Windy start to first grade one Olympic classes regatta of the season

Over 500 teams representing 50 nations are competing in the first grade one Olympic classes sailing regatta of the season. The French Olympic Week got underway today and continues through until the 29 April in Hyeres.

There is a strong British contingent at the event this year with many of the RYA Olympic Development Squad members taking part as well as a few of the more experienced sailors such as Olympic Yngling gold medallist Sarah Ayton. All of the teams are now hard on the campaign trail and with the thoughts of the Athens success a distant memory, all eyes are firmly focussed on Beijing 2008. This event provides the perfect opportunity for the British sailors to line up against their competition and to see how the winter preparations have paid off.

Although racing was scheduled to commence today (24 April) only two Olympic classes got underway, with the 116 boat Laser standard fleet managing two races before the wind exceeded 30 knots and the 470 men’s and women’s fleets completing one race. All the other classes (except the Mistral windsurfer, which is no longer an Olympic class) spent the day ashore waiting for the wind to die, but it did not happen and racing was forced to be abandoned for the day.

With the Laser class split into three fleets for the beginning of the week to determine who will go on to race in the gold fleet for the regatta medals, the points are extremely close after day one and are likely to remain that way all week in this highly competitive class.

Mate Arapov of Croatia had the best day in the fleet. The 2003 European silver medallist, who won Hyeres week back in 2001, scored two first places in the windy conditions to take an early lead over the fleet. Great Britain’s Paul Goodison, who finished fourth at the 2004 Olympic Games, scored a fourth and a second place and after day one is lying in eighth place overall. The next best Brit is team mate Mark Howard who is fifteenth overall.

The 470 men’s and women’s classes both completed one race in the Easterly winds that reached 30 knots before racing was cancelled for the day. The 64 boat men’s fleet has been split in two and the group winners today were the world number one ranked sailors Gabrio Zandona and Francesco Della Torre from Italy and the 1996 Olympic champions Evgeniy Braslavets and Igor Matvienko from Ukraine. Both teams top the leader board at the opening stages of the regatta.

British sailor Paul Brotherton, who finished sixth in the 470 class at the Olympics in Barcelona in 1992 and just missed out on a place in the 49er class for the 2004 Olympics, has returned to Olympic class sailing and is back in the 470 class competing with Ian Calder. Brotherton had the best race result of the Brits and a fifth place finish puts him ninth overall on the leader board.

In the women’s fleet only half the boats managed to finish the race but there were a few well known names at the top of the class after day one. Most notably was Olympic Europe gold medallist Siren Sundby of Norway who has decided to move into the 470 for the next Olympic cycle, sailing with Kariane Melleby. Despite being new to 470 sailing they managed a third place, finishing behind the experienced French 470 pairing of Ingrid Petitjean and Nadege Douroux. Vered Buskila and Nike Kornitzki of Israel took the opening race win to top the leader board after day one. A great result for the British pairing of Christina Bassadone and Saskia Clark saw them finish fourth overall in the breezy conditions which leaves them in close reach of the podium positions.

One exciting development for this regatta is a new race format that is being tried by the event organisers. In a bid to make the sport more attractive to the media and public, the final day will see a series of ‘race-offs’ between the top three competitors to determine the winners.

Tomorrow racing is scheduled to commence at 12 pm and the race committee will be hoping that the wind drops in order to get all the fleets out racing. Hyeres Olympic week continues through until Friday 29 April. The Olympic classes taking part in the event are the Yngling, 470, Laser, Laser Radial, Finn, 49er and Tornado as well as the 2.4mR Paralympic class.