and final Olympic Qualification Regatta is looming for the class and all eyes will be focussed on the effect this has on the rankings in the future build up to the Olympic Games. Meanwhile, there have been a number of ISAF Grade 1 events, not least, Semaine Olympique Francaise.
Following Hyères, Robert SCHEIDT (BRA) has returned to his favourite place at the top of the rankings, a victory in France reassured the world of his intention to challenge hard for a seventh World Championship title in Turkey over the next seven days. All this counts in Scheidt's build up to reclaim the Olympic Gold Medal he lost out to Ben AINSLIE (GBR) at Sydney 2000.
Other notable recent accomplishments include Ed WRIGHT (GBR), who after finishing behind Paul GOODISON in the fight for Olympic nomination, has climbed into the top ten in the world. Goodison himself is suffering in the rankings from his time out of the boat last year and is still in third place. Michael BLACKBURN (AUS), recent winner of the Laser Radial World Championship (which of course doesn't count in the calculation for these rankings), is in second.
Double-handed Dinghy Men - 470
It's all change at the top of the double-handed dinghy men rankings. Nathan WILMOT and Malcolm PAGE (AUS) who have held the top spot since October 2003 have slid down to number two, to be replaced by Philippe GILDAS and Nicolas LE BERRE (FRA).
Gustavo MARTINEZ-DORESTE and Dimas WOOD (ESP) make the biggest climb in the top twenty, rising four places to number three, pushing Andreas KOSMATOPOULOS and Kostas TRIGONIS (GRE) and the Bonnaud brothers from France down to fourth and fifth respectively.
The only new entry in the top twenty is Kristian KJAERGAARD and Mads MOLLER from Denmark who are up three to twenty. Further down the pile, the 2002 470 World Champion Simon COOKE (NZL), now sailing with Alistair GAIR, is steadily making his way back up the rankings. He now sits at 30 - a rise of fourteen places certainly helped by an eleventh place at Hyères where the duo won two races.
Racing gets underway at the 2004 470 World Championship in Croatia on Monday and this, the final qualification regatta for the class, will see six more male teams bagging a place in Athens. Likely contenders from a glance at the rankings are Poland, Turkey, Finland, Austria, Canada, Belarus and Hungary - there doesn't appear to be much to choose between them.
Double-handed Dinghy Women - 470
The women's 470 are only counting two events in this ranking - the ISAF Grade 1 Semaine Olympique Française and the ISAF Grade 2 XXXIX International 470 Spring Cup held in France.
Whilst the top five of the rankings remain the same and Ingrid PETITJEAN and Nadege DOUROUX (FRA) remain at the top, there are two new teams moving into the top twenty. Lisa WESTERHOF and Margriet MATTHIJSSE (NED) move up to seventeen from 23 and Shelley HESSON and Linda DICKSON (NZL) rise four places to 20. Hesson and Dickson finished tenth in Hyères.
Further down the pack another Kiwi has made a huge leap up the rankings. A fifth place finish at the XXIX International 470 Spring Cup and 22 in Hyères has boosted Melinda HENSHAW and Jan SHEARER nineteen places up the rankings to number 52.
Five more women's teams will also qualify for Athens 2004 at the 470 World Championship starting on Monday. Canada, surprisingly as they are now sitting at number 15 in the world, are yet to qualify and they are likely to be joined by the USA, Argentina, Austria, Switzerland, Poland or Croatia who will all be having a shot at qualification. The USA is clearly confident of qualification, as they have announced the selection of Katie MCDOWELL and Isabelle KINSOLVING to represent the nation in Athens. McDowell is ranked at number 23.
Double-handed Dinghy Open - 49er
At the recent 49er World Championship held in Athens, Greece, Iker MARTINEZ and Xabier FERNANDEZ (ESP) took back their crown from Chris DRAPER and Simon HISCOCKS (GBR) who had to settle for second. The Spanish pair have subsequently moved slightly up the rankings and are now sitting at number 16. Martinez and Fernandez were also looking hot to take victory in Hyères but after completing four races had to return to Spain for a routine injury check up. This pair are certainly ones to watch in Athens and their explosion back onto the scene at the Worlds illustrates that their lack of results over the last twelve months is not an indication of form.
Draper and Hiscocks meanwhile remain at the top of the world rankings ahead of Rodion LUKA and George LEONCHUK from the Ukraine. The USA's representatives in Athens, Tim WADLOW and Pete SPAULDING continue to climb and are at their highest ever position, number four. They finished fourth in Hyères and fifth at the Worlds.
The biggest casualties in the 49er rankings are Paul BROTHERTON crewed by Mark ASQUITH (GBR) and Santiago LOPEZ VAZQUEZ and Javier DE LA PLATA (ESP). After a performance at the Worlds that they would probably like to forget, Brotherton and Asquith have slid from third down to thirteenth. Lopez Vazquez and de la Plata have gone further, disappearing from number eight out of the top twenty altogether to number 22.
