The first five nations to qualify for the 2004 Olympic Regatta in the Star Class will be decided next week at the Star World Championships at Marina del Rey, California, USA.
The preliminary entry list stands at 114 teams from 26 countries so far, including all the top 20 ranked crews in the class. It is an impressive list, with many veterans of the class hoping to add more medals to their collections. From 14-17 is measurement and registration, with a practice race on 17 August, followed by a scheduled series of 6 races from 18-25 August.
Ranked number 2 in the World, Champion sailors and 2000 Olympic Gold Medallists, Mark Reynolds and Magnus Liljedahl (USA) will be hoping that they can get back to their 2000 Championship winning form to take another Gold. Reynolds/Liljedahl also have a World Championship bronze in 1999 and a silver in 1997 to their names. Reynolds' experience stems even further back as sailing with Hal Haenel he achieved a gold at the Star World Championships in 1995 and a silver in 1996, a gold medal at the 1992 Olympics and a silver medal in the 1988 Olympics. Reynolds/Liljedahl will be a crew to watch but there are numerous past World Champions and Olympians on the entry list.
Brazilians Torben Grael and Marcelo Ferreira have 3 Olympic Medals so far, a gold in 1996 and bronze in each of 1988 and 1992, and are no doubt confident that they will qualify Brazil for Athens 2004. Ranked number 9 in the world Grael/Ferreira will be determined to get onto the medal podium after finishing in 4th at the 2001 Worlds. The Brazilians' experience of the Star Worlds is spans many years and they are clearly accustomed to finishing the event at the top having claimed gold in 1990, silver in 1991, 1995 and 1998 and bronze in 1994 and 1996.
The defending 2001 Star World Champions Frederick Loof and Anders Ekstrom (SWE) will be unlikely to give up their title without a fight. Currently ranked 19th in the World, Loof entered the Star Rankings in May 2001 at number 91. He won the 2001 Worlds only 3 months later, which was possibly a surprise to some and there will be many experienced Star crews determined not to let history repeat itself.
Another veteran of the Star Class who will be competing in California is William Buchan of the United States. Buchan does not currently have an ISAF Ranking but took his first Star World Championship Gold medal back in 1961. This was followed by another Gold in 1970, silver medals in 1973, 1976 and 1979 and a further gold 24 years after the first in 1985. Buchan also represented the USA at the 1984 Olympic Regatta when he took home the Gold Medal. Buchan proved that he is still up there with the best of them by snatching a bullet at the King of Spain Regatta last weekend, and it will be interesting to see where he finishes 41 years after winning his first Star World Championship.
Less experienced in the Star Class but definitely a boat to watch will be that of Britains' Iain Percy and Steven Mitchell. Currently ranked at number 17 in the World, Percy made the switch to the Star in 2001 after comfortably winning the gold medal in the Finn class at the 2000 Olympics and will be hoping to qualify Great Britain for Athens 2004. Another boat to watch will be the Irish team of Maxwell Treacy and Anthony Shanks who showed that consistency pays off and you do not need a string of podium finishes to win an event. Treacy and Shanks who are ranked 12th in the world snatched victory at the King of Spain Regatta in California over the weekend. In a 74 boat fleet which boasted all the top names in the Star Class, Treacy and Shanks finished 3 races in the top 10, more than any other team could manage, to come out with a nine point lead over the second place boat.
The World Number 1 in the Star Class since April 2002 are Jose Maria Van der Ploeg and Diego Fructuoso Perez (ESP) and they too will be looking for a podium finish. The Spaniards finished in 8th place in 2001 and 6th in 2000.
Five nations will be able to qualify for the 2004 Olympic Regatta from their performance at the 2002 Star Worlds ,and if van de Ploeg/Perez were to qualify, Spain would be the only nation to have secured places in all 4 events that have completed their first Olympic qualification regatta. With 9 different nations in the top 10 of the ISAF Rankings the battle to secure those 5 places will be tough.