One of the biggest Olympic selection battles ever seen will take place at Yachting NSW's Sydney International Regatta (SIRs) in December when Ben Ainslie, one of the world's highest profile sailors, takes on Ed Wright for selection into the British team in the Finn class.
Thirty year old Wright from Bournemouth faces a huge task. Ainslie has two Olympic gold medals - one in the Laser from Sydney 2000 and one in the Finn, won at the Athens Games. While Wright has a World Ranking of 5 and Ainslie is ranked 104, it means little in the scheme of things.
Until recently, 'Big Ben', was tied up with the America's Cup, but has since won a number of titles; Qingdao Test Event, the RYA National Match Racing qualifier in September and the match racing Cento Cup in October. You see, this Brit is talented enough to combine Olympic sailing and match racing as he looks to both the next Olympics and America's Cup.
This year, Wright won Skandia Go for Gold, was third at the Breitling Regatta, fourth at Hyeres and sixth at the ISAF Worlds, but believes he is up to the job of beating his rival.
Following SIRs, to be held from December 15-18 on Sydney Harbour, the two will face-off again at the Finn Gold Cup at Sail Melbourne in January, which may ultimately decide who gets the prized Olympic place, should the decision not be made at SIRs.
However, with a number of world championships to be decided in Melbourne and NSW early next year, including the Finn Gold Cup, the pair will face strong competition from other countries as well.
Australia's best includes Anthony 'Nocka' Nossiter and Brendan Casey. Following America's Cup competition which as kept him away from Finn sailing, Nossiter, who represented in Athens, finished 10th at the ISAF Worlds, qualifying Australia for Games and beating compatriot Brendan Casey for Olympic selection.
Casey, from Queensland, made switch from a Laser to the Finn in 2007. Best results in the Finn include an eighth at the Princess Sofia Trophy and fifth at Kiel Week. All four sailors are now practicing out of Woollahra Sailing Club, which will host many of the classes in the ISAF Grade 1 SIRs.
They will be joined by Zach Railey (USA) who is making his way up through the ranks with a best result of eighth at the Qingdao Test Event and a second at the Expert Olympic Garda Eurolymp. One can expect to see most of the world's top Finn sailors as they prepare for their worlds at Sail Melbourne in January.
The 470 Men and Women will also be at SIRs in good numbers, as they too will sail their world championships at Sail Melbourne in January. Already entered are Dutch brothers Sven and Kalle Coster, winners at the North American Championship, second placed at ISAF Worlds and 11th in Qingdao at the Olympic Test Event.
Singapore is sending three Men's crews headed by Wee Chin Teo/Jia Ming Benjamin Tan and Australia will have the World Ranked No. 1 pairing of Nathan Wilmot/Malcolm Page, three time world champions who have been selected to their second Olympic competition. Mat Belcher, who just missed selection, has also entered.
In the Women's field, Marcelien de Koning/Lobke Berkhout (NED), winners of the 2005 and 2006 Worlds and gold medallists at the Rolex Miami OCR, Princess Sofia Trophy and the ISAF Worlds this year are strong contenders.
Rivals include Ingrid Petitjean/Nadege Douroux (FRA), representatives at the Athens Games, third placed at the Qingdao Test Event, silver medallists at the ISAF Worlds and second at the Rolex Miami OCR; they will be hard to beat.
The Japanese pairing of Ai Kondo/Naoko Kamata are on their way to Sydney. Some great results of late with victory at Barcelona Olympic Week, second at the Qingdao Test Event and fourth at ISAF Worlds, show they are on their way to the top.
Of course, Australia has its own special crew and newly nominated Olympians, Elise Rechichi/Tessa Parkinson. The West Australians are always at the top of their game, proving themselves with a win at the Test Event in Qingdao, finishing second at Kiel Week and third at the Europeans, after making a flawless transition from the 420 class in 2005. Despite some nasty medical setbacks, Rechichi has amazing fortitude, fighting back to reclaim she and Parkinson's standing in the class.
Laser competition will be tough at SIRs. With the Australian Championship and the Laser Asia Pacific Championship to be held at Sail Melbourne in January and the ensuing Laser Worlds to be held off Terrigal next February, a huge field of the best are expected.
Australia's Tom Slingsby, World Ranked (WR) no. 1 and current world champion is an early entry, along with Canadian Michael Leigh (WR 6) and Estonia's Dennis Karpak (WR 10).
In the new Women's Olympic Laser Radial, early entries are WR 2, Evi Van Acker (BEL), Mexican Tania Elias Calles WR 3, New Zealand's best Jo Aleh, WR 7 and the top four British girls who have little separating them; Lizzie Vickers, Andrea Brewster, Laura Baldwin and Penny Clark, all after one Olympic berth.
Athens Olympian and former Europe world champion Sarah Blanck is Australia's lead sailor. Blanck was the best placed Australian at the Athens Olympics. A former Laser Radial world champion, she made the switch back to the Radial when it was announced as an Olympic class and was recently selected to the Australian Team for Beijing.
However, Blanck is not the only Aussie in the running. The current ISAF Youth World champion, Gabrielle King (AUS) is also entered for SIRs. The 17 year old, who lives at Mororo on the NSW North Coast, far away from mainstream sailing ports, shows great promise. This will be her first open competition and she says: I am really serious about my sailing and have a dream of representing Australia at the Olympics one day."
Many non-Olympic Laser and Laser Radial sailors are entered for SIRs too, getting in some vital practice prior to competing at the Laser Masters Worlds at Terrigal in February and ensuring huge fleets in both classes.
In the Torando multihull, Australia's versatile cat sailors Darren Bundock/Glenn Ashby lead a solid field. Bundock has a silver medal from Sydney 2000, represented at Athens 2004 and lines up for Beijing in 2008 as a strong medal prospect.
He and Ashby hold many world and national titles in various cat classes, including the Tornado. Bundock says: "I'm looking forward to sailing on the harbour again in a good fleet. It should be great viewing for spectators, similar to watching the Sydney 2000 Games."
As the Tornado Asia Pacific's will be hosted in Melbourne come January, many internationals will compete at SIRs including the only Olympic female skipper, Carolijn Brouwer and her crew Sebastien Godefroid (BEL).
Brouwer has called at least three countries home, speaks five languages and has sailed 470s, Europe and now Tornado, with top results, including she and Godefroid's recent second at the ISAF Worlds. Previously, Brouwer represented in the 470 at Sydney 2000 and the Europe at the Athens Games. Godefroid formerly sailed a Finn and finished seventh at Sydney 2000 and in Athens, and won Silver at the 1996 Games in Savannah.
Also entered are the 2007 German champions, Johannes Polgar/Florian Spalteholz - the winners at Kiel Week this year who finished fourth at Qingdao's Test Event and second placed at the Breitling Regatta.
Not yet entered, Bundock says to expect the top 10 pairings; Fernando Echavarri/Anton Paz (ESP), Xavier Revil/Catherine Ecarlat (FRA), Yann Guichard/Alexandre Guyader (FRA), John Lovell/Charlie Ogletree (USA), Roland Gaebler/Gunner Struckmann (GER), and Mitch Booth/Pim Nieuwenhuis (NED).
Other entries for SIRs, which is expected to field a record entry, include RS:X sailboards, Yngling, 49er and 29er skiffs, where a large field is expected due to their world titles being held at Melbourne in January and the 420 double handed class.
For all information on the Sydney International Regatta, including the NoR go to: http://www.nsw.yachting.org.au/ or www.sailsydney.org.au