The Olympic classes bandwagon continues
With the European circuit now in full swing and many teams competing for Olympic selection, all the sailors aspiring for a spot for London 2012 are converging to the south of France in Hyères, host of the Semaine Olympique Française.
Fourth event on the ISAF Sailing World Cup circuit, the SOF-TPM has registered this year a record number of entries with 1100 sailors from 60 nations. According to Event Director, Bernard Bonneau: "The SOF has attracted lots of teams and this is a real satisfaction, however, I believe this strong participation is linked with the world economic situation. I have the feeling that many federations have concentrated their objectives on the European circuit in order to limit costs.”
Olympic selection, which is another reason for the high entries, started for some nations two weeks ago in Palma at the Trofeo Princesa Sofia Mapfre. Hyères will be used for other countries as a qualification event. All the top favourites are in Hyères in most classes also to gain further points on the Sailing World Cup circuit.
And for the first time, the Semaine Olympique Française will stage all the Olympic and Paralympic events.
French sailors will feel the pressure with their 'home' regatta chosen as the first “observation event” for London 2012. Nicolas Charbonnier sailing now with his young crew Jeremie Mion, and Emmanuelle Rol with Hélène Defrance in the 470, will both be attempting to defend their titles. Competition this year will be tough not only against other French team members. After winning Palma a few points ahead of Leboucher/Garos, Charbonnier and Mion will one again come up against all the top 470 teams including World Champions and World no1 Mat Belcher and Malcolm Page (AUS), the Italians Zandona/Zuchetti, second in Hyères last year and World no2 Sime Fantela and Igor Marenic (CRO). Rolex Miami OCR Gold medallists Nic Asher and Elliot Willis (GBR) will also be among the favourites.
2010 European champions, Emmanuelle Rol and Hélène Defrance (FRA) will defend their title against two other strong French teams. World #1 Ingrid Petitjean and Nadège Douroux started this year by winning Rolex Miami OCR, while Camille Lecointre with Mathilde Géron have taken the second place in the Sailing World Cup standings after placing in the top ten in Miami and Palma. But the French crews will have be up against Giulia Conti and Giovanna Micol (ITA), 2010 World's bronze medallists, the Japanese Ai Kondo and Wakako Tabata, second in Palma, and Skandia Team GBR's Penny Clarke and Katrina Hughes, the Sailing World Cup leaders who finished second in Miami.
There is record attendance the Laser Radial with 115 sailors registered to take part in the SOF-TPM. Most of the world top 20 will compete for SWC points and the title, won last year by Ausra Mileviciute (LTU). Fresh from winning the Trofeo Princesa Sofia in Palma, Sarah Winther (NZL) will lead the attack. Favourites also include 2010 World Champion Sari Multala (FIN), Paige Railey, winner of the Rolex Miami OCR and last year's Sailing World Cup champion and past World Champion, Marit Bouwmeester (NED).
In the Laser, Paul Goodison (GBR) who snatched the title on the last day in Palma from Australian Tom Slingsby, both hot favourites. Goodison, the Beijing Gold medallist will aim to hold on to the title won last year in Hyères. Last year's runner up, Andreas Geritzer (AUT) and Javier Hernandez (ESP), Slingsby also well as Goodison's team mate, Nick Thompson will all be gunning for victory.
In the 49er World no1 Austrians Nico Delle-Karth and Nicolau Reisch, after taking Silver in Hyères on three occasions (2007, 2009 and 2010) will be looking to climb one place higher on the podium. They lead the Sailing World Cup standings after winning Sail Melbourne and finishing third in Palma. Defending champions Paul Brotherton and Mark Asquith (GBR) come second in Miami early this year and will be among the class favourites with Princess Sofia winners Manu Dyen and Stéphane Christidis (FRA), Italian brothers Pietro and Gianfranco Sibello, second in Palma and third at the 2010 Worlds.
