This Olympic year will begin with a bang for the women keelboat sailors with Olympic gold medallists galore lining up for the Yngling World Championships.
The Yngling Women's World Championship, from 8-16 February, is preceded by the Rolex Miami OCR, where racing started yesterday, and both will be held on Biscayne Bay, one of the world's best sailing venues.
This will be a gathering of some of the world's best women sailors with 27 teams from 18 countries and four Olympic gold medallists entered so far. Although ten countries plus China have already qualified for the 2008 Olympic Sailing Competition in Qingdao (at the 2007 ISAF Sailing World Championship
in Cascais) there are still four places to be decided and the competition among the eight remaining countries represented will be fierce.
Even for those countries who have qualified, many have not yet selected their Olympic Yngling team. For those that have qualified, such as the Nehtherlands, which has four contenders, and China and Russia with two, the competition may be more to demonstrate their superiority over their national rivals, than to win the regatta. However, the really interesting problem remains for the two competitors from Canada, France and Greece which still need to qualify. Will their priority be to cooperate and qualify their country in competition with Denmark, Japan, Italy, Norway and Ukraine? Or to sail tactically to make sure they are selected nationally? These sailors, even if they qualify also have to meet their national criteria in order to be sent by their countries.
Thus the racing will be highly competitive throughout the whole fleet and not just at the top. Many of the sailors have been training in Palma and elsewhere and will be sailing new boats for the first time in serious competition, while others will be testing new gear and sails, especially spinnakers, as these are now restricted to cloths on an approved list. The teams will also be subject to the weight limit of 205 kg each day, so we hope they did not indulge too much over Christmas, or have at least been to the gym to burn off any superfluous pounds.
The "British Blondes" Sarah AYTON
, Sarah WEBB
and Pippa WILSON
are the current World Champions, have five wins and placed in the top three of all their 2007 Yngling regattas. AYTON was a competitive Europe sailor before she teamed up with Shirley ROBERTSON
and WEBB to win gold in Athens, so this team is clearly one of the favourites and will be out to continue their winning ways.
with her new team of Annie LUSH
and Lucy MACGREGOR
are the other British team. ROBERTSON won gold in the Europe in Sydney and again in Yngling in Athens. Since then she has become the mother of twins, which meant that this Olympic campaign started late, and to her great disappointment, the British selectors have already chosen her Athens team mates "the Sarahs" for Qingdao. So this team has no pressure but will be out to prove the selectors made a mistake! They and the Sarahs are sailing boats from Petticrows, the new builder of Ynglings and it will be interesting to see how they perform.
Team 7 with Sally BARKOW
, Carrie HOWE
and Debbie CAPOZZI
are probably the team which has sailed together the longest and have a long string of success behind them in both fleet and match racing. They won the Princess Sophia Trophy in 2007 and will be defending their title at the Miami OCR. However they also match race and recently won the Santa Maria, Trentino and Brazil Women's Cups, so will be a threat in close quarters racing and boat handling. BARKOW has just been elected US woman sailor of the year for the second time.
and her crew although never quite reaching their potential are third on the Yngling ISAF World Sailing Rankings
which attests to their consistency, and this year may be their year to shine. They also match race so will be at home in the close quarters racing typical of the Yngling.
RUS 4 and RUS 8
These two teams of Anna BASALKINA
, Vladislava UKRAINCEVA
with Ekaterina MAXIMOVA
and Ekaterina SKUDINA
with Diana KRUTSKIKH
and Natalia IVANOVA
have been battling each other and knocking at the door for some time. BASALKINA won the Holland Regatta in 2006 and was second to SKUDINA's third at the 2007 Open championships.
SKUDINA won the Europeans and Hyeres in 2007 and was eighth in Athens, and has a habit of winning the Medal Race. However although SKUDINA has been top of the ISAF World Sailing Rankings, BASALKINA is currently two places ahead of her. This will be a battle royal as both teams are vying for selection represent St Petersburg and Moscow which have a long standing rivalry.
NED 1, NED 11 and NED 111
The Dutch have four teams competing and are a major force to be reckoned with. The national team has nine members who are rotated through the three boats NED 1, NED 11 and NED 111, their game plan being somewhat akin to that for America's Cup crews. In recent events Mandy MULDER
has performed well, coming second at the Breitling and European Championships in 2007 and just missing the podium in Cascais, but nothing is certain and Renee GROENEVELD
, with a second at the 2007 test event in Qingdao, and Janneke HIN
will be formidable competitors.
The Dutch also have a dark horse in Annelies THIES
, NED 350, who was their representative in Athens where she just missed the podium, and so is keen to have another shot. However, she took some time off to have a family and is now making a late charge. She had some bad luck, being holed in one race, and then dismasted in another collision at the open Worlds in 2007, but her team had the boat repaired overnight and was ready to fight again, so watch out.
, Sofia PAPADOPOULOU
and Christina CHARAMOUDANI
, are a relatively new team on the Yngling scene, and have not yet shown the brilliance of BEKATOROU's world dominance of the 470 class, where she won gold in Athens and four World Championships. BEKATOROU also sails in big boats, match races, and having had the winter to become familiar with the Yngling will be a formidable threat.
comes from a sailing family with her brother sailing 49ers, and was the gold medal winner in the Europe class at Athens, so comes along the same track as Shirley ROBERSON, and may just repeat her performance - a challenger to be reckoned with.
, the 2006 World Champion, Miami OCR winner and North American Champion, so is obviously familiar with the conditions in Miami and finds them to her liking. AZON came from the 470 class and has been sailing Ynglings since 2001 so has the experience to mount a serious challenge.
The battle for the remaining four Olympic berths will be between Sarah BERRY and Tine MOBERG-PARKER for Canada, Tine PALLUDAN of Denmark, Anne-Claire LE BERRE and Anne LE HELLE for France, Sofia BEKATOROU and Altani DANEZI sailing for Greece, Yumiko SHIGE of Japan, Chiara CALLIGARIS for Italy, Siren SUNDBY of Norway, and Mariia DOLYNSKA of Ukraine. With two Athens gold medallists in this group the competition will be challenging.
Some top competitors who will not be in Miami are Kirsten WAGNER, the German Olympian who has opted to devote her energies to her daughter, and Nicky BETHWAITE who had a bad mountain bike accident in the autumn but is making a good recovery, we wish her well, and welcome her crew with new helm Krystal WIER.