The pecking order at the top of the 49er fleet has evolved considerably over this Olympic cycle, as some of the younger names in the class have made their mark. For along time the results at the big events were dominated by the big three crews from Spain, the Ukraine and Great Britain, who won gold, silver and bronze respectively in Athens. However the British team has changed completed, with Stevie MORRISON and Ben RHODES (GBR) beating Athens medallists Chris DRAPER and Simon HISCOCKS (GBR) to selection for Qingdao after winning the 2007 World title and the Olympic Test Event. The British pair have had a mixed season so far, but a silver medal at the Worlds attests to their ability when the pressure is on.
The young Australian pairing of Nathan OUTTERIDGE and Ben AUSTIN (AUS), ranked #6 in the world, won the 2008 World Championships in January and are competing at their first Olympic Games. Prior to winning the World Championships, the Australians won their national championship and the Grade 1 Sydney International Regatta. OUTTERIDGE, 22, is lucky to be in Qingdao at all, having broken his back and suffered head injuries in a car accident while on his way to his first major 49er competition at Sail Melbourne, Australia, in January 2004.
Another team to look out for are the world #3 ranked Italian brothers Piero SIBELLO and Gianfranco SIBELLO, one of the most consistent performers in the 49er fleet.
From the old guard, Iker MARTINEZ and Xabier FERNANDEZ (ESP) won gold at the Athens 2004 Games and appear to be coming into form at exactly the right time. This year they have won titles at the Europeans and the ISAF Grade 1 Semaine Olympique Francaise in Hyeres. The Spaniards are also proven performers in the Qingdao conditions, picking up a silver medal at last year's Test Event.
Rodion LUKA and Georgiy LEONCHUK (UKR) won the silver medal at Athens 2004. LUKA, at 35 years of age, and LEONCHUK, 34, are one of the most experienced crews in the class. They finished 10th at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, the first time the 49er sailed as at the Games. The Ukrainian pair finished 12th at the 2007 Test Event, third at the 2008 World Championships and won the 2008 Princess Sofia Trophy.
The principal qualification regatta for the 49er event was the 2007 ISAF Sailing World Championships in Cascais, Portugal where 13 of the 19 nations where decided. The 2008 49er Worlds in Melbourne, Australia decided final five national places. In addition there is one automatic place for the host nation China.
Find out more on the qualification events here.
About the 49er
The 49er was designed by Australian Julian BETHWAITE in 1995 as a progression on the latest developments within the Australian 18-foot Skiff class.
With the prospect of huge spectator appeal at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, a new event was introduced, that of the high performance dinghy, and after trials held on Lake Garda in Italy in September 1996, the 49er was chosen to be the equipment used. The class was granted international status in 1999.
Carrying a mass of sail, twin trapezes, wings and a huge asymmetric spinnaker, the boat is very much for the expert sailor, providing fast, exciting sailing for athletes and spectators alike. The 49er is an open class, available to both men and women, with competitive sailing offered in a weight range from 145kgs to 165kgs (combined crew weight).
Spinnakers in the colours of the national flags of competing athletes were used for the first time in Athens 2004.
Ages: 20 and 28
Current ISAF World Sailing Ranking: 26