In Cascais the President of the IOC Cup will be awarded to the nation which finishes top of the medal table. Nations are ranked first by the number of gold medals, the number of silver, then bronze. The Brits won the Cup in Cadiz four years ago and currently lie in fourth place in the medal table in Cascais, behind Brazil, Spain and New Zealand. Translating the current standings from the events which have not yet finished into medals, then the Brits jump up to the top of the table, with two golds and three bronze. Australia are second with two golds and, whilst Brazil and Spain tie for third with two golds.
Of course, there are still three Medal Races to go and plenty of scope for change, but in Wednesdays Yngling press conference, newly crowned World Champion Sarah AYTON (GBR) was in little doubt as to the top nation, unequivocally stating, Team GBR are the best sailing nation in the world.
But do the facts back up that claim? Over the past 24 months Skandia Team GBR has been the dominant force in the ISAF World Sailing Rankings, however, just before coming to Cascais their position slipped. Germany moved up to occupy the top nation spot ahead of France, Australia, Poland and Spain, whilst Great Britain suddenly dropped from first to sixth. However the British slip can be partly explained by the teams no show at Kiel and the results from the sports pinnacle events tell a different story to the current Rankings.
Current Medal Table
Amongst the 2006 Olympic Class World Champions Great Britain, Australia and the Netherlands were the only nations to pick up two gold medals, with the others going to Denmark, China, Italy, New Zealand and Spain. Looking across a range of the combined-class events, starting with the all-important Olympic Games, the last ISAF Worlds (where nations can have more than one entry per class) and the 2006 Olympic Test Event (reflecting the conditions sailors can expect in 2008), AYTONs claim appears to be completely justified.
Britain lead all three medal tables with a combined total of 18 medals, way ahead of the next best total of ten medals by France. AYTON also has history on her side. The two gold medals Britain won in Athens lifted them above the USA to become the top nation in the sailing Olympic Medal Table with 19 golds (although the USA still have a higher combined medal total).
So what is the secret of the British success? Certainly the team are well funded, but that alone is only part of the story. After coaching the British 49er team to silver at the Sydney Olympic Games, Stephen PARK took over as Olympic Manager for Skandia Team GBR in 2001. His initial response to the question is obvious, although perhaps often overlooked, 'Good sailors. Ultimately thats what its comes down to having good sailors.'
On her way to winning the World title AYTON had a week-long battle with fellow Brit Shirley ROBERTSON (GBR). She says the rivalry within the British camp is one of the crucial ingredients in the teams winning formula, All of us having been hitting the podium at these events over the last year, she explained. It makes the biggest difference having someone on your heels the whole time. It just makes you train that little bit harder and I think thats why Team GBR are the best sailing nation in the world, because in each class weve got two boats which are quite capable of winning World Championships.
PARK frequently refers to the benefits of this intensity within the British team, but looking ahead he also sounds a note of caution. 'Theres no doubt that its getting more and more competitive and theres no doubt a number of the other teams have really raised their game over this Olympic cycle,' he said.
2006 Olympic Test Event
One of the nations fast catching up is Australia. After a brilliant performance on their home waters in Sydney, the Aussies looked set for another impressive medal haul in 2004. The signs were good when they finished second in the medal table at the Cadiz Worlds in 2003, but a year later in Athens they didnt win a single medal. Since then a new generation of Aussie talent has emerged to propel the team back up to being one of the sailing worlds strongest. Newly crowned Laser World Champion Tom SLINGSBY (AUS) is the most obvious example, but theres also Nathan OUTTERIDGE and Ben AUSTIN (AUS) in the 49ers, whilst in the 470 the challenge of Mathew BELCHER and Nick BEHRENS (AUS) has given Nathan WILMOT and Malcolm PAGE (AUS) what PAGE calls a little push along. The Aussies won the Kings Trophy for best nation at the ISAF World Sailing Games in Austria last year and look like providing the Brits with their toughest challenge this time round.
Olympic Medal Table
For some nations, just getting on the medal table at all is a notable achievement and a massive boost for the sport. Belarus have never won a sailing Olympic medal and were hardly expected to provided a medal threat in Cascais this year. 'What is this sailing?' was a common question aimed at Tatiana DROZDOVSKAYA (BLR) back in her homeland. But after she turned the form book on its head to win the Laser Radial World title this week, she has opened out an exciting window of opportunity, 'I hope that now all of Belarus will know about this,' she enthused.
IOC Member Fernando Lima BELLO will present the President of the IOC Cup to the winning nation tomorrow. If all goes well in the 49ers, Great Britain will be lifting it for the second time. Our job is to keep trying to stay one step ahead of the competition,' says PARK. It will have been a job done well if they take to the top step of the podium again tomorrow, but its by no means a done deal yet.
You can watch the Medal Races live on Sail.TV, who are also showing daily highlights from Cascais.
There is also live online tracking of the Medal Races at http://www.isafworldstracking.com/.
Read our fleet by fleet reports by clicking on the links below:
Finn - Tornado - Yngling - Star - 49er - 470s - Lasers - RS:Xs
Over 1,300 sailors from 76 nations are competing at the 2007 ISAF Sailing World Championships, from 28 June-13 July in Cascais, Portugal. 'The Wind Is Calling' is the official motto for the 2007 Worlds. The Championships are the principal qualification regatta for the 2008 Olympic Sailing Competition, with 75% of all national places to be decided.
For all the news on the ISAF Sailing World Championships 2007 CLICK HERE.