Key event for British sailors in the qualification process for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games starts today in Cascais 3/7/07

Britain’s Olympic sailing hopefuls will face their biggest challenge since the Athens Games when racing gets underway at the ISAF World Sailing Championships in Cascais, Portugal, today.

The regatta, which will see almost 1,400 sailors from 76 countries competing across the 11 Olympic classes, is a key event for Skandia Team GBR sailors in the qualification process for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, so competition will be fierce across the 11 days of racing. Great Britain has the largest entry, with 96 sailors set to compete in Cascais.

The Star and Tornado classes are the first to get their regatta started on Tuesday, with new pairing Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson are hopeful of a solid performance in their first Star World Championship since joining forces in January this year.

“We’re not here just to make up the numbers – we’ve got a very good chance of making the top three and we’ll be pretty angry if we’re not, to be honest,” Simpson explained.

“Iain has in the past been weaker in the light winds and we seem to now be going much better in that and we’ve had a good day’s training in the breeze and it was very, very promising. So we’ll have to see – obviously in sailing anything can happen but we really want to be in the top three.”

Percy and Simpson will contest the Star event along with 71 other crews, while Leigh McMillan and Will Howden, and Rob Wilson and Mark Bulkeley will be Skandia Team GBR’s front-runners in the 51-boat Tornado class.

Although currently still in Valencia on America’s Cup duty with Emirates Team New Zealand, triple Olympic medallist Ben Ainslie will no doubt be keeping an eye on the Portuguese proceedings, with Ed Wright hoping for a solid showing in the Finn class to catch the eye of the British selectors.

The spotlight will also be on the in-form trio of Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb and Pippa Wilson, and double-Olympic gold medallist Shirley Robertson competing with Annie Lush and Lucy Macgregor in the Yngling class, while the 49er class will likely see Chris Draper-Simon Hiscocks and Stevie Morrison-Ben Rhodes challenging at the front of the fleet.

Fresh from retaining his European Championship title, Laser world number one Paul Goodison will be confident heading into the Cascais event, with Nick Thompson also vying for top British honours, while the women’s Laser Radial class could see any one of five British sailors challenging.

Nick Dempsey and Bryony Shaw will be key contenders in the RS:X men’s and women’s fleets, while Athens silver medallists Nick Rogers-Joe Glanfield and defending World Champions Nic Asher-Elliot Willis will challenge in the 470 men’s event. Christina Bassadone and Saskia Clark lead the British contingent in the 470 women’s fleet.

“The World Championships is so far the most important event in this Olympic cycle for Skandia Team GBR,” RYA Olympic Manager Stephen Park explained. “It’s the beginning of the events that we use for our Olympic selection process as we move towards Beijing next year in 2008.

“It’s an interesting regatta to consider medal outcomes – we would hope to be coming away with three medals across the classes but it’s certainly going to be a very tough event. I think we’re predominantly going to see a windy regatta but we’re also going to see some light wind days which I’m sure is going to put the cat amongst the pigeons.”