'The world is watching China and Beijing with great expectations,' said the IOC President. 'With one year remaining until the Opening Ceremony, we have reached a place from which we can see both vast achievements behind us and the great potential that lies ahead,' he added.
Since 13 July 2001, when Beijing was elected the Host City for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad, Qingdao has been preparing for the arrival of the 400 sailors who will contest the Olympic Sailing Competition, not to mention the scores of spectators and media who will come to support and assess them. The next major step in those preparations gets underway this month, as Qingdao hosts its second Olympic Test Event, the Good Luck Beijing Qingdao International Regatta, where racing is scheduled for 15-23 August.
Following on from the 2007 ISAF Sailing World Championships in Cascais, Portugal, the focus for the world's sailing elite will now be firmly on Qingdao. Thirteen racing days from 9-21 August 2008 will decide the winners of the Olympic medals across the 11 sailing events, but there is plenty of drama to come before then.
In Cascais, 75% of national places for Qingdao were decided, with the remaining 25% up for grabs at the 2008 World Championships. Whilst many of the nations for Qingdao have already been decided, the battle as to who will represent them rages on. For some nations, like the USA and Brazil, Olympic selection is decided at a one-off trial event, whilst for others, like Australia, there are performance criteria and a selection panel.
The fight for national selection is a part of every Olympiad, but heading towards Beijing 2008 there are some particularly fascinating battles on the cards. Amongst the headline encounters is the Brazilian Star showdown between double Olympic gold medallists and sailing legends Robert SCHEIDT and Torben GRAEL. SCHEIDT and his crew Bruno PRADA outshone their national rival to win the 2007 World title in Cascais, but GRAEL has more Olympic medals than any other sailor and is a double Olympic Champion in the Star with long-time crew Marcelo FERREIRA.
Australia and Great Britain are in the enviable position of selecting between the winners of the past two World Championships. For both nations the selection is also a choice between emerging talent and more experienced crews. Tom SLINGSBY (AUS) and Stevie MORRISON and Ben RHODES (GBR) gave a perfect demonstration of their ability by winning the 2007 ISAF Sailing World Championship titles in the Laser and 49er respectively. However, not only did Michael BLACKBURN (AUS) and Chris DRAPER and Simon HISCOCKS (GBR) win the same World titles back in 2006, they also both have proven, medal-winning track records at the Olympic Games.
In the equipment making its Olympic debut in Qingdao there are some equally intriguing battles to come. The US Laser Radial Trials are eagerly awaited as current world #1 Anna TUNNICLIFFE (USA) is set to face off against 2005 World Champion and 2006 ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Paige RAILEY (USA). In the RS:X windsurfing events, one of the biggest battles for selection will be amongst the host nation. Jian YIN won the silver medal for China in Athens, but there are a host of young pretenders to her throne, not least Qiubin CHEN, gold medallist at the ISAF World Sailing Games last year and the top Chinese windsurfer on the ISAF World Sailing Rankings.
In the words of the IOC President, 'The world is watching'…
ISAF Olympic Games microsite - www.sailing.org/olympics.