Over 800 boats have entered the SPA Olympic classes regatta which starts next Wednesday

With 836 boats entered and over 1,200 competitors, the 2003 SPA Regatta, which commences on Wednesday 21 May, guarantees to be a tough contest with the world’s best Olympic class sailors competing in all 11 of the Olympic disciplines.

The Laser has attracted the most entries with 178 boats competing including the six times world champion and double Olympic medallist Robert Scheidt of Brazil, who will be looking to defend his regatta win from 2002. Competition will be tough and with such a large entry number the fleet will compete in a series of qualifying races before sailing finals on Saturday and Sunday.

World number one and RYA Team GBR sailor Paul Goodison will have a tough challenge as one of a number of sailors could win the regatta including Palma Olympic class regatta winner Roope Suomalainen of Finland and Olympic bronze medallist Michael Blackburn of Australia. Other Team GBR sailors who will be looking for a good result include world ranked number five sailor Ed Wright, Mark Howard and Dan Holman.

With 98 boats in the Finn class the battle for first place will be on. The pecking order at the last two Olympic class regattas (Palma and Hyeres) has seen the 1996 silver medallist Sebastien Godefroid of Belgium top the podium from Team GBR sailor and world and European champion Ben Ainslie. For Ainslie this is a result that he will be keen to reverse but will have to try and resist the challenges from world number two and 1996 Olympic gold medallist Mateusz Kusznierewicz and the world number one and Hyeres bronze medallist Karlo Kuret from Croatia.

Other British sailors that will be looking for a good result in Medemblik will be Andrew Simpson, Chris Brittle and Charlie Cumbley, who will all be keen to get their foot on the podium.

The competition couldn’t be tougher in the 49er class with a number of international sailors all challenging for the podium places. Recent form suggests that world number two Rodion Luka and George Leonchuk of Ukraine, who won the recent Hyeres regatta, will be ones to watch as well as the world number one and world and European Champions Iker Martinez and Xabier Fernandez of Spain.

The Brits are also pushing hard in the class with world bronze medallists Paul Brotherton and Mark Asquith finishing fourth at Palma and second in Hyeres. Team mates and world and European silver medallists Chris Draper and Simon Hiscocks have also had a good start to the season finishing sixth in Palma and fourth in Hyeres, and both teams will be looking for a podium finish at SPA Regatta.

The two man Star class was absent in Hyeres but is back in force for SPA Regatta with 59 boats entered. This year it will be tough to medal in the class with a number of the top Star sailors in the world making the trip to Holland.

Current world champions Iain Percy and Steve Mitchell will be looking to repeat their success from last year when they won the regatta but will have to contend against Sydney gold medallists Mark Reynolds and Magnus Liljedahl from America, Olympic gold and bronze medallists Torben Grael and Marcelo Ferreira from Brazil, European Champions Fredrik Loof and Anders Ekstrom from Sweden and world bronze medallists and world number one Xavier Rohart and Yannick Adde from France.

In the three-women keelboat class, the Yngling, 33 boats have made the trip to Medemblik including world champions Monica Azon, Laia Tutzo and Julia Garcia of Spain and world silver medallists and recent Hyeres regatta winners Ulrike Schumann, Wibke Belle and Winnie Lupert of Germany.

For Team GBR sailor Shirley Robertson this event will be a test to see how her new crew of Sarah Webb fits into the team. Both her and crew Sarah Ayton have been training with Webb in the UK but this week will be the real test to see how the new partnership will perform.

As the Team GBR Mistral windsurfers have just competed in their Europeans they will be absent from SPA, with the exception of Bryony Shaw. However, other Team GBR sailors to watch out for will be Leigh McMillan and Mark Bulkeley and Hugh Styles and Adam May in the Tornado and Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield and Graham Vials and Bevis Field in the men’s 470 class.

This year spectators will be able to follow SPA Regatta in depth as the boats will be equipped with GPS/GMS receivers, which will determine the exact location of the boats on the course areas. The receiver will send a data message back to a computer every few seconds, which will translate the content into a position on a chart of the racecourses on the IJsselmeer. This will be linked in with sail numbers and names of the crew, which will ensure that spectators worldwide will be able to follow the racing. Racing begins on Wednesday 21 May and continues through until Sunday 25 May. Daily results and news can be found on the official website http://sparegatta.org/2003/.