Olympic sailing classes go head to head three months before Athens Games

Over 1000 competitors representing 61 countries have descended upon the Dutch town of Medemblik for the 20th SPA Regatta.

Just three months before the Athens Olympic Games the world’s top Olympic sailors will compete in all eleven of the Olympic sailing disciplines.

With the Olympic team now complete, the British sailors will be using the event as a chance to test their equipment and eye up the Olympic competition just months before the Games.

Double Olympic champion and current Finn world champion Ben Ainslie, won this event last year, and with a new boat for the event will be keen to repeat this result. Also competing at the event is Ainslie’s training partner and 2003 world bronze medallist Andrew Simpson. A total of 72 entries are competing in the class and it will be interesting to see if the new European champion Mateusz Kusznierewicz of Poland can keep up his recent form.

Fresh from success of winning a bronze medal at the 2004 world championships, Star sailors Iain Percy and Steve Mitchell will be competing in the fleet of 43 boats. They will be up against tough competition from Swedish sailors and world champions Fredrik Loof and Anders Ekstrom as well as top sailing names such as Torben Grael of Brazil, Paul Cayard of America and Peter Bromby of Bermuda.

57 boats will be competing in the highly competitive 49er class and there will be tough competition within the class. Team GB Athens 2004 sailors Chris Draper and Simon Hiscocks, who are currently ranked number one in the world and won a silver medal at the 2004 world championships, won this event last year and will be keen to repeat this result. Competition will come from the 2004 world champions Iker Martinez and Xavier Fernandez of Spain, world bronze medallists Marcus Baur and Max Groy of Germany as well as fellow Team GBR sailors Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes who finished ninth at the world championships.

Leigh McMillan and Mark Bulkeley, who will be representing Great Britain this summer in Athens, won SPA Regatta last year and after a fifth place at the world championships in April, they will be battling hard to be on the podium. Current world champions Santiago Lange and Carlos Espinola of Argentina and the worlds silver medallists John Lovell and Charlie Ogletree from America will both be challenging hard.

The Yngling fleet have just returned from their world championships and for the three women keelboat, which will be making its debut at the Games this summer, the field is still wide open. Great Britain’s Shirley Robertson and crew of Sarah Ayton and Sarah Webb won Hyeres week last month but after a slightly disappointing 16th place at the world championships, they will be keen to return to the top. Current world champions Trine Palludan, Christina Otzen and Ida Hartvig of Denmark will be competing as well as Americans Carol Cronin, Elizabeth Filter and Nancy Haberland.

After a sixth place at Hyeres Olympic Week, one of her best results to date, Athens 2004 sailor Laura Baldwin will be looking to continue her rise up the rankings. Competing alongside Baldwin will be Team GBR sailors Lizzie Vickers and Andrea Brewster who will also be looking to make their mark on this event.

Spa Regatta is one of the first events that the Athens 2004 windsurfers have competed at since their world championships in April. Nick Dempsey finished fifth at the world championships and third nation, a result that he will be keen to repeat at an event that he won in 2002. Team mate Natasha Sturges finished ninth at the worlds and will also be hoping for a good result at this event. The fleet has many of the top names competing with both the men’s (Julien Bontemps) and women’s (Alessandra Sensini) world champions taking part.