Held from 17-26 July on the beautiful island of Madeira, over 250 competitors from 44 countries will compete for the accolades of ISAF Youth Sailing World Champion in individual classes, and overall for the Nations Cup.
As was the case in 1992, the last time the event was held in Portugal, the event will be sailed in six disciplines, using four classes of boat: girls and boys single-handed, the Laser and Laser Radial respectively, girls and boys double-handed, using the 420, and girls and boys sailboard, using the Mistral. Racing will take place in manufacturers supplied boats, ensuring the fairest possible competition.
Following from last year's evolutionary Athlete Participation Programme, designed to give funding to athletes from sailing developing nations who might otherwise not have the chance to compete at this level amongst their peers, ISAF has once again run the programme and provided entry and travel bursaries to sailors from eleven of the 44 countries.
Traditionally a breeding ground for future World Champions, Olympic Champions, Match Racing and Round the World Sailors, The "Youth Worlds" have become synonymous with dedication to the competitive and global spirit of the sport, with many sailors choosing to diversify following success at this level. Some of the success bred at this level has been awesome.
Looking back at past events, one of the most dominant periods from any nation was between 1978 and 1981 when in both the boys double-handed 420 and Laser II, and the single handed Laser and Europe, New Zealand dominated the proceedings, taking no less than 4 gold medals, one silver, and one bronze. Those sailors doing the work for their country, even at this early stage, included none other than Chris DICKSON, and Russell COUTTS, sailing different disciplines, but at that stage, on the same team.
DICKSON's record of three gold medals in a row stood for a number of years, but was equalled in 1995, then surpassed in 1996 by Sally CUTHBERT (GBR) who won four consecutive gold's in the girls double-handed discipline.
From 1992, the Nations Cup was introduced as an overall trophy to be presented to the nation with the best results across all disciplines. Since then, only four countries have lifted the coveted prize, with the current holders being New Zealand. The inaugural winners, France, have won the Cup a record six times in the last ten years. Australia has won the Cup once, in 1993 in Italy, when a good all-round team performance was capped by the victory of Natasha STURGES in the girls sailboard. She has now changed nationality and can be seen on the Olympic circuit as a member of the GBR squad.
Many of the current flock of Olympic medallists and hopefuls first found success at the Youth Sailing World Championship, the likes of Ben AINSLIE (GBR - Gold Medal, boys single handed in 1995) went on to take the silver medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, before winning gold in Sydney 2000 in the single handed dinghy, open. Whilst current medal hope and Europe World Champion Sarah BLANCK (AUS), who is ranked ninth in the ISAF World Sailing Rankings for the single handed dinghy, women, took the gold medal in the same year as Ben, 1995.
More recently, in 1999, gold medal winner in the boys windsurfing HO CHI Ho, (HKG) is currently ranked 15 in the ISAF World Sailing Rankings and as we speak, lies eighth in the Mistral European Championship, currently underway in Sicily.
These represent but a few names from the melting pot of talent that has emerged from the ISAF Youth Sailing World Championships over the years, and whilst it is impossible to mention everyone, below are some more of the world's best sailors who found their first taste of success at the Youth Sailing Worlds:
Regardless of what the past events have produced in terms of world-class sailors, when racing starts in Madeira on 19 July, those competitors will be the very best youth sailors in the world, and the ones to watch for future Olympic, America's Cup, World Championship and Round the World stars.