More than 160 of the World's top Paralympic sailing talents are ready to stake their claim for supremacy as the IFDS Disabled Sailing Combined World Championships 2011 get underway in Weymouth and Portland on Thursday 30 June.
No fewer than 96 boats from 30 nations will battle it out across the three Paralympic classes - 2.4mR, SKUD and Sonar - over six days of fierce racing, in what is the final opportunity for athletes to qualify for the 2012 Paralympic Sailing Competition.
Many of the sailors will need no introduction to the host venue having competed at the Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta earlier this month, where gold medals went to France's Damien Seguin
(2.4mR), Australian duo Dan Fitzgibbon
and Liesl Tesch
(SKUD) and British trio John Robertson
, Hannah Stodel
and Steve Thomas
But with an array of World and Paralympic sailing champions past and present on show, nothing can be taken for granted at the IFDS (International Association for Disabled Sailing) Combined World Championships 2011.
Thierry Schmitter is one of those defending World champions, having taken the top 2.4mR one-person keelboat prize in both 2009 and 2010. The Dutchman, who claimed bronze at Skandia Sail for Gold, admits he is relishing the chance to complete a Worlds hat-trick.
He said, "It would be an achievement to win three in a row but I am focused only on this Championship, what I have done at the last two is in the past. I don't feel any pressure as the defending champion I just try to work as usual. At Sail for Gold people were certainly more focused on next year's Paralympics than ever before; many people have stayed in Weymouth to train rather than going to other ISAF World Cup events like Kiel and Medemblik to race. I was happy with my result at Sail for Gold and the equipment we developed over the winter and things are going in the right direction."
However, Schmitter is guaranteed to face stiff competition from Athens 2004 Paralympic champion and Beijing 2008 silver medalist Seguin, multiple World champion and Sydney 2000 Paralympic gold medalist Heiko Kroeger (GER) and Schmitter's Dutch teammate, the Skandia Sail for Gold silver medalist Andre Rademaker is his quest for IFDS Worlds glory.
Also bidding for their third back-to-back Worlds success in the SKUD two-person keelboat are Skandia Team GBR's Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell, Skandia Sail for Gold silver medalists.
Rickham and Birrell's main competition looks set to come from Down Under with the two Australian teams of Fitzgibbon and Tesch and Jamie Dunross
and Rachael Cox
, Fitzgibbon and Cox having claimed Beijing 2008 Paralympic silver together three years ago. Dunross, who won Sydney 2000 gold in the Sonar, and Cox took bronze at Skandia Sail for Gold.
Rickham added, "Our training in the build-up has gone pretty well. I think everything's on course. Obviously it would be wicked to win our third title here, but we'll just have to wait and see what Weymouth throws at us next week! It was really comforting [to win a medal at Sail for Gold], but it wasn't gold so we weren't at our happiest. The Aussies have been a bit of a niggle lately, but hopefully we might be able to rectify that next week. It's been amazing for the SKUD fleet at the last two regattas because we've had so many boats - we had 18 boats for Sail for Gold and we're going to have 21 boats here."
As always the Sonar is set to provide further intriguing competition. Robertson, Stodel and Thomas are themselves double World champions, taking the crown in 2005 and 2006, while defending their 2010 title are the Dutch team of Udo Hessels
, Marcel Van De Veen and Mischa Rossen, who took Sail for Gold silver behind the Brits. Despite not enjoying the most fruitful Sail for Gold, finishing seventh, reigning Paralympic champions Jens Kroker, Robert Prem and Siegmund Mainka (GER) can never be discounted nor can the French team of Beijing 2008 silver medalists Bruno Jourdren and Nicolas Vimont-Vicary with Eric Flageul.
The IFDS Disabled Sailing Combined World Championships 2011 are being organised, and run, by the RYA, supported by UK Sport.
Linda Merkle, IFDS President, said, "IFDS is pleased to welcome our international sailors to this beautiful sailing site and venue. The calibre of competitors will be excellent. The importance of this Paralympic qualification event creates a high level of intensity and excitement. The competitors have trained hard for this World Championship and are to be recognised for their efforts and cheered for their successes. My wish to each of them is for good winds, good sportsmanship and great sailing."
Racing gets underway on Sunday 3 July with 11 races in total scheduled for each class (two races per day Sunday-Thursday and one race on Friday 8 July).
For all the latest news from the IFDS Disabled Sailing Combined World Championships 2011 visit www.ifdsworlds2011.com