Three crews have leapt into the top twenty, the highest being the winners of Semaine Olympique Française, brothers Pietro and Gianfranco SIBELLO (ITA) at number 14. Allan NORREGAARD and Klaus NAUR from Denmark move up eight places to number 15 and Nico DELLE-KARTH and Niko RESCH (AUT) sneak into number twenty from 26.
The 49er World Championship saw five more teams securing a slot for their nation to Athens. Finland, France, Ireland, Japan and Switzerland bring the total nations competing in the double-handed dinghy open event up to twenty.
Single-handed Dinghy Men - Finn
It has been close between these two giants of single-handed sailing for some time. At the top of their game, it can sometimes take one event to make the entire difference. In this case it was two. Mateusz KUSNIEREWICZ (POL) has regained the number one spot from Ben AINSLIE (GBR). Ben won the Princess Sofia Trophy in April in such dominant form and Mateusz finished third, yet all it took was an eleventh place for the Polish heart throb in Hyères last week to claim back the top spot.
All that will come down to little when the first race starts in Athens in August. The Olympic Games, with its pressures and the eyes of the world upon you will be the true test of these sailors' mettle.
Back to the rankings, Michael MAIER (CZE) has made a brilliant appearance into ninth place, leaping from 13 into ninth, whilst winner of Hyères, Emilios PAPATHANASOU (GRE) has done his position in the World Rankings no harm, appearing once again rightfully in the top twenty before his proud moment of representing the host country at the Olympic Games.
Multihull Open - Tornado
Hyères is proving to be a useful event for sticking at the top of the ISAF World Sailing Rankings. Mitch BOOTH and Herbert DERKSON (NED) won the regatta this year and the points gain has enabled them to further consolidate their lead at the top of the rankings.
Multiple World Champions and Olympic medallists Darren BUNDOCK and John FORBES (AUS) have clearly been doing something right, despite a disappointing third place finish at the World Championship in Palma, they have climbed into seventh, to occupy their highest position for 12 months.
Keelboat women - Yngling
Despite there being only one event included for the Yngling in this ranking, the ISAF Grade 1 Semaine Olympique Française in Hyères, France, there have been a number of notable movements. Dorte JENSEN, Hellen JESPERSEN and Rachel KIEL (DEN) retain their position at number one and still have a commanding lead over the pack. Behind them Ulrike SHUEMANN, Winnie LIPPERT and Wibke BUELL (GER) and Betsy ALISON, Suzy LEECH and Lee ICYDA (USA) have swapped second and third - Alison has not competed at a graded event since the ISAF Grade 1Rolex Miami OCR.
Climbing into the top ten is the USA representative to Athens 2004 Carol CRONIN, with crew Liz FILTER and Nancy HABERLAND. They move up from ten to six despite finishing 15 in Hyères. Sally BARKOW, Carrie HOWE and Debbie CAPOZZI (USA), who had a much better regatta, finishing third, have finally broken into the top 20 of the rankings, rising five places to number 20 and becoming the fifth American team in the top 20.
Eighteen year old Giulia CONTI from Italy continues her rise up the rankings, moving up another two places to sit at number ten. Conti and her crew Alessandra MARENZI and Angela BARONI produced a consistent performance in Hyères; their worst results were 18 and 15 and Conti is displaying all the signs of a solid performer and a star of the future.
Semaine Olympique Française was one for the British team of Shirley ROBERTSON, Sarah AYTON and Sarah WEBB who won four of the eleven races and finished twenty points ahead of second placed Kristin WAGNER, Anna HOLL and Veronika LOCHBRUNNER of Germany. Robertson however drops a place in the rankings to number nine and Wagner stays firm at number five.
The 2004 Yngling World Championship, the final qualification regatta for the 2004 Olympic Games kicks off on Friday. Crews will be flexing their muscles as the countdown to the Games continues and those who haven't qualified will be focussed on those final four spaces. A look at the rankings suggest the likely contenders will be New Zealand, the Netherlands, Ukraine, Canada, Norway and Sweden.
Keelboat Men - Star
The Star Class have just completed their World Championship in Gaeta, Italy, at which the final four Olympic Qualification places were confirmed.
There was one result that was never in doubt though. Freddie LOOF and Anders EKSTROM (SWE) showed themselves to be a dominant force at the top of proceedings and definite medal prospects leading up to the Olympics. The pair maintain their lead at the top of the rankings, as well as winning the 2004 World Championship title.
Third in Gaeta, Iain PERCY and Steve MITCHELL (GBR) are still pushing Loof and Ekstrom and are only a few points behind in the rankings. Bermudan sailor Peter BROMBY brings up the tail end of the top three.
The class has a huge nation base and the Olympic medals could come from any number of sailors, any number of nations and any number of continents. All that can be said are that favourites are all in the rankings, somewhere, and when it comes to predicting the result in Athens, it's anyone's game.
The next ranking release will take place on 3 June 2004 up to and including the SPA Regatta in Medemblik, NED.