Andy Rice looks at favourites for the medals in the 2008 Olympics sailing classes.

Since Laser Olympic champion Robert Scheidt graduated to the Star, young Australian Tom Slingsby has become the dominant force in Laser sailing. He has won the past two World Championships, although he has struggled to get down to the weight believed to be optimum for Qingdao. Britain’s Paul Goodison is naturally smaller and lighter than most of his rivals and goes into the Games undefeated on Olympic waters, having won the past two Test Regattas. Kiwi Andrew Murdoch will have benefited from training with Goodison in the build-up, while Canadian Michael Leigh has been one of the big improvers of the past year.

Ben Ainslie hasn’t sailed much in the Finn since winning Olympic Gold four years ago, but he has won every regatta he’s competed in and is the reigning World, European and Olympic Test Event Champion. He is clear favourite for Gold in Qingdao; anything else would be a disappointment. However, a number of sailors have pushed the Briton hard in the past year, notably Croatia’s Ivan Gaspic, who particularly likes light winds, New Zealand’s Dan Slater, Canada’s Chris Cook and former world champion from Denmark, Jonas Hoegh-Christensen. Ainslie tends to start the Olympic Regatta badly, but come roaring through at the latter stages. It could be closer than we expect.

Exmouth school friends and sailing partners Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes have been the most dominant team in the tough-to-sail 49er skiff class over the past two years. However, some wobbly performances earlier in the season make the 2007 world champions only marginal favourites for Gold ahead of reigning Olympic champions Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez. Aside from Spain, other threats to British Gold come from young Aussies Nathan Outteridge and Ben Austin, who were surprise winners of the Worlds at the beginning of the year, along with Athens Silver medallists from the Ukraine, Rodion Luka and George Leonchuk.

470 Men
Although they haven’t excelled in the past year, Britain’s Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield are serious contenders for Gold in the 470. They have a reputation for overdelivering at the Games and enjoy the pressure. On paper the Australian partnership of Nathan Wilmot and Malcolm Page are the better team, winning the recent European Championship and a hat trick of World Championships. How they respond to the pressure of the Olympics remains in question, as they returned from Athens without a medal. Other contenders include the French, Italians, Portuguese and the teenage team from New Zealand, Carl Evans and Peter Burling, who have been making great strides on the world circuit in between studying for their exams at school.

RS-X Windsurfing – Men
With no limits on pumping the sail in light winds, Qingdao is predicted to be a test of aerobic fitness over sailing technique in the physically exhausting RS-X windsurfing class. New Zealand’s Tom Ashley has won the World Championship and the Olympic Test Regatta in the past year, although France’s Julien Bontemps is a major threat, particularly in the lighter winds. China’s Yuanguo Zhou is dangerous in sub-planing conditions, but will struggle if the breeze kicks in, whereas Portugal’s João Rodrigues and Great Britain’s Nick Dempsey are strong medal hopes if Qingdao serves up more than just the usual light-wind fare.

RS-X Windsurfing – Women
The high-point of Bryony Shaw’s career to date has been Gold at the Olympic Test Regatta last year. A supremely fit athlete, the British sailor’s strengths are ideal for the conditