Pavlos KONTIDES is no stranger to the Youth Worlds. In fact this will be the fifth time he has competed at the event in the Boy's One Person Dinghy - Laser event, starting out in 2004 thanks to ISAF's Athlete Participation Programme. Now 18, KONTIDES is in his final year at the event and also the defending champion, having secured a runaway victory in Kingston last year. Despite his impending Olympic adventure, it is a title he is fully focussed on defending this year.
"I hope I will repeat my victory this year, but it's a tough competition," said KONTIDES after today's practice race. "A lot of guys are very good and you have to be consistent and be careful, and sail well of course."
For many young stars in Denmark, the Volvo Youth Sailing ISAF World Championship is their first taste of top-level international competition and represents a taste of what Olympic competition is all about. The racing is run to the very highest standards, overseen by an International Jury and International Race Officers (some of whom will also be in Qingdao), equipment is all supplied brand-new from manufactures, competitors are well looked after and catered for and there is a strong national focus with just one entry per nation per event.
"For me Århus is like the Youth Olympics and its good preparation for Qingdao," explained KONTIDES, who cites Robert SSCHEIDT and Ben AINSLIE, both Youth World Champions who have gone on to Olympic superstardom, as his role models in the sport. "When you arrive everything is prepared like the Olympics you don't have to worry about many things - you just enjoy sailing."
Susana ROMERO of Spain is competing in the Girl's One Person Dinghy - Laser Radial event, the same equipment she will be competing in at Qingdao is less than one month's time. This is ROMERO's second time at the Youth Worlds, she also competing in Canada last year finishing sixth overall. Since then some impressive results on the senior circuit, including a 21st place finish at the Laser Radial World Championship in New Zealand, have resulted in her selection for the Spanish Olympic team set for Beijing.
Like KONTIDES and ROMERO, Patricia FREITAS of Brazil is in her final year at the Youth Worlds and has high hopes of success in the Girl's Windsurfer - RS:X event. The 18 year old from Rio finished sixth at the Youth Worlds in Kingston last year and then triumphed at the Brazilian Olympic selection trials in February to secure her place at Qingdao.
"I will do my best. I believe it will be a good year as it's my second chance at the Youth Worlds. I've got strong competitors but I hope for the best," FREITAS said ahead of the start of racing tomorrow. Looking towards Qingdao, she says her aim is, "to have the best results that any Brazilian has ever had in the Olympic Games" - adding the important qualification to an otherwise rather ambitious statement - "for girls of course!"
In the Boy's RS:X fleet, 17 year old Hao CHANG from Penghu Island in Chinese Taipei completes the trio of Youth World competitors who will also be lining up in Qingdao this August. He was first introduced to the sport by his coach Alex MOWDAY aged nine and quickly showed signs of the potential that has helped secure him an Unused Quota Place in the Men's RS:X fleet at this year's Olympic Sailing Competition. "When he was 12 he was starting to beat the men in Taiwan. Now he's way above any of the competitors in Taiwan and he's got to move out to Hong Kong to train with them," MOWDAY explained.
This is CHANG's second time at the Volvo Youth Sailing ISAF World Championship, his previous appearance was at the Youth Worlds in Weymouth in 2006, and he is hoping the experience and additional training with the Hong Kong team will help him realize his ambition of "a top-three finish".
CHANG, FREITAS, ROMERO and KONTIDES all competed in today's practice races held in wet but windy conditions, enjoyed more by the sailors than the spectators. The first stage of the most important two months of their sailing careers to date gets underway tomorrow, with the opening races of the 2008 Volvo Youth Sailing ISAF World Championship. Three races are scheduled for each event, with the first starting signal due at 12:00.
Volvo Youth Sailing ISAF World Championship microsite - www.sailing.org/youthworlds.