The ISAF Grade W Finn Gold Cup is set for a classic showdown when it gets underway at Sail Melbourne from 20-29 January on the challenging waters of Port Phillip.
To be held simultaneously with the Finn Silver Cup (the Finn Youth World Championship) and hosted by Black Rock Yacht Club, one of the world's most outstanding Olympic sailors will feature in a showdown for a place in the British Olympic team for Beijing in 2008 and for the prize of the Gold Cup.
(GBR), gold medallist in the Laser at Sydney 2000 Games and in the Finn at the 2004 Athens Games (also a silver medallist in the Laser in 1996), will take on fellow British sailor Ed WRIGHT
, who feels he can defeat the double gold medallist for selection.
Currently holding an ISAF World Sailing Ranking
of #5 in the Finn, WRIGHT's feats include victory at the Skandia Go for Gold, third at the Breitling Regatta, fourth at Hyeres and sixth at the ISAF Sailing World Championships, against AINSLIE's gold medal haul and four successive Finn Gold Cup wins and match racing trophies.
With AINSLIE tied up at the America's Cup, and therefore missing the 2006-07 Gold Cups, gold still eluded WRIGHT, who finished third in 2006 and sixth this year. Whichever way it goes, it will be a huge stoush and not to be missed viewing.
The Royal Yachting Association has indicated Olympic selection between the two will place at either the ISAF Grade 1 Sydney International Regatta or at the Finn Gold Cup in January.
Olympic selection is the main aim, but the two 30 year-old sailors will be keeping their eyes on winning both events as well. And this is where the difficulty lies. We have seen it all before in elite competition; combative tactics that can leave both out of the running for the Championship prize.
To that end, AINSLIE says: "I'll be sailing how I normally do and keeping my eye on the whole competition."
He will face some talented sailor; defending Gold Cup champion, Rafa TRUJILLO
(ESP), along with second to fifth placegetters, Pieter-Jan POSTMA
(NED), Gasper VINCEC
(SLO), Jonas HOEGH-CHRISTENSEN
(DEN) and Emilios PAPATHANASIOU
There's also Australia's double Olympian Anthony NOSSITER
. The Sydney sailor has put in Finn practice between America's Cup commitments. New Zealander, Dan SLATER
, has been putting in the hard yards for some good results this past year.
John BERTRAND, Sail Melbourne Patron, America's Cup winning skipper and double Finn Olympian with a bronze medal from the 1976 Montreal Games says: "Ben is an extraordinary sailor - two Olympic gold medals across two classes.
"He reminds me of Paul ELVSTRÖM [the Danish sailor dominated Olympic Finn class sailing between 1948 and 1960, winning four consecutive gold medals, competing at the Olympic Games as late as the 1988 Games and considered the greatest sailor in Olympic history], and he can read the wind well and sails beautifully."
However, BERTRAND grants, "Anyone can be beaten. Ben is a phenomenon, and those competing against him have to make small gains. You need to be able to sail the boat without constantly looking at your sails, by reading winds; having some finesse, confidence and poise."
NOSSITER, already selected for the Beijing Games, agrees that while AINSLIE will be hard to beat, he is beatable. "You have to be fast, accurate and bloody good at match racing to beat Ben - and he's great in all conditions; the complete package.
"I would have to say that anyone who has previously won the Gold Cup has the capacity to beat him. People like Rafa and Jonas who won in 2006 - and both will be in Melbourne.
"The rest of us are working on our weaknesses. I'm practicing my downwind work. I'm getting my feel for it back. Downwind performance is important now that we have the unlimited pumping rule, so that's where I'm putting most my energies at the moment."
BERTRAND says there are noticeable differences since his heyday in the class. "Sailors are stronger and much more athletic than when I was sailing a Finn. We carried two weight jackets that weighed nearly 40 kilos. Because of them, we couldn't hike like they do today.
"Technology-wise, they now have carbon fibre masts and better sail material. Finns have moved a long way forward."
Keen to see the Finns in action, BERTRAND says: "It should be a memorable event; in fact I'm looking forward to watching all of the World Championships at Sail Melbourne."
The Finn Gold Cup is one of five World Championship events to be held at Sail Melbourne in 2008. To be hosted by Black Rock Yacht Club, which also hosted the Cup in 1995 and 1999; it will be sailed from 20-29 January on challenging Port Phillip.
Only six Beijing Olympic berths remain in the Finn, giving those nations that are yet to qualify a final opportunity to do so in Melbourne and like AINSLIE and WRIGHT, others will be vying for selection to their Olympic squads.
The race format is fleet racing on offshore windward/leeward and windward/leeward-triangle courses. The ten boats ranked highest in the series at the end will contest the double-points medal race for the Championship medals.
Yachting Victoria is the organizing authority of the ISAF Grade W Finn Gold Cup. Nine race days are scheduled from 23 January, with one day reserved for re-sails, following days for registration, measurement and a practice race.
Special thanks go to sponsors: State Government of Victoria; Parks Victoria; Mercedes Benz; Helly Hansen; Bayside City Council; Mornington Peninsula Shire Council; City of Kingston; Schenker Australia; Yachting Australia; Ronstan International; Ribsport; Silver Marine
For all information on the Finn Gold Cup, including current entry list, go to: www.sailmelbourne.com.au