Starting on 4 December, the final Olympic Qualification Regatta of 2002, the Mistral World Championship gets underway in Pattaya, Thailand, hosted jointly by the Windsurfing Association of Thailand and the Eastern Windsurfing Club.
Held from the exclusive Pattaya Park Beach Resort at Jomtein Beach, on the eastern coast of the sheltered Bight of Bangkok, competitors are expected to enjoy warm air and sea conditions with an average wind speed of between 10 and 20 knots.
Double men's World Champion, 1996 Olympic Gold medallist in Atlanta and host of this year's ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Award, Nikos Kaklamanakis (GRE) will be travelling to Thailand to defend the title he won so convincingly in Varkiza, Greece, last year.
Following on from what must have been a disappointing 6th place result for him at the 2000 Olympic Regatta in Sydney, he has spent his time training hard in the warm waters of Cyprus. This has clearly served him well as he convincingly won the 2002 Olympic Test Event in Athens in August 20002. Whilst leading up to the Olympic Regatta Athens there is no qualification pressure for Nikos, as Greece receives an automatic entry in every Olympic event, but the pressure is certainly on to retain his title. Despite his ISAF World Sailing Ranking of thirteenth, he must be one of the favourites for the event. Speaking to Nikos at the ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Awards in Cyprus, Nikos commented:"I am going to Thailand to win and I feel ready."
Przemek Miarczynski (POL), who finished second at the World Championship last year and proved almost unstoppable in strong breezes, will be hoping to deny Nikos his hat trick. Currently ranked second in the ISAF World Sailing rankings, and 2002 results including a second at SPA Regatta followed soon afterwards by a victory at Kieler Woche, Przemek is clearly on form.
Frenchman Nicholas Huguet, ranked first in the Mistral rankings has had a consistent season, rarely straying from the top five at all the major regattas this year, and should also feature amongst the front runners.
In the Women's fleet Lee Lai Shan (HKG), otherwise known as "San San", winner of Hong Kong's first Olympic medal in any sport when she took Gold in the Women's Windsurfing in Atlanta in 1996, and three time World Champion in her own right, looks set to take yet another title when the event starts next week. She is currently at the top of the Women's rankings and it would seem almost a world apart from the chasing fleet, with victories at SPA Regatta, Kieler Woche and the recently held Asian Games in Korea.
Alessandra Sensini (ITA), recently nominated for the ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Award, and winner of the last two Mistral European Championships, as well as showing her complete adaptability by every race at the ISAF World Sailing Games this year in Marseille in the Formula Class, will also be hoping for a good result.
Anna Graczyk (POL), who finished a disappointing eleventh at last year's World Championship, has steadily climbed the rankings since and now lies behind Lee Lai Shan in second place going into their most important event of the year. Only a few points behind, Natasha Sturges (GBR) a credible fourth at the World Championship last year, looks like another good podium bet for this year, having steadily improved to become one of the best in the world.
Whatever happens, the Mistral World Championship, once concluded, will see twelve athletes in the men's division and ten in the women's qualify their respective nations for the Olympic games in Athens 2002. One would expect to see Hong Kong qualifying at the first attempt in the Women's fleet, probably alongside, Great Britain, Poland, France, and a host of others in the Men's and Women's fleet.
This will close the qualifying process for 2002, with the next opportunity for qualification being the ISAF World Championships in Cadiz in 2003.
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Racing is due to start in Pattaya on 7 December, following four days of essential measurement and registration. 12 races are scheduled over the 9 days of racing with the closing ceremony taking place on 15 December.
ISAF will bring you daily race reports.