The 41st edition of the Semaine Olympique Francaise (SOF) marks a major new era for the event as it becomes part of the inaugural ISAF Sailing World Cup series for the Olympic and Paralympic events.
Event manager Bernard BONNEAU says, "We are delighted to be part of the first edition of the ISAF Sailing World Cup and welcome so many world class sailors to Hyeres. This year we have followed the World Cup guidelines as closely as possible to ensure unity across the events. We have respected the sailing instructions and racing management rules and have added the ISAF Sailing World Cup logo alongside our sponsors on each boat".
The French event also welcomes a new major sponsor, Toulon Provence Méditérranée, Communauté d'Agglomération, which joins the FFVoile and the city of Hyères as main sponsors of the SOF. "We are very glad to have them on board," says BONNEAU. "They bring great financial help, human resources and the dynamism linked to such an important community."
Racing will be held in nine of the ten Olympic sailing events (Women's Match Racing is not taking place in Hyeres but makes its return to the next World Cup event, the Delta Lloyd Regatta at Medemblik in May) along with the 2.4mR - one person keelboat Paralympic event. Following on from the Practice Race and Opening Ceremony on Saturday, the competition at Hyeres begins this Sunday 19 April and continues throughout next week, concluding with the all-important Medal Races on Friday 24 April. The podium finishers in each of the ten events will be presented with ISAF Sailing World Cup medals, whilst the top 20 finishers will all score points towards the ISAF Sailing World Cup Standings (20 points for first place, 19 for second, down to 1 for twentieth).
Amongst the star names featured on the entry list for Hyeres is 2008 Olympic gold medallist Paul GOODISON (GBR), who is making his return to the Laser class after victory at Beijing last August.
"I've spent a whole week training in Hyères, it is nice to come back to sailing again after such a long break," says GOODISON, "I have won the SOF in 2002 and would love to win it again this year. The guys who have been competing in other events will have a small advantage, but I will see how long it takes me to get back to the top!".
The British skipper lines up in a huge Laser fleet of over 150 boats, which includes Croatia's Daniel MIHELIC, who leads the ISAF Sailing World Cup Standings after the opening three events, and also features the return of another famous Laser name, Tom SLINGSBY (AUS). The young Australian went to Beijing as a hot favourite after winning back-to-back Laser World Championship titles, but came unstuck at the Olympic venue, finishing down in 22nd place. However, SLINGSBY has a strong record at Hyeres, winning the event in both 2005 and 2006, and will be relishing the chance to take on the Olympic Champion and re-establish his reputation as the man to beat in the Laser fleet.
"This is my first Laser event since the Olympic, I have sailed in different classes to take a break during the last months, Farr 40, Mumm 30, A Class… I have only returned to the Laser end of March. I want to do well here, but of course I am a bit rusty! Mainly I wan to get back into it and have fun!" revealed the Australian skipper.
Like GOODISON, another British crew launching their London 2012 campaign at Hyeres are Nic ASHER and Elliot WILLIS. Despite winning the 470 World title in both 2006 and 2008, Asher and Willis missed out on selection for the British team to Qingdao, so will be looking to make a strong early impression as they return to the Olympic sailing scene in Hyeres.
The Star class is back in Hyeres for the first time since 2001. Athens bronze medallist, Xavier ROHART (FRA) is particularly pleased with this change: "It is great for me to be racing at home in an international competition. It is also an excellent opportunity to show the other teams the wonderful sailing conditions we have in Hyères," he says.
Some of the teams have joined ROHART and new crew Pierre-Alexis PONSOT, for some training between the previous World Cup event at Palma and the SOF.
For many crews, the new Olympic quadrennial also means a new class, particularly for those who had been competing in the Yngling or Tornado, neither of which feature on the sailing programme for London 2012. Mandy MULDER and Merel WITTEVEEN (NED) formed two-thirds of the Dutch Yngling crew which won silver at Beijing and have teamed up again but this time in the two-person 470 dinghy. They make their debut together at Hyeres as part of a very competitive Women's 470 fleet, which includes French stars Ingrid PETITJEAN and Nadège DOUROUX as well as the Danish team of Henriette KOCH and Lene SOMMER, who currently lead the World Cup Standings.
The two RS:X windsurfing fleets at Hyeres also look set to provide a fascinating competition. Olympic silver medallist Julien BONTEMPS (FRA) will be keen to impress on his home waters and heads up the men's fleet, whilst Spanish duo Blanca MANCHON and Marina ALABAU, first and second respectively in the World Cup Standings, will resume their battle in the women's fleet.
Other names to keep an eye on include:
- Beijing Olympic gold medallist Anna TUNNICLIFFE (USA) looks to extend her lead at the top of the World Cup Standings in the Laser Radial fleet
- Team China make their return to Olympic sailing from on from gold and bronze medal success at Qingdao. Chinese sailors line up in the Men's RS:X, Women's RS:X and Men's 470 fleets
- Beijing gold medallist Paul TINGLEY (CAN) challenges 2004 Paralympic gold medallist Damien SEGUIN (FRA) and World Cup Standings leader Megan PASCOE (GBR) in the 2.4mR fleet
- Five-time Volvo Youth Sailing ISAF World Championship medallist Laura LINARES (ITA) competes in the Women's RS:X fleet - is she the next Alessandra SENSINI (ITA)?
- World Cup leader Ed WRIGHT (GBR) lines up in the Finn fleet
- France's Beijing bronze medal winner Nicolas CHARBONNIER looks to build on his winning start with new crew Baptiste MEYER.
You can follow the latest action with live updates, results, news, photos and more on the event website www.sof.ffvoile.net and with daily video highlight on the ISAF Sailing World Cup website at www.sailing.org/isafsailingworldcup.
ISAF Sailing World Cup
The ISAF Sailing World Cup 2008-2009 consists of the following events:
16-21 Dec 2008 - Sail Melbourne The Asia Pacific Regatta, Melbourne, Australia
25-31 Jan 2009 - Rolex Miami OCR, Miami, USA
4-10 April 2009 - Trofeo SAR Princess Sofia MAPFRE, Palma, Spain
18-24 April 2009 - Semaine Olympique Francaise, Hyeres, France
27-31 May 2009 - Delta Lloyd Regatta, Medemblik, Netherlands
20-29 June 2009 - Kieler Woche, Kiel, Germany
14-19 Sept 2009 - Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta, Weymouth, Great Britain
Find out more about the ISAF Sailing World Cup, including more on the seven events, the latest World Cup Standings, the scoring system and the Notice of Series at www.sailing.org/isafsailingworldcup.