Wright takes Finn world bronze at Gold Cup in Croatia 17/7/06

British sailor Ed Wright took bronze at the Finn Gold Cup in Split, Croatia, sending a warning signal that Olympic champion Ben Ainslie will face competition in the race for Beijing 2008 selection.

Ainslie rewrote the record books at the 2005 Finn Gold Cup, when he became the first sailor in history to win four world titles – all in consecutive years – but was disappointed to miss out on the chance to defend his crown in Split through commitments to the Emirates Team New Zealand America’s Cup team.

In Ainslie’s absence, Bournemouth-based Wright spearheaded the Skandia Team GBR challenge in Croatia, sailing a consistent regatta to take bronze – his best ever regatta result from the 99-boat fleet – just 18 months after moving on into the Finn from the Laser class.

Denmark’s Jonas Hoegh Christiansen was crowned the new world champion, with Greek sailor Emilios Papathanasiou having to settle for silver for the second year in a row – he finished behind Ainslie at last year’s event in Moscow.

Across the eight races in Split, Wright was the only sailor to place within the top ten in all of them, with his consistency providing the key to his success. “I sailed pretty conservatively throughout the regatta, but I really wanted to go out and win the last race,” Wright explained, poised fourth heading into Sunday’s final day of racing.

“I led at the first beat, but then Emilios passed me on the run and from there it became a bit of a fight to the finish, with him crossing just in front of me.”

It marks a lucrative year in medal terms for the 28-year-old Wright, who took gold at the French Olympic Sailing Week at Hyeres in April, and silver at the Holland Regatta in May before his podium triumph at the Finn Gold Cup.

“It’s a huge step forward – definitely the best result of my career – and shows that the hard training I put in during the winter is paying dividends.

“I’m just really happy – it will make a huge difference to my programme funding, and I can really start planning properly for the winter.”

Portsmouth’s Matt Howard scored a notable tenth place, while Iain Percy, 2000 Olympic gold medallist in the Finn class, had a good workout back in his old boat, finishing 11th overall.

Wright was not the only British sailor on the podium in Split, however, as Largs’ Mark Andrews, 19, was crowned Junior World Champion, with Henry Bagnall of Royal London Yacht Club second in the junior fleet.

Skandia Team GBR Finn coach, David Howlett, was delighted with Wright’s bronze, and with the overall British performance in Croatia. “It’s fantastic for British yachting that we’ve put on such strong showing here – not just with Ed’s medal, but also a top ten finish for Matt, and the junior world title for Mark. It really bodes well for the future in this class.”

Overall Results

1. Jonas Hoegh Christiansen, DEN, (2,4,2,5,1,3,(33),6) 23pts

2. Emilios Papathanasiou, GRE (4,1,5,10,2,(DSQ),3,1) 26pts

3. Ed Wright, GBR, (1,(10),7,2,3,10,7,2) 32pts

Other GBR

10. Matt Howard (6,13,6,(68),9,13,13,19) 79pts

11. Iain Percy (7,3,21,12,4,8,28,(RAF)) 83pts

25. Ed Greig (38,26,11,(52),36,15,19,29) 174pts

31. Mark Andrews (24,27,24,34,35,29,(50),25) 198pts

43. Henry Bagnall (52,43,41,24,58,39,(62),15) 272pts

45. Peter Davidson (42,54,36,35,46,48,(61),45) 306pts

55. Andrew Mills (54,38,39,81,48,71,42,DNF) 373pts

92. Richard Hart (87,82,83,78,82,85,92,81) 578pts