Olympic test event
As Olympic host, Greek organisers ATHOC are committed to holding a test event in every sport under conditions similar to those expected during the Games. Not only will sailors from around the globe be the first to preview the Olympic venues of Athens, but due to the special nature of its competition area, they will be the only athletes to compete in a second test event next year.
With many anxious to test the waters of the Saronic Gulf, the Agios Kosmas Olympic Sailing Centre will host 551 athletes who are competing in 358 boats and representing 43 countries, over the period of the 12-25 August. However, one class is missing from the test event and another has a low entry due to clashes with world championships. The two man Star class are currently competing in California, whilst the women's Europe class are on their way to Canada. With a temporary venue, intense security and many volunteers on hand, organisers hope to provide an experience similar to those that the sailors will encounter at the Olympics, when nine classes sailing in eleven divisions compete for Olympic glory.
The line up at the first Olympic test event includes many distinguished athletes who are here to familiarise themselves with the wind and local currents, so they can prepare for the 2004 Olympic Games. Names include the five times Laser world champion and gold medallist, Brazilian Robert Scheidt; local hero Nikolaos Kaklamanakis, who won gold in the Mistral class in Savannah in 1996 and is the current world champion; not to mention top British sailor and Sydney gold medallist Ben Ainslie, who within five months of switching from the Laser to the Finn class, has won both the European and world titles.
Other British names that will be looking to make their mark on Athens will include current Laser world number one Paul Goodison, who has had a stream of successes this year, including wins at a number of Olympic class regattas such as Miami, Palma and Hyeres as well as securing the bronze medal at the
Team GBR 49er sailor Chris Draper, sailing with Sydney silver medallist Simon Hiscocks, has had a good year so far, winning silver medals at both the world and European championships, this relatively new team will be looking to put their training and talents to the test in Athens.
Olympic gold medallist in the Europe class, Shirley Robertson, last year swapped her single-hander for the three-person Yngling class, to embark on her fourth Olympic campaign in the quest for a second gold medal. Sailing with Inga Leask and Sarah Ayton, this team have been experimenting with new equipment throughout the year and will be looking to pull off a good result in Athens.
Other RYA team GBR members to look out for will be 470 sailors Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield who came so close to their dream of an Olympic medal in Sydney, finishing in fourth place. They enjoyed recent success at the 470 Europeans where they took home the bronze medal.
It has been a good year for team GBR in the Mistral fleet. Natasha Sturges has finished in the medals at every European Olympic classes regatta that she has attended this year. Team mate Nick Dempsey has also been on the pace, winning gold in Holland at Spa regatta in May, which he followed up with a silver at Kiel week in June. Fellow Brit Dom Tidey has been hot on his heels, finishing second at Hyeres and third at Spa.
Racing gets underway today, when the competitors take to the water to compete in the practice race on the four course areas that have been set. From there on in, racing takes place over eight days, with eleven races scheduled for each of the classes, with the exception of the 49ers who will take part in sixteen races. Each of the classes has been scheduled two reserve days, with the final prize giving and closing ceremony on Friday 23 August.
RYA Olympic Manager Stephen Park had these initial thoughts on the venue, “The Olympic facilities of the Agios Kosmas Olympic Sailing Centre are very impressive after the short period of time that has elapsed since they began building the facility. It promises to be a superb facility by the time it is completed for the Olympic Games in 2004.
Park went on to say, "the test event is a vital part of our Olympic preparation and both the sailors and coaches alike are looking forward to the racing starting in earnest tomorrow."