#OLYMPIC 470 SAILING – Dun Laoghaire's Gerbil Owens and Scott Flanigan last chance for Olympic qualification at the 470 World Championships in Barcelona got off to a great start today with the double Olympian Owens finishing fifth in the opening race. It is an early boost for one of 7 remaining places left in the Summer Olympics.
Racing at the 2012 470 World Championships got underway today and runs until 19 May2012, with 153 teams from 43 nations fighting for World Championship success and an Olympic dream.
Racing was postponed for most of the day in Barcelona as winds were very light but late afternoon saw all fleets finishing one race each.
As well as Ireland the seven final Olympic Qualification places will be contested by teams from: Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Hungary, India, Korea, Kuwait, Malaysia, Poland, South Africa, Russia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and Venezuela.
As the second and final qualification event for the 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition, this year's World Championship marks the last opportunity to secure nation slots, and for teams to make their mark and be selected for their national Olympic squad.
The conclusion of the 2012 470 World Championship will mark the reward of Olympic participation for some and 2012 Olympic dreams crushed for others. With only 27 nation slots in the 470 Men and 20 in the 470 Women at the 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition, the arena is set for some intense and thrilling action as the last Olympic places are awarded. But, whilst some teams are totally focused on the Olympics, for others the 2012 470 World Championships is simply about competing at the pinnacle annual event of the class.
Nations already qualified to the 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition are:
470 Men - Argentina, Australia, Austria, China, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, USA.
470 Women – Argentina, Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Great Britain, Israel, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, USA.
The 470 Charter Boat Programme has provided brand new 470s to young, emerging talent from Malaysia, Spain, Turkey and the USA.
The 470 Men favourites are unquestionably the reigning 470 World Champions and #1 world ranked pairing of Mat Belcher/Malcolm Page (AUS). The Aussie dream team are on fire to claim a third successive World Championship title, to add to their 2010 and 2011 victories.
For Malcolm Page, who is the most successful 470 sailor ever and likely the most successful Australian sailor, Barcelona could mark his sixth World Championship victory. In his previous partnership with Nathan Wilmot, Page also secured victory at the 2004, 2005 and 2007 World Championships.
Page is modest about his achievements to date, "I have been very fortunate and sailing has been very good to me. I come from a non-sailing family and it is a special sport."
Speaking on their Championship hopes, Belcher added, "This championship is quite important for us as it is a great opportunity to race in a high pressure event. Our preparation has been great coming into this event, with victories in Palma and Hyeres but anything can happen. We love sailing this class because so many teams have the possibility of winning. The talent and depth is quite remarkable, but for us to take the triple would be pretty cool."
Ninety-nine 470 Men teams from 40 nations will be competing in the scheduled 11 race series. In addition to the Aussies, teams to watch out for at the top of the leaderboard include:
Luke Patience/Stuart Bithell (GBR) - secured a silver medal at the 2011 and 2009 Worlds, bronze at the 2011 Open Europeans and hold a #9 world ranking.
Sime Fantela/Igor Marenic (CRO) – always consistent, the Croatian team took the bronze medal at the 2011 Worlds, silver at the 2011 Open Europeans, hold a #3 world ranking and have past Olympic experience with a 9th at the 2008 Olympics
Gideon Kliger/Eran Sela (ISR) – on form with a #4 world ranking, the team were in medal contention throughout the Perth 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championships, but a disappointing last place in the Medal Race pushed them into 4th overall, a position they aim to convert to a medal in Barcelona.
Panagiotis Mantis/Pavlos Kagialis (GRE) – regular top 10 performers at Championship and World Cup events, the team are in Barcelona fighting for Olympic selection over their team mates, Panagiotis Kampouridis/Efstathios Papadopoulos.
Sven Koster/Kalle Koster (NED) – a fallout in form saw them finish 19th at the 2011 Worlds. Past performance include top 10 finishes at both the 2009 and 2010 470 Worlds and a fourth place at the 2008 Olympic Games.
Stuart McNay/Graham Biehl (USA) – the world #4 ranked team always solidly at World Cup events, and will be looking for their first podium finish at a World Championship.
The seven final Olympic Qualification places will be contested by teams from the following nations: Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Hungary, India, Ireland, Korea, Kuwait, Malaysia, Poland, South Africa, Russia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and Venezuela.
