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18 January 2008, 05:17 pm
Runners And Riders At Finn Gold Cup
Ben AINSLIE in action
Can Ben AINSLIE make it five Finn World titles

Finn Gold Cup 2008
Melbourne, Australia

Over the next two weeks, Finn fans from across the world will be turning their full attention to Port Phillip Bay, Australia as the Finn Gold Cup gets underway at Black Rock Yacht Club.
There are two questions that are uppermost in many people's minds: who will qualify for the remaining six places at the summer Olympic Games; and can Ben AINSLIE (GBR) win an unprecedented fifth Finn Gold Cup.

For the nations that have not already qualified for Qingdao, the competition to secure an Olympic berth will be tough. As far as AINSLIE is concerned, he has already secured his place in the GBR team and after his performance at the recent Sydney International Regatta and Sail Melbourne, and it would be a brave soul who would bet against him next week.

Based on conditions experienced during Sail Melbourne, next week should prove similar with lots of wind and waves. Most of the sailors here have been training in strong winds to prepare for this Gold Cup, although there have been some lighter days as well. However, the majority of them have also been keeping to their diet for Qingdao.

The top priority for many sailors will be to secure one of the remaining six places at this summer's Olympic Games in China. Nineteen nations have already qualified from last year's ISAF Sailing World Championship in Cascais, Portugal. The pre-entry list includes 14 nations (Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, India, Italy, Portugal, Russia, Slovakia, Turkey, Ukraine and Venezuela) that could fill these six places, and competition for these will be tough. In addition some of the sailors also have to meet individual national authority criteria to be included in the sailing team, and that could be tougher than actually qualifying the country.

Eduard SKORNYAKOV (RUS) should be one of the favourites to qualify his country for Qingdao. After winning the Europeans in 2007 - albeit in the light winds and flat waters of Lake Balaton - many thought he would do the job in Cascais, but he failed to perform in the tough conditions.

While some of these hopeful nations are only fielding one sailor, for the nations with more than one sailor present there could be some interesting battles as they try to qualify both their country and themselves, without jeopardizing either. It is certainly going to be interesting to watch the battles between the two Indians, the five Italians, the two Portuguese, the two Russians, two Turks and the two Ukrainians.

The nations that have qualified so far are: Netherlands, Spain, Slovenia, Great Britain, Canada, Greece, Denmark, Croatia, Sweden, Australia, Finland, France, New Zealand, Poland, USA, Czech Republic, Brazil, Ireland and Norway, and of these most have already concluded their sailor selection process.

The pre-entry list consists of more than 70 sailors from 33 countries, including many old and new faces. The only sailor in the top 20 not in Melbourne is Joao SIGNORINI from Brazil, who is training for the next Volvo Ocean Race on the Ericsson boat.

The practice race is scheduled for 13:00 on Tuesday 22 January. The opening first race is on the following day, with the final race and Medal Race planed for Tuesday 29 January. Eight races, plus a final race and a Medal Race for the top ten are scheduled. A reserve day has been planned for Australia Day on Saturday 26 January.

Now that AINSLIE has been given the nod by the Royal Yachting Association to defend the Olympic title he won in Athens four years ago, the reduced significance of the much awaited battle between him and Ed WRIGHT (GBR) will no doubt disappoint some observers, but with the pressure off, both of them will be able to focus more fully on the regatta. Although obviously disappointed by the early decision in AINSLIE's favour WRIGHT has regrouped and is determined to show his form here. The battle between these two could define the event.

Favourites

Ben AINSLIE (GBR)

What is there to say that hasn't already been said? Most sailors here probably hoped he would still be in the trials process so he might be distracted. His worst ever position at a world championship is first place, in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005. Now guaranteed a place in the British team in Qingdao, he has proved time and again that he is one of the world's best sailors.

Daniel BIRGMARK (SWE)

Made several medal races last year and is always there or thereabouts but never converts this to a winning position. BIRGMARK is all round performer though who is always in with a chance.

Jonas HOEGH-CHRISTENSEN (DEN)

World ranked #1 since June 2006, he finished a disappointing fourth place in last year's World Championship. Best result was world Champion in 2006. His only ISAF Grade 1 events wins were all in the USA: he has twice won the Midwinters (2006 and 2007) and also won the Rolex Miami OCR in 2003.

Christopher COOK (CAN)

Good all rounder but has failed on several occasions to convert opportunity into medals. Best result ever was the bronze medal at the Finn Gold Cup in Moscow in 2005.

Ivan KLJAKOVIC GASPIC (CRO)

One of the few sailors who has proven their ability to beat AINSLIE in the conditions in Qingdao, KLAKOVIC GASPIC threw away his chance of the gold medal on the last leg of the Medal Race in the Olympic Test Event by capsizing while AINSLIE was buried.

Anthony NOSSITER (AUS)

Having already secured his place in Qingdao, NOSSITER is sailing on home waters and likes the conditions in Port Phillip Bay. Qingdao will be NOSSITER's third Olympic Games, his best performance so far being a sixth place in Athens. Tenth in last year's World Championship, he will be looking to improve on that.

Emilios PAPATHANASIOU (GRE)

The man who has never won a World Championship but has come so close on too many occasions to mention is already qualified for his fourth Olympic Sailing Competition and will no doubt prove as competitive as ever. His best result was European Champion in 2001. Last year he took bronze at the Europeans and a fifth at the World Championship after leading both regattas at the halfway stage.

Pieter-Jan POSTMA (NED)

An outstanding season in 2007 brought him silver medals at the World Championship and at the Olympic Test Event. POSTMA loves the breeze and should be a strong contender in Melbourne. These results and a host of other podium places lifted him to second in the world rankings.

Giles SCOTT (GBR)

Perhaps the dark horse of the fleet, he has been training hard and a third place in the Sydney International Regatta ahead of WRIGHT clearly indicates his potential for the future. Expected by many to be one of the main contenders in 2012, he should do well in Melbourne.

Rafa TRUJILLO (ESP)

Silver medallist in Athens behind AINSLIE and the current World Champion. TRUJILLO likes and performs best in big breeze so if Port Phillip Bay lives up to its reputation he could be a serious contender.

Gasper VINCEC (SLO)

A bronze medal at last year's World Championships capped a great season for VINCEC, a recipient of an Olympic Solidarity Scholarship. VINCEC is a good all rounder and has a knack for being consistent enough to be in with a chance at the end.

Ed WRIGHT (GBR)

A tough decision by the RYA brought an early end to his trials against AINSLIE to win the GBR berth for Qingdao. However this may remove the pressure and provide him with the impetus to perform well here. European champion in 2006 and bronze medallist at the Worlds that year he has been ranked in the top five in the world since October 2006.

Finn Gold Cup - www.sailmelbourne.com.au/event/finngoldcup2008
Robert Deaves (As Amended By ISAF)
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