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24 July 2008, 10:00 am
Event Guide: Heavyweight Dinghy - Finn
Ben Ainslie at the Athens Olympic Games
Ben Ainslie will defend his Olympic gold medal in the Finn class at Qingdao

2008 Beijing Olympic Games

Sailors from 26 nations will competing in the Heavyweight Dinghy event sailed in the Finn dinghy at the 2008 Olympic Games - find out who are the favourites for medals...
If all goes according to plan, on 16 August the 15th set of Olympic Finn medals since 1952 will be decided on the waters off Qingdao, China. The Finn class has the distinction of being chosen for the Olympic Sailing Competition more times consecutively than any other class. First sailed in 1952 in Helsinki when Paul ELVSTRÖM (DEN) won the second of his four gold medals, 2008 marks the class's 15th appearance on the Olympic stage.

At A Glance

Event: Heavyweight Dinghy
Equipment: Finn
Racing Dates: 9-16 August
Medal Race: 16 August

Find out more about the event and the equipment here

Key Results

2004 Olympic medallists - full details here
1. Ben AINSLIE (GBR)
2. Rafa TRUJILLO (ESP)
3. Mateusz KUSZNIEREWICZ (POL)

2008 World Championship - full details here
1. Ben AINSLIE (GBR)
2. Dan SLATER (NZL)
3. Jonas HOEGH-CHRISTENSEN (DEN)

2007 Olympic Test Event - full results here
1. Ben AINSLIE (GBR)
2. Pieter-Jan POSTMA (NED)
3. Peer MOBERG (NOR)

ISAF World Sailing Rankings top three - full Rankings here

1. Jonas HOEGH-CHRISTENSEN (DEN)
2. Ed WRIGHT (GBR)
3. Rafa TRUJILLO (ESP)

Click here for a full list of all previous Finn medallists

Qualification

For most Finn sailors competing in China, the campaign trail started at the ISAF Sailing World Championships in Cascais, Portugal in July last year. In Cascais the first 19 countries qualified for a place in Qingdao. Many of those assembled in Cascais had recently finished sailing in the 32nd America's Cup, just across the border in Valencia and had been training hard on their days off to prepare for what turned into a challenging week of racing.

Rafa TRUJILLO (ESP), silver medallist in 2004 in Athens went on to win his first major championship, after a thrilling Medal Race. The depth of the fleet was underlined by the fact that the other 18 places for China all came from with the top 26 overall, making it very difficult to qualify at the first try.

One man who was absent from Cascais was the 2004 Olympic Champion Ben AINSLIE (GBR). Ainslie didn't reappear on the Finn scene until the Olympic Test Event in Qingdao a few months later after he was able to put in enough training to be confident with his performance. He needn't have worried as he won the event, although perhaps not as decisively as he had the year before, when he won with an almost unbroken string of first places. But Ainslie was back and the other sailors were set the challenge of raising their game if they were to stand half a chance.

Six months after Cascais, on the other side of the world at Black Rock YC on Port Phillip Bay in Melbourne, Australia, the final six places were decided, while China, as host got a guaranteed place to make up the 26 starters. In the run up to the 2008 Finn Gold Cup, Ainslie took the Sydney International Regatta, the Australian Nationals and Sail Melbourne before going on to win an unprecedented fifth Finn Gold Cup as well as his berth for China.

Following Melbourne, two countries whose sailors had technically qualified for a place failed to confirm their participation in China. First Germany turned down their place and this was offered to India. In the past two year, this fledging Finn nation has produced two Finn sailors, both challenging for an Olympic berth. Trials were organised in India with a two boat race off between Nachhatar JOHAL and Nitin MONGIA. Each day they won one race apiece. On the final day, Johal took the race win and with it the ticket to Qingdao. Johal was the first of two sailors who received assistance from the International Finn Association's FIDeS development programme as part of his campaign for China.

The other sailor in Qingdao whose place wasn't confirmed was Florian RAUDASCHL (AUT). He had to wait until his ninth place at the Delta Lloyd Regatta in Medemblik to assure himself a place. However after finishing 18th in Kiel, his national Olympic Committee reversed the decision. Only as late as 23 July did the final place out of the 26 get allocated. It finally went to Johnny BILBAO (VEN) on the basis of his performance at the Finn Gold Cup in Melbourne. Bilbao also received help from FIDeS in attending the Olympic qualifier in Melbourne.

