The waiting is over. Lake Neusiedl is primed and ready, its surface shimmering in the morning light - the ISAF World Sailing Games have arrived. More than any other ISAF event on the world sailing circuit, this is a championship focussing on the fundamental values of sailing: diversity - with over 700 sailors from 64 nations competing; atmosphere - the host venues around Lake Neusiedl are packed with sailors and support staff all keen to engage with each other and with spectators; development - with nations competing, including those in Austria, thanks to the ISAF Athlete Participation Programme, the World Sailing Games is truly about spreading the global base of the sport; skill - more than anything the ISAF World Sailing Games is a true test of sailing ability made possible by the supply of equipment.
Perhaps to the outside sailing world this final point is key. Contested in supplied equipment (with the exception of the 49er), the ISAF World Sailing Games provides the perfect forum for a battle between tactics and ability on the water. With crews rotating boats through the series there is no scope for tweaking and adjustments. It is simply sailor and boat, and there ultimately lies the unique attraction of the ISAF World Sailing Games: sailing distilled to its most basic elements.
This morning, Göran PETERSSSON (SWE), ISAF President, commented, 'For the next ten days, the sailors gathered here will experience some magical moments, full of emotion and passion. Through their participation they will share universality and sporting excellence. ISAF and the Organizing Committee are welcoming hundreds of sailors of different cultures, races and religions with one goal in mind - sporting excellence.
'But also consider the second goal - to have fun. Whilst the sailors are out on the water contesting titles and on shore preparing for the races and spending time with their sailing colleagues - they will also enjoy the lifestyle, friendships and fun of sailing.'
|Lake Neusiedl is ready and
Of course this makes the battles within the fleets all the more interesting. In Great Britain, a nation which has enjoyed superb sailing success at the last two Olympic Games, sailing enjoys fantastic support at the funding level. Over the last ten years this support has translated to massive success on the water - success reflected in the ISAF World Sailing Rankings - but can this success continue in Austria? With the Brits suffering a recent slide in their Rankings' performance, and sending a below full strength team to Austria, is this the time for their dominance to be overturned?
The hosts themselves have enjoyed terrific Olympic medal winning success in recent years, and also boast a proud record in the ISAF World Sailing Rankings. But for the home support, victory on Lake Neusiedl is what really matters, and Austrian victories have been in short supply in the recent major regattas.
And what of the sailors from outside of Europe? New Zealand has been enjoying fantastic success in the most recent releases of the ISAF World Rankings. However her sailors generally flattered to deceive in Hyères, whilst the Aussies snatched the opportunity to take the limelight. Meanwhile from the North American standpoint, Canada has collected an impressive share of podium places in recent regattas and, for many, the American entries in the Laser Radial and Team Racing events are the closest you can get to a sure thing.
Meanwhile, any sailor monitoring the results across the world over the past two years can not fail to have recognized the gradually rise of the Asian sailing nations. Singapore's dominance of the recent Optimist South American Championship is only the latest in a long line of impressive results gained by the continent which will be hosting the next Olympic Sailing Competition. Perhaps ominously, 2008 hosts China were the surprise nation at the 2005 Volvo Youth Sailing ISAF World Championship, taking a remarkable sixth place in the Volvo Trophy standings for the best national performance - this is only their second ever ISAF Youth Worlds!
Both China and Singapore are well represented in Austria, as well as Japan and Hong Kong, nations well versed in sailing success at the highest level. Despite its European setting, the ISAF World Sailing Games 2006 could well be remembered as the Championship where sailing's new wave put themselves firmly on the map.
|Heading for the start of the
first Laser race
Another of the attractions of the World Sailing Games is that is provides a forum where these national battles can be measured. Like the Youth Worlds, but unlike the ISAF Sailing World Championships and the Olympic Sailing Competition, the battle for national honours is intensified by the presentation of a trophy for the best national performance. The ISAF King's Trophy will be awarded to the nation recording the best four performances across the ten events in Austria. France won the trophy last time out in Marseille, France in 2002, a great performance by the host nation which Austria are sure to want to repeat this time round. Meanwhile, Great Britain's team will want to prove their worth, Italy have won the trophy twice before, whilst the non-Europeans will be desperate for a surprise success. The King's Trophy adds an extra degree of interest to the proceedings in Austria.
Moving from the speculation and anticipation preceding the event, to the actual action on the water, the final practice day saw the sun was shining, with picture perfect conditions providing the sailors and support staff with a view of the UNESCO Heritage site of Lake Neusiedl at its best. Meanwhile the area around the lake has become a minefield of tents and boats as the final preparations become the start of racing.
Following an opening press conference today, the first races get underway, with the Lasers, Laser Radials and 49ers racing off Neusiedl, the 470s out of Welden, the RS:X windsurfers from Breitebrunn, the Hobies from Podersdorf and the Team Racing in 420s taking place out of Rust. The Opening Ceremony of the ISAF World Sailing Games will take place following the first day of racing, with both ISAF President Göran PETERSSON and ISAF President of Honour, HM King Constantine, in attendance.
The final practice day in Neusiedl saw light winds across the lake, but today the breeze is expected to pick up to the seven to eight knot range, with gusts up to twelve knots. Winds should be steady in direction, coming from the north/north west, and an increased cloud cover will offer the sailors a little more protection from the baking sun they experienced out on the water today.
Forecasters are predicting weaker winds for the following two days of qualifying series, with tentative forecasts indicating a stronger breeze picking up for the end of the qualifying series at the weekend.
For the latest forecast from the ISAF World Sailing Games CLICK HERE.
Look out for news, features and photos on each day of racing in Austria on www.sailing.org. A full report on day one will follow direct from Lake Neusiedl this evening (local time).
The waiting is over. The ISAF World Sailing Games is underway.
For all the news on the 2006 ISAF World Sailing Games CLICK HERE.