Irish Olympic Laser campaigners Finn Lynch of the National Yacht Club and Liam Glynn of Ballyholme Yacht Club will face a fleet of 183 and all three Rio medallists when they start racing at a bumper 49th Trofeo Princesa Sofía Iberostar in Palma today, the first test of new Laser coach for Ireland, Vasilij Žbogar.
In a large turnout across the Olympic sailing classes for Ireland, previewed in full here, Aisling Keller in the Laser Radial will also meet Dutch 2016 gold medallist Marit Bouwmeester who took silver in London racing her first major regatta of this year.
'Racing kicks off at 11.00 today. 180 lasers entered! It should be a great week! says Lynch on the eve of the regatta while Glynn admits it's likely to be 'a tough week ahead racing 180 of the world's top sailors, but determined to start the racing season on a high'.
Following last year's post-Olympic entry of 634 boats and 842 sailors the expected spike in numbers continues an underlying upward trend. Entries last year were 10% ahead of where they were in 2013, that was immediately post London, and in 2017 were more than 20% ahead of 2009, post Beijing.
"The regatta this year is bigger than four years ago and so from the sports point of view is in a good position." highlights the event's manager Ferran Muniesa, "But the most important thing is what the sailors say to us all the time, that feel really comfortable at this event and that is important. They are our clients and we are seeking to give the best possible service to them."
The direct effects for the local economy are significant during tourism's realtively low season. A recent impact survey accounted for a income of around €4.5m to the local economy spread over the month prior to the event and during competition week.
Muniesa adds, " Long term locally what we really want is to show to the people of Mallorca and to the government of the Balearic Islands that this is an event which does a great promotion around the world for Mallorca and creates a significant impact - not only in terms of image but the economic impact is important because of course this happens low season. "
He adds, " From today we start the campaign to reduce the plastics and to educate and engage the sailors to tell them that they are the first ones that can set an example to everyone. That is why with our sponsors Iberostar and Marinepool and the Foundation One Earth One Ocean we are trying to see how we can help. This is a long term vision and this year we get started."
To sailors on all stages of their Olympic journey the lure of these Balearic waters remains as strong as ever. The event is renowned for pleasant sunshine, consistent, reliable spring breezes, excellent race management and it also holds the opportunity to put in several weeks of pre-regatta training in - usually - sunshine and a variety of winds.
With two years now until the 2020 Tokyo Olympics the 49th Trofeo Princesa Sofía Iberostar regatta is an almost essential fixture. No fewer than 17 sailing medallists who stood on the Olympic podium in Rio in 2016 will compete against dozens of previous Olympic medallists and World and European Champions. But the event is a fascinating melting pot where young talent can emerge and impress at one of their first big stage Olympic multi class events.
"It is wonderfully organised with a great atmosphere ashore but on the water there is a nice air of, well, anarchy. Here you often find loads of young guys and girls here to prove themselves and really push everything hard. And so for us, and others like us, this is always a chance to try new things, different equipment or tecniques, to work on things as for us the outcome is not critical." summarises the 2012 470 Olympic silver medallist Luke Patience with a trademark grin.
That said the 49th Trofeo Princesa Sofía Iberostar regatta marks the start of the journey for country qualification for Japan leading up to this season's World Championships of Aarhus.
The all time participation record sees eight regatta courses due to be operated across the Bay of Palma with starts and finishes almost continuously through each day. Target schedule for the Laser, RS: X and Finn is 10 races over in five days, while the Nacra 17, 49er and 49er FX have 15 races scheduled. Then, next Saturday, April 7, the decisive Medal Races for each classes should determine the overall podiums.
Who's Who? More than 20 Rio Medallists.....
In the Men's 470 Class Miami winners Patience and Chris Grube will be up against Australia's 2017 world champions and 2016 Olympic silver medallists Mathew Belcher and Will Ryan who won here two years ago and Rio bronze medallists Greece's Mantis Panagiotis and Pavlos Kagialis.
Rio gold medal winning helm in the 470 fleet Hannah Mills competes with Eilidh McIntyre with whom she finished runner up at the World Championship. Similarly France's Camille Lecointre who sails now with Aloise Retornaz won Olympic bronze in Rio.
British crews have achieved something of a domination in the 49er class even if medals have proven elusive at recent Olympics. Dylan Fletcher-Scott and Olympic 470 silver medal winning crew Stu Bithell are current world champions and won gold at the Sailing World Cup Miami in January. Germany's Olympic bronze medal winner Thomas Ploessel now races in a new partnership with Justus Schmidt. The young Spanish duo Diego Botin and Iago L. Marra finished runners up in Miami and were second here last year behind the British winners James Peters and Fynn Sterrit who sadly miss the chance to repeat their success because of a last minute injury to crew Sterrit.
In 49er FX the New Zealanders Alexandra Maloney and Molly Meech and the Danish duo Jena Mai Hansen and Katja Steen Salskov-Iversen start among the favourites. Maloney and Meech won Olympic silver in Rio while Hansen and Salskov-Iverson hold Olympic bronze from 2016 and lifted the world champions title in 2017.
The Finn class is perhaps one of the hardest to call. GBR's recently crowned European Champion Ed Wright is up against Rio gold and silver medal winners Giles Scott (GBR) and Caleb Paine (USA) along with the Swede Max Salminen who is world champion.
The Laser fleet is the biggest at the regatta with 183 registered boats and all three Rio medallists are racing here. Outstanding favourite appears to be Tom Burton, gold winner in Rio 2016, world championship runner up and the class winner at the Sailing World Cup Miami. Croatia's Tonci Stipanovic took silver in Rio and New Zealand's 2016 bronze medallist Sam Meech won the first of the 2018 Sailing World Cup events in Japan.
The Laser Radial class is 117 strong with the Dutch 2016 gold medallist Marit Bouwmeester who took silver in London racing her first major regatta of this year. She holds the aces as World and European Champion. Denmark's Anne Marie Rindom is the bronze medallist in Rio, winner of the first regatta of the 2018 Sailing World Cup and finished third here when she last raced in 2016. Great Britain's Alison Young, the 2016 world champion, comfortably triumphed at the Sailing World Cup regatta in January.
In the Nacra 17 the introduction of foils has opened up the class again forcing a new style of sailing to be learned. Argentines Santiago Lange and Cecilia Carranza, the Olympic champions in Rio 2016 are on that learning curve and have yet to replicate their Rio success on foils. World Champions are GBR's Ben Saxton and Nicola Boniface, the first world title winners on foils, who were sixth here last year. The Nacra 17 also features Austria's bronze medallists Thomas Zajac and Barbara Matz while Spain's Fernando Fernando Echávarri and Tara Pacheco are 2017 world championship runners up.
The men's boards are the only class in which none of the medallists of the last Olympic Games are present at the 49th Trofeo Princesa Sofía Iberostar. Poland completed the double last year when Pawel Tarnowski won the Men's RS:X, following up from his second in 2016. World Champion Bing Le leads a strong Chinese contingent as does Women's World Champion Pei Na Chen in the female fleet. Spain's London 2012 gold medallist Marina Alabau has finished fourth twice here.
The Trofeo Princesa Sofía Iberostar has signed a collaboration agreement with the One Earth - One Ocean foundation to help protect the oceans and coastal waters. The initiatives begin at this edition, by reducing the use of plastics and by collecting waste from the sea and the beach. In addition, the organization has distributed to all the on the water personnel and participating coaches a device to prevent of fuel and oil going in the sea from the RIB’s engine.