Back in Europe, Ainslie took Palma, Jonas HOEGH-CHRISTENSEN (DEN) took Hyeres, Trujillo took the Delta Lloyd Regatta while Ed WRIGHT (GBR) took Kiel Week. Ainslie returned for the European Championship, which he won after a thrilling Medal Race to reverse an eight point gap between himself and Guillaume FLORENT (FRA). If ever there was an indication of Ainslie's complete competence in the Finn, this was it, overcoming what seemed like an impossible task.

About the Finn

The Finn came into being as the result of a 1949 design competition to produce a singlehanded dinghy for Scandinavian and Olympic competition. It was then first used at the Olympic Games in Helsinki in 1952. The Finn used to be one of the few classes that had supplied gear at the Olympics. Up until 1976 the Olympic organisers supplied all the gear, but from 1972 onwards sailors were allowed to bring their own rigs, and since 2000 their own hulls as well. While hulls are largely standard production models these days, the key to developing speed in the Finn has always been for careful selection of masts and sails as sailors tailor their rigs to their own weight and individual sailing styles.

Rumours coming out of Qingdao so far indicate that a few sailors are testing new gear for the Olympic competition, though whether any of it will actually be used in anger remains to be seen. Also with many sailors having reduced weight for Qingdao, they have also had to modify the response of their rigs to match - and this is much harder to do in practise than in theory. However the weight loss is more often an attempt to be more physical around the boat than for any advantage by being lighter in the boat.

Conditions

While many pundits are predicting light, shifty and current focussed racing in Qingdao, the sailors know anything can happen and most are prepared for whatever the conditions happen to be and expect at least one or more days of significant breeze. The wind has been over 20 knots on more than one occasion in the past month, so the sailors should get a good mix of conditions.

Of all the 26 sailors heading for Qingdao, only 12 have already tasted the Olympic arena, while 16 have won races at major championships, 18 have placed top ten in major regattas, and 11 have picked up a medal in the past four years either at the Finn Gold Cup, European Championship or Qingdao regattas. In addition, all except three of the top 20 in the ISAF World Sailing Rankings will be in Qingdao. It could well prove to be one of the toughest Olympic Finn competitions of all time.

While the clear, clear favourite is the five times and current World Champion, four times and current European Champion, three times Olympic medalist and current Olympic gold medalist Ben Ainslie, the rest of the fleet is sure to have something to say on the matter. And while the conditions in Qingdao could best be described as tricky, a fourth medal for Ainslie is by no means a foregone conclusion, but perhaps it could be argued that he has the best chance of medaling than any other sailor across all of the other classes heading for China.

The Sailors

Australia - Anthony NOSSITER

Age: 34
Current ISAF World Sailing Ranking: 9
Previous Olympic Games: 2000 (Finn - 13th), 2004 (Finn - 6th)
Best Results: 2007 Finn Gold Cup - 10th, 2003 Finn Gold Cup - 8th
2008 Form: Finn Gold Cup - 12th, Delta Lloyd - 8th; Hyeres - 7th; Sail Melbourne - 9th

'Nocka' has been sailing the Finn since 1998 with various forays into the Volvo Ocean Race and the America's Cup, during which time he kept up with his Finn sailing. Although has had many top ten places over the years and world and ISAF Grade 1 regattas, never really made it as far as the podium. Big strong sailor who loves windy and wavy conditions, but capable of winning races in anything.

Brazil - Eduardo COUTO

Age: 24
Current ISAF World Sailing Ranking: 80
Previous Olympic Games: None
Best Results: 2008 Europeans - 54th, 2008 Delta Lloyd - 14th

Only moved from the Laser to the Finn for the Brazilian trials earlier this year. He has already made an impression in a few races this year and as one of the lighter sailors in Qingdao may perform well in the lighter conditions. Finished a lowly 54th at the Europeans this year but improving fast. Couto has only competed in four ranking events, hence his low ranking position of 80th.

Canada - Chris COOK

Age: 24
Current ISAF World Sailing Ranking: 8
Previous Olympic Games: None
Best Results: 2005 Finn Gold Cup 3rd, 2007 Finn Gold Cup - 7th
2008 Form: Finn Gold Cup - 6th, Europeans - 6th, Palma 9th, Hyeres - 8th

Cook is a very physical flamboyant sailor who can perform equally well in light and windy conditions. He has been on good form so far this year and has been as high as second in the Finn rankings back in October 2006. Sailing at his best Cook could easily secure a medal in Qingdao.

China - Peng ZHANG

Current ISAF World Sailing Ranking: 57
Previous Olympic Games: None
Best Results: 2008 Finn Gold Cup - 34th, 2007 Finn Gold Cup - 42nd

Zhang is one of a number of emerging Chinese Finn sailors who have put in a lot of time over the past few years. However they have struggled to produce any form internationally.