Those with their ticket already booked to the Olympics, can just focus on World Championship success, rather than the Olympic qualification pressure. As is the case for Spain's home team of Tara Pacheco/Berta Betanzos, who have already secured their place at the 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition after their win at the Perth 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championship. This pair's mission in Barcelona is to fly the flag of the host nation, continue their winning form and defend the World Championship title – not too much to ask.
In typical style, Pacheco takes a no-nonsense approach to the Championship, commenting, "This is another Championship for us. It is good to have the Worlds at home, but it is going to be a hard Worlds because there are many teams that are trying to qualify their country for the Olympics. It is going to be difficult to be in the top 10." And on her preferred weather for racing, Pacheco continued, "A sea breeze with medium conditions – it will be fun!"
2011 was a rewarding year for the Spanish pair, with World and European titles to their credit, but they continue to strive for excellence, as Pacheco explained, "We are learning all the time, on the water during training or during races, we have to continue learning from everybody and also from ourselves."
Whilst Pacheco acknowledges the field is open, teams likely to perform at the front of the leaderboard include:
Ai Kondo/Wakako Tabata (JPN) – world #1 ranked team and bronze medal at the 2011 Worlds says it all. A long term Olympic campaigner, Kondo represented Japan at the 2008 Olympics, and with Tabata will be facing off to secure Olympic team selection against the 2004 Olympic helm Yuka Yoshisako with crew Noriko Okuma.
Lisa Westerhof/Lobke Berkhout (NED) – the pair are on a roll and fresh from dominance at Semaine Olympique Francaise where they were in a class of their own. An off-par performance at the 2011 Worlds saw them finish in 10th overall, but cannot overshadow their gold medal victories at the 2010 and 2009 470 World Championships.
Gil Cohen/Vered Bouskila (ISR) – top ten places at all World Cup events contested over the past year, a bronze medal at the Perth 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championships and a world ranking of #15 place this team.
Giulia Conti/Giovanna Micol (ITA) - top five finishes at the past four 470 World Championships including a silver and bronze medal, consistently top 10 at ISAF World Cup events, a world ranking of #5 and a fifth place at the 2008 Olympics is more than enough to place this pair amongst the favourites.
Hannah Mills/Saskia Clark (GBR) – world ranked #6 pairing who appear on the podium more often than not, including a silver medal at the 2011 Worlds. They are consistent in delivery and relish whatever challenge is thrown at them.
Jo Aleh/Olivia Powrie (NZL) – a bronze medal at the 2011 470 Worlds, silver at the 2010 470 Worlds and a sixth place in 2009 demonstrates their ability to perform at the highest level.
Martine Grael/Isabel Swan (BRA) – were the top placed Brazilian team at the 2011 Worlds with an 8th place finish, but were beaten by team mates Fernanda Oliveira/Bianca Barbachan to represent Brazil at the 2012 Olympics. Impossible to predict which team will be on top here in Barcelona.
Amanda Clark/Sarah Lihan (USA) – regular top 5 results at ISAF World Cup events is yet to be replicated at 470 Championships, but recent results place them amongst the front runners.
28 nations competed in the 470 Women event at the Perth ISAF Sailing World Championships, the first Olympic Qualification event, with 14 of those nations securing a slot.
In Barcelona 54 teams from 30 nations are competing, with the following 15 nations in contention for the remaining five Olympic Qualification slots: Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Malaysia, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Switzerland, Ukraine.
Amongst the teams gunning for those slots are the Danish pair of Henriette Koch/Lene Sommer, the 2011 470 European silver medallists, who suffered an unexpected tumble down the leaderboard in Perth and lost out on Olympic qualification.
China is one of the biggest nation teams in the 470 Women event with four pairs competing, one of whom is hoping to secure the nation slot for the Olympics. Having achieved that, the Chinese Yachting Association selection policy is simple, the team that slot will go to the Olympics.
Registration and Equipment Inspections takes place from 10-12 May, the Opening Ceremony will take place on Friday 11 May, and racing will start at 1200 hours on Sunday 13 May.
The 470 Men will be split into three fleets and the 470 Women into two fleets. A six race qualification series will be contested from 13-15 May, with teams re-assigned after each day's racing. After the three days of qualification, the 470 Men teams will be assigned to gold, silver and bronze fleets, and the 470 Women gold and silver fleets for the six race final series from 16-18 May. The top ten teams in each event will then qualify through to the Medal Race on Saturday 19 May 2012.