Many Australian and international Olympic Class athletes have arrived at Woollahra Sailing Club in Sydney in preparation for Yachting NSW's ISAF Grade 1 Sydney International Regatta (SIRs) to be sailed on Sydney Harbour from 15-18 December.
With much at stake; countries still to qualify for the Beijing Olympic Games and individuals vying for the one Olympic place per country in each class whilst competing for SIRs trophies, the pressure to perform to the utmost is on!
One such case is that of 49er skiff competitors Jacob GRANQVIST
and Ilmari KUUSI
from Finland. "This is our first time Down Under. We are the top ranked Finish crew at the moment but there are two other crews who will be here and at the World's at Sail Melbourne,"
"Finland has not qualified for the Games in the 49er, so not only do we have to try to qualify our country with only five places left, we have to then beat the other Finland crews to get selected to our team,"
The two arrived in Australia on Wednesday but their 49er did not turn up at the host venue, Woollahra SC, until Friday morning and the two were anxious to get on the water and will get in some practice racing in the Australia 49er Championship prior to SIRs.
"We have a new mast to test and we are absolutely looking forward to our first sail on Sydney Harbour and to competing at SIRs. We have heard a lot of good things about it,"
said KUUSI adding, "We have a bit of practice to do, as we have only been sailing together for one year."
Amongst newcomers to the 49er class, and competing at their first major Olympic class regatta, are brothers Clint MARSHALL and Ty MARSHALL
from Lake Macquarie on the NSW Central Coast. Skipper Clint, 20, and Ty, 22, come from success in the Youth 29er skiff, counting a win at the 29er NSW title and a third in the Australian Championships.
"This is a lifetime experience,"
says an excited Ty, "We are hoping to get a lot of experience at SIRs before we compete at the Worlds at Sorrento [Melbourne] in January."
The two have been fortunate to receive help from freshly nominated Australian first-time Olympic representatives Nathan OUTTERIDGE
and Ben AUSTIN
and fellow Lake Macquarie competitors, David O'CONNOR and Iain JENSEN
, both pairs entered for SIRs.
"These guys have been great letting us train here in Sydney with them,"
Clint tells. "We'd love to do an Olympic campaign, but this being our first season, we've just got to concentrate on SIRs and the World's and see how we go,"
Denmark's Allan NORREGAARD
and Michael RISOER
are understandably nervous. Switching from a 49er to a Tornado only one and a half years ago, NORREGAARD explains: "We are here to fight for the last four slots left for the Olympics."
Denmark is yet to qualify for the Games in the multihull Tornado so must do battle with other nations for the last four places to be eligible for the Games.
"We are really enjoying sailing the boat. We are the only Tornado crew in Denmark and are trying to put the Tornado back on the map in Denmark,"
says RISOER, adding, "Sydney is a very beautiful place to sail. We've just come from home and snow suits to this beautiful weather. We love the Harbour."
The two will take on the ISAF world ranked #1 pair of Darren BUNDOCK
and Glenn ASHBY
from Australia. BUNDOCK, who captured silver at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, represented at the Athens 2004 Games and holds multiple Tornado World titles, arrives in Sydney with Ashby on 11 December to put in some practice time prior to competition.
"We'll probably get sailing on 12 December with a lot of the international guys. It's going to be a great regatta. For us, and a few others, it will bring back memories of sailing at the Sydney Olympics,"
BUNDOCK has twice represented at Olympic Games, but Beijig will be ASHBY's first. However, the Victorian holds World and national titles in a variety of catamaran classes and has won a number of major titles with BUNDOCK in the Tornado, inclusive of the 2006 worlds. They are strong prospects for Olympic gold in 2008.
One of the most talked about Olympic sailors is also in Sydney training for SIRs. Owning Olympic gold medals in the Laser (Sydney 2000) and the Finn (Athens 2004), Great Britain's Ben AINSLIE
is the man to beat - just ask any Finn sailor.
Although a long-time absentee from the Finn due to America's Cup commitments, the 30 year old came out and won China's Olympic Finn Test Event in August. Apart from vying for a gold medal at SIRs, AINSLIE has to sail off against fellow Brit and highly ranked Finn sailor, Ed WRIGHT
, for Olympic selection.
As one sailor quipped: "Did you ask him how he feels about the target on his back?"
Included in AINSLIE's glut of Finn triumphs are four Finn Gold Cup (world title) wins (2002 through to and including 2005). Missing in 2006-07 due to the America's Cup, he will get his chance to reclaim the title at Sail Melbourne's Finn Gold Cup in January.
One of the most talented and focused sportsmen around, comparable to the likes of Tiger WOODS, Ian THORPE and Roger FEDERER, AINSLIE says: "It's always challenging sailing on Sydney Harbour; shifting winds and variance in conditions makes it challenging and exciting."
Asked how he felt having to sail of against his compatriot to make the Olympic Games, AINSLIE said: "Selection is in the back of my mind, but in my experience, it's better to think about the whole competition and sail the way I normally do."
The Brit maintains his greatest competition at SIRs and the Finn Gold Cup will come from Spain's Rafa TRUJILLO
, Denmark's Jonas HOEGH-CHRISTENSEN
and Emilios PAPATHANASIOU
from Greece. "It's fairly open really, there are the stalwarts I just mentioned, but there are also newer people in the class who get better all the time."
Australian Finn two-time Olympian and embarking on his third Games come Beijing; Anthony NOSSITER
has his theory on AINSLIE. "Ben can, and has been, beaten in races. Beating him for gold at an event? That'll be difficult, but it can be done.
"In heavy weather, me and Big Raffa [TRUJILLO] who won the Gold Cup in 2007, have a chance. In light weather, you would have to say Emilios [PAPATHANASIOU]. Unlike most, Ben is great in all conditions and a great sailor."
NOSSITER, who weighs in at 102 kilos, but will drop to around 95 for the light airs forecast in China, says he is looking forward to sailing at SIRs again. "It's a great regatta and spectators will get a good look at all the best sailors in the world on a larger scale than the Olympics."
(Olympic Sailing Competition allows only a certain number of competitors in each class (the number varies from class to class) and just one entry from each nation per class).
The Aussie joined with other international Finn greats at the recent America's Cup in the Italian +39 syndicate and regularly Finn trains with team mate TRUJILLO and others. "We have been friends and trained together for a long time,"
"We share equipment and recently he was using mine, so I got to see from another perspective how my gear is shaping up. It was great getting feedback from him. When we race, we are competitive, but we would never purposely go out and hurt each other's chances unnecessarily. It's a win-win situation."
Other Olympic classes racing at the ISAF Grade 1 SIRs regatta include the 470 Men's and Women's, RS:X Men's and Women's sailboards, Yngling, Laser and the new Olympic Women's Laser Radial class. Youth classes are the 420 dinghy, Laser 4.7, Laser Radial and 29er skiff.
Yachting NSW's annual Sydney International Regatta will be conducted on Sydney Harbour from 15-18 December.
Notice of Race and all other information can be found at www.nsw.yachting.org.au