With the looming Sette Fratelli Mountains in the background, the 109 Men and 60 Women's National teams took to the Gulf of Cagliari today to contest the 2002 International 470 World Championships.
With the late withdraw of Bulgaria and Pakistan, 31 Nations are contesting the first of 3 Olympic Qualification regattas for the Men's and separate Women's Double handed dinghy Olympic Qualification events from the beautiful Yacht Club Cagliari. 2003 and early 2004 will see the 2nd and 3rd events of this 'dream making and heartbreaking' process to make it to Athens 2004 and the games of the new millennium's Olympiad.
3 Days of Group Qualification and 5 days of Gold, Silver and Bronze Fleet finals are ahead of the worlds toughest Dinghy teams, where over 14 races will decide the Women's World Champion and the Men's World Champion.
At the end of what has been a gruelling European Summer season starting back in March at the Princess Sofia Regatta, many new teams have tussled with the experienced veterans in the 470 Fleet. Now the teams have their eye's set firmly on the ultimate prize of a World Championship and also one of the 9 Men's and 6 Women's 2004 Olympic spots that they can cement for their Nations Federations.
There are also some personal mountains to climb and history to be made this week. Greek Hero's and superstars, Sofia Bekatorou and Emilia Tsoulfa can become the first 470 sailors to take 3 consecutive World Championships having dominated since before the Sydney Olympic Games. Truly stung by a disappointing result at the 2000 Games, Sofia & Emilia have doubled (if possible) their workload, training and determination for 2004 recently becoming the winner of the very first Test event for the Athens Games.
Both history and the World Championship trophy waits to see if Australian 2000 Gold Medallists Jenny Armstrong and Belinda Stowell can halt the Spanish and Greek hopes.
In the men's fleet the result is as open as any person can remember. More than 15 teams representing 14 countries are within reach of a medal.
Euhen Braslavets & Ihor Matuiienko (UKR) are ranked number 1 in the in the ISAF World Sailing Rankings but are returning to competition after surgery and 6 months off, Alvaro Marinho with Miguel Nunes (POR) were 2nd in the recent Athens test event and are also favourites. But not one of the teams from Australia, Argentina, France, Great Britain, Greece, Israel Holland, New Zealand, Sweden or the USA can be ruled out of the medal positions.
The new comers to the Gold fleet both Men and Women are definite chances. Still in the Junior ranks, Charbonnier/Christidis (FRA), and current Junior World champions Panagiotis Mantis and Angelos Lemanis (GRE) will be pressured by the Coster Brothers of Holland and the ISAF World Sailing Games champions Yosef Yogev and Amir Shahaf (ISR).
The women's fleet will be again pushed by Ex-mistral and Europe Class Champs Ingrid Petitjean & Nadege Douroux (FRA) who have been consistent in their 1st year of high level 470 competition.