The Finn is likely once again to be mostly a British contest. With the return of Ben Ainslie to full time Olympic competition, and Olympic selection at hand, the pressure is on for the strong British squad. Since Ed Wright claimed last year his second Sailing World Cup title and the World Championship, event victories have been shared between his team mates Giles Scott and Ben Ainslie. Scott won Skandia Sail for Gold event last summer and the Miami OCR at the start of this year while Ainslie, the Olympic legend, took Gold at Sail Melbourne and in Palma. However, with a record 80 boats fleet in the Finn, the Semaine Olympique Française will not just be a British affair. French sailors Thomas Lebreton, who was third in Palma, and Jonathan Lobert or World #1 Croat Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic and last year's winner Marin Misura are returning to the fleet after a winter of intense training, and will be part of the battle along with Olympic Silver medallists Zach Railey (USA) and Rafa Trujillo (ESP).
2011 marks the come back in force of the Star fleet in Hyères. The presence of two good French teams in Hyères, which will be their first Olympic selection regatta, has attracted many of the top Star crews. Among them are multiple Olympic medallist Torben Grael with Marcelo Ferreira, Robert Scheidt with Bruno Prada (BRA) along with Beijing gold medallists and World Champions Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson (GBR).
18 countries will be represented in the Women Match racing. Hallbrook's team (GER) will defend their SOF -TPM 2010 title. Sally Barkow and Silja Lehtinen, finalists in Palma, France's own Claire Leroy, Nicky Souter (AUS) and Britain's Lucy MacGregor will provided some close racing.
Some key players won't be competing in the RS:X fleets in Hyères. Princess Sofia Trophy winner, Dorian van Rijsselberge (NED), defending champion Byron Kokalanis, Olympic champion Tom Ashley, Nick Dempsey (GBR) or Ivan Pastor (ESP) are taking a break from the competition to prepare for Sail for Gold and August's test event in Weymouth. However, the RS:X level will remain high with Olympic Silver medallist Julien Bontemps (FRA), World #1 Nimrod Mashich (ISR), World Champion Piotr Myszka (POL) or Sail Melbourne winner King Yin Chan (HKG) all present in Hyères in a fleet of 90 board sailors.
After winning the Trofeo Princesa Sofia title for the first time, Spains' Marina Alabau will also not compete in Hyères. Britain's Bryony Shaw will be back to defend her title and will face tough competition against ISAF Sailor of the Year Spain's Blanca Manchon, the Italians Sensini and Linares who will be continuing their fight for Olympic selection, France's Charline Picon, who finished second in Palma. Plus there is a strong Chinese team present in Hyères with 10 windsurfers including 2009 Hyères winner, Cheina Pen.
For the first time in the SOF-TPM history, all three Paralympic classes will race.
In the 2.4m, last year's top three return with Athens Gold medallist Damien Seguin, Princess Sofia Trophy winner Thierry Schmitter (NED) and Britain's Megan Pascoe facing Beijing medallists Canadian Paul Tingley and American, John Ruf. The fleet of 22 boats is representing 10 countries.
John Robertson's British team in the Sonar come to Hyères after a strong season debut with a win in Miami and a second place at the IFDS Worlds last year. The British team will try to repeat their 2008 victory in Hyères against Athens Silver medallists and world champions' Udo Hessels team from the Netherlands and the Paralympic Silver medal winning French team helmed by Figaro sailor Bruno Jourdren.
The Skud will be present for the first time in Hyères. World#1, the team of Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrel (GBR) will be the favourite in the six boat fleet after winning the 2010 Skud Worlds, Sail Melbourne and taking Silver in Sail for Gold and Rolex Miami OCR.
After a practice race on Saturday, racing will start for all classes on Sunday. Classes divided into groups will sail their qualification stages until Tuesday 26th when they will then be divided in Gold, Silver and Bronze for the Lasers. The Medal races will be staged on Friday 29 April in front of the Hyères harbour jetty.