Croatia - Ivan KLJAKOVIC GASPIC

Age: 24
Current ISAF World Sailing Ranking: 4
Previous Olympic Games: None
Best Results: 2007 Europeans - 2nd; 2007 Finn Gold Cup 8th, 2007 Olympic test event - 4th
2008 Form: Europeans - 2nd, Finn Gold Cup - 10th, Delta Lloyd - 5th, Hyeres - 6th, Palma - 2nd.

Kjlakovic Gaspic is a focused and hard working sailor who has performed well in the lighter conditions in the past two years. On the lighter end of the weight scale, he could easily be a medal contender in Qingdao. Famously capsized on the final leg while leading the Medal Race at the 2007 Olympic Test Event, which probably cost him the gold medal.

Cyprus - Haris PAPADOPOULOS

Current ISAF World Sailing Ranking: 54
Previous Olympic Games: 2004 (Laser - 28)
Best Results: 2008 Finn Gold Cup 29th, 2008 Finn Europeans - 31st

Only moved into the Finn last year from the Laser with a steep learning curve ahead of him. First event was last year's Olympic Test Regatta. Has placed well in a few races but not yet in any regatta.

Czech Republic - Michael MAIER

Age: 44
Current ISAF World Sailing Ranking: 17
Previous Olympic Games: 1996 (Finn - 14th), 2000 (Finn - 19th), 2004 (Finn -15th)
Best Results: 1998 Europeans - 2nd, 2000 Finn Gold Cup - 5th, 2005 Hyeres - 2nd
2008
Form: Finn Gold Cup - 30th, Europeans - 25th, Hyeres - 16th, Palma - 25th, Delta Lloyd - 13th

Veteran of more Olympic campaigns than he can probably remember, Maier is back for a fourth attempt at an Olympic medal. His results peaked about 2000, and since then he has struggled to get into the top ten. However he is one of the most experienced sailors heading to China.

Denmark - Jonas HOEGH-CHRISTENSEN

Age: 26
Current ISAF World Sailing Ranking: 1
Previous Olympic Games: 2004 (Finn - 9th)
Best Results: 2006 Finn Gold Cup - 1st, 2007 Finn Gold Cup - 4th
2008 Form: Finn Gold Cup - 3rd, Europeans - 5th, Hyeres - 1st, Palma - 7th

Ranked as the world's best Finn sailor since June 2006, Hoegh-Christensen has only managed to win one major title in that time, the 2006 Finn Gold Cup, though he has regularly in the top 5 at most major events and so far this year has performed much better than previous years. A definite contender for a medal, he finished fifth at the Olympic test event last year.

Finland - Tapio NIRKKO

Age: 23
Current ISAF World Sailing Ranking: 16
Previous Olympic Games: None
Best Results: 2007 Finn Gold Cup - 12th
2008 Form: Finn Gold Cup - 11th, Kiel Week - 10th, Europeans - 12th

A clever and strong sailor, Nirkko has struggled with consistency since he entered the class in 2001, but has produced a string of great race results at different regattas. If he could put it all together in the same series, he would be a contender for a medal.

France - Guillaume FLORENT

Current ISAF World Sailing Ranking: 23
Previous Olympic Games: 1996 (Laser - 15th), 2004 (Finn - 8th)
Best Results: 2006 Europeans -2nd, 2004 Europeans - 3rd, 2006 Finn Gold Cup - 6th, 2003 Finn Gold Cup - 5th
2008 Form: Europeans - 3rd, Finn Gold Cup - 21st

Returned to the Finn this year after 18 months off and though placed a lowly 21st at the Finn Gold Cup, was serious contender at the Europeans, leading until the final Medal Race where he was up against Ben Ainslie for the title, and came off second best. Also famously protested Ainslie out of the first race in the 2004 Olympic Sailing Competition.

Great Britain - Ben AINSLIE

Age: 31
Current ISAF World Sailing Ranking: 28
Previous Olympic Games: 1996 (Laser - silver), 2000 (Laser - gold), 2004 (Finn -
gold)
Best Results: World Champion 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008. European Champion 2002, 2003, 2005, 2008
2008 Form: Finn Gold Cup -1st, Europeans - 1st, Sail Melbourne - 1st, Palma - 1st

Although he took time out for an America's Cup stint with Emirates Team New Zealand, Ainslie seems to have lost none of his form, having won the Pre-Olympics, the Finn Gold Cup, the Europeans and a host of other events since stepping back into the boat last year. Without doubt he is the absolute favourite for a medal, most likely gold coloured. Any other colour would look out of place.

Greece - Emilios PAPATHANASIOU

Current ISAF World Sailing Ranking: 15
Previous Olympic Games: 1996 (Finn -27th), 2000 (Finn - 12th), 2004 (Finn 5th)
Best Results: 2007 Finn Gold Cup 5th, 2001 Europeans 1st, 2000-02 Finn Gold Cup - 3rd, 2005, 2006 Finn Gold Cup - 2nd
2008 Form: Finn Gold Cup - 8th, Palma - 16th, Hyeres - 38th

Had a rough season with injuries, and missed the Europeans but sure to be one of the favourites for a medal in Qingdao if he is on form. Fast and consistent across a range of wind strengths, Papathanasiou is one of the most experienced sailors in the fleet and is back for his fourth attempt at an Olympic medal.

Ireland - Timothy GOODBODY

Current ISAF World Sailing Ranking: 18
Previous Olympic Games: None
Best Results: 2007 Finn Gold Cup - 25th, 2008 Europeans - 21st.
2008 Form: Delta Lloyd - 11th, Finn Gold Cup - 20th, Europeans - 21st, Palma - 17th

Only started in the Finn in 2005, and while producing a few promising individual race results has only made it into the top ten at an ISAF Grade 1 regatta on one occasion.

India - Nachhatar JOHAL

Age: 29
Current ISAF World Sailing Ranking: 53
Previous Olympic Games: None
Best Results: 2008 Finn Gold Cup - 57, 2007 Finn Gold Cup - 61st

One of two Indian Finn sailors that have emerged in the past two years, Johal won a very tight trial against Nitin Mongia, with the two boat series going down to the final race. Moved across from the Laser, for which he was too heavy in January 2007 and was initially helped into the class by the International Finn Association's development programme, FIDeS. He does have a lack of competition exposure though.

Italy - Giorgio POGGI

Age: 27
Current ISAF World Sailing Ranking: 18
Previous Olympic Games: None
2008 Form: Europeans - 16th, Kiel Week - 12th, Finn Gold Cup - 19th

Has yet to place top 10 in any major event, but is improving all the time.
Made the switch from the Laser in 2005 and had made steady progress.

Netherlands - Pieter-Jan POSTMA

Age: 26
Current ISAF World Sailing Ranking: 6
Previous Olympic Games: None
Best Results: Pre-Olympics 2007 - 2nd, 2007 Finn Gold Cup - 2nd
2008 Form: Finn Gold Cup 4th, Delta Llotd - 4th, Hyeres - 4th

Moved into the Finn from the Laser in 2005 and one of the best heavy weather sailors in the class, despite being lighter than most. Made big gains during the 2007 season and can be very focussed on his game. PJ is a definite favourite for a medal.

New Zealand - Dan SLATER

Current ISAF World Sailing Ranking: 8
Previous Olympic Games: 2000 (49er - 8th)
Best Results: 2005 Europeans - 2nd, 2007 Finn Gold Cup 16th, 2007 Breitling Regatta - 1st, 2006 Kiel Week - 1st.
2008 Form: Finn Gold Cup - 2nd, Delta Lloyd - 6th, Hyeres - 8th

Only started in the Finn in 2005 where he showed great potential finishing second at his first major championship. Since then has put together a string of decent results, including wins in Holland and Kiel. Produced his best results at this year's Finn Gold Cup, although he became a victim of Ben Ainslie in the Medal Race, after having led for most of the series.

Norway - Peer MOBERG

Current ISAF World Sailing Ranking: 13
Previous Olympic Games: 1996 (Laser - bronze), 2000 (Laser - 10th), 2004 (Laser -
21st)
Best Results: 2007 Olympic Test Event - 3rd,, 2007 Rolex Miami OCR - 1st
2008 Form: Finn Gold Cup - 9th, Palma - 8th, Hyeres - 13th

Fourth Olympic Sailing Competition for Moberg, after three times in the Laser. Has shown moments of brilliance since he entered the Finn class in 2005, but has generally struggled with consistency. However he is used to the Olympic arena and could well be a fighting for another medal.

Poland - Rafal SZUKIEL

Current ISAF World Sailing Ranking: 12
Previous Olympic Games: None
Best Results: 2007 Europeans - 8th, 2007 Finn Gold Cup - 234th
2008 Form: Finn Gold Cup - 16th, Delta Lloyd - 7th, Hyeres - 18th, Palma - 12th

Won a close trials against his brother Waclaw. These two have dominated Polish Finn sailing since Mateusz Kusznierewicz moved into the Star class after the 2004 Olympic Gamess. Szukiel has produced some good race results in the past year, but has struggled to make top ten in more than a handful of regattas.

Russia - Eduard SKORNYAKOV

Current ISAF World Sailing Ranking: 21
Previous Olympic Games: None
Best Results: 2007 Europeans - 1st, 2008 Kiel Week - 9th, 2007 Finn Gold Cup - 31st
2008 Form: Finn Gold Cup - 25th, Europeans - 22nd, Palma - 33rd, Hyeres - 14th

Formerly a Laser and a 49er sailor, Skornyakov made the Finn world sit up and take notice after breezing to victory at the 2007 Europeans on Lake Balaton. However since then he has struggled to produce any more results and had to wait until the second Olympic qualifier in Melbourne to qualify Russia for a place in Qingdao.

Slovenia - Gasper VINCEC

Age: 27
Current ISAF World Sailing Ranking: 5
Previous Olympic Games: 2004 (Finn - 20th)
Best Results: 2007 Finn Gold Cup 3rd, 2007 Olympic Test event - 6th, 2007 Kiel Week - 1st.
2008 Form: Finn Gold Cup - 15th, Europeans - 4th, Delta Lloyd - 2nd, Hyeres - 3rd

A recipient of the IOC's Olympic Solidarity Scholarship, Vincec has improved year on year since the last Olympics and is now a regular sight on the podium. One of the top five contenders for a medal in Qingdao, he seems to perform equally well in the light and the heavy.

Spain - Rafa TRUJILLO

Age: 32
Current ISAF World Sailing Ranking: 3
Previous Olympic Games: 2000 (Star - 8th), 2004 (Finn - silver)
Best Results: 2007 Finn Gold Cup -1st, 2006 Finn Gold Cup - 5th, 2003 Finn Gold Cup - 2nd
2008 Form: Delta Lloyd - 1st, Kiel Week - 2nd, Sail Melbourne - 3rd, Finn Gold Cup - 13th, Europeans - 10th

A definite favourite for a medal, Rafa has been at the front of the fleet for many years. He lost a lot of weight at the start of the season in preparation for Qingdao and spent a lot of time trying to get his rig adjusted to match. Some bad results, for him, earlier this year have been superseded by podium finishes at the final two regattas. Usually prefers breezy conditions, but has adapted well in the past year.

Sweden - Daniel BIRGMARK

Current ISAF World Sailing Ranking: 7
Previous Olympic Games: 2004 (Finn - 14th)
Best Results: 2007 Finn Gold Cup 8th, 2006 Finn Gold C up 4th, 2007 Europeans - 7th
2008 Form: Finn Gold Cup - 17th, Europeans - 7th, Palma - 5th, Hyeres - 5th

Switched to the Finn in time to sail at Athens in 2004 after failing to qualify for the Laser in Athens. Birgmark is regularly in the top 10, but has only made the podium on one occasion in an ISAFGrade 1 event. Apart from the Gold Cup in Melbourne he has produced a string of top seven places this year, and could be in the hunt for a medal if things go his way.

Turkey - Ali Kemal TUFEKCI

Current ISAF World Sailing Ranking: 58
Previous Olympic Games: 2000 (Laser - 28th)
Best Results: 2008 Finn Gold Cup - 39th, 2008 Finn Europeans - 18th, 2008 Palma - 23rd

First sailed the Finn in the mid-1990s before switching to the Laser and now back in the Finn again since early 2008. Won a close trials against long time Finn sailor Akif Muslubas.

USA - Zach RAILEY

Age: 24
Current ISAF World Sailing Ranking: 11
Previous Olympic Games: None
Best Results: 2007 Europeans - 5th,
2008 Form: Finn Gold Cup - 28th, Europeans - 9th, Palma - 3rd, Kiel Week - 5th, Hyeres - 9th.

Struggled with consistency last year, but this year, has produced a string of top 10 finishes, apart from a disappointing 28th at the Finn Gold Cup in Melbourne. Could well be peaking at the right moment in Qingdao. One of the youngest in the Finn fleet and also one of the few sailors going to China who had to win a one-off home country based closed trials event.

Venezuela - Johnny BILBAO

Age: 34
Current ISAF World Sailing Ranking: 69
Previous Olympic Games: None
Best Results: 2007 Finn Gold Cup - 50th
2008 Form: Finn Gold Cup - 53rd, Palma - 37th, Hyeres - 39th, Delta Lloyd - 18th

Only confirmed in late July for a place in China after Austria turned down its place, Bilbao entered the Finn scene in mid-2007 after getting too big for the Laser. He also received assistance from the IFA's FIDeS development programme to qualify for the Olympic Games and is the first Venezuelan Finn sailor ever to appear the Games.

Robert Deaves
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