With such a vast number of entries, the Laser was split into four groups, re-seeded at the end of each day during the qualification series. Along with four other events, the Laser started its Championship and qualification series later in the overall Championship, and were based away from the main venue at Elcano, just at the entrance to Cadiz city.
In superb sailing conditions of 20 knots, gusting up to 25, it was Gustavo LIMA (POR) who took the overall lead in the opening day with two guns, a position he held onto after the second day of qualification. Robert SCHEIDT (BRA) was never far behind, and sat a few points adrift, until he gained the overall lead going into the final race day, but only for a brief moment.
Prior to the Championship, Gustavo had spent two weeks training in Cadiz, including the Spanish Nationals and was surprised to have a double bullet opener.
After an excellent opener, the recent European Champion Vasilij ZBOGAR (SLO) who had been in third overall after race 4, just couldn't maintain his pace and dropped down after races 5 and 6. Similarly Ali KEMAL TUKEKCI (TUR) also sailed a superb opener, but couldn't retain the consistency.
All the sailors found the Bay of Cadiz to offer very testing conditions, with shifts that were difficult to read. Aside from a few postponements, the wind conditions for the series were excellent. Even on the postponement days, the wind always filled in to provide good racing.
Day three of racing saw the lightest winds of the series, with a land breeze of 12 knots which then dropped in race 6 and veered right over 90 degrees, causing races to be abandoned or shortened. Race 6 saw the cut made in the 174 boat fleet, with the boats split into four groups, of which it was the top 44 sailors who made up the Gold fleet and had a shot at the World Championship medals. These top 44 boats represented 25 nations. At this point of the series, it was all still wide open with only 27 points separating the top twenty boats.
The opening day of the finals saw a 15 knot breeze and a swell, with big gains to be made if the sailors got their waves right. The first race 7 demonstrated the high standard of the fleet, with the 44 boats rounding the windward mark within 40 seconds of each other, and this after a one mile windward leg, taking 19 minutes. After two races, Gustavo extended his points lead further over Robert, although the top three boats were clearly ahead of the pack on points.
Race day 5 saw the scheduled races 9 and 10 postponed, with the sailors kept ashore waiting for the sea breeze to fill in. Eventually underway in the mid-afternoon at 1530 hours, it was Robert SCHEIDT's day as he posted two results over Gustavo LIMA to take the overall lead with a two point margin. Michael BLACKBURN remained in bronze medal position, with Daniel BIRGMARK (SWE) close on his tail, leaving no margin for error going into the final and deciding race.
For Robert the final day seemed easy by comparison to other final battles he has been involved in. To claim an unprecedented seventh World Championship title, all he had to do was finish ahead of Gustavo LIMA. For Gustavo, he had to finish fourth or better with Robert behind him - and what ensued was a nail biting race to the end.
After a general recall, the fleet started cleanly after Robert and Gustavo put on a display of pre-start match racing, separating just before the start to find small holes on the line about 5 boats apart. Neither sailors had excellent starts and rounded the first mark mid-fleet, but their downwind performances brought them up through the fleet, with Gustavo having increased his margin and the number of boats over Robert. Going into the last mark rounding, Gustavo had fought his way up to fifth, which was one place out of giving him victory on a tie-break. But there was one further twist to determing the medals, as the breeze dropped for two minutes and then swung 120 degrees as the sea breeze began to fill in on the final short leg to the finish. Lima chose to sail out to sea and picked up the first puffs of the sea breeze to cross the line third and take his first World Championship title, beating Robert SCHEIDT by 1 point. Michael BLACKBURN retained his Bronze medal position by finishing in thirteenth.
The fifteen countries qualified in 2003 for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, subject to ISAF ratification are: Argentina, Belarus, Chile, Denmark, France, Germany, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Seychelles and the USA.
They join the fourteen nations who qualified last year: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Croatia, Spain, Finland, Great Britain, Italy, South Africa, Slovenia, Sweden and Turkey along with Greece as host nations.
A further seven nations will qualify in 2004.
For full daily reports, click on the dated links below.
Races 1 and 2, 18 September 2003
Races 3 and 4, 19 September 2003
Races 5 and 6, 20 September 2003
Lay Day, 21 September 2003
Races 7 and 8, 22 September 2003
Races 9 and 10, 23 September 2003
Race 11 and Medal Ceremony, 24 September 2003
Nations Qualified for the 2004 Olympic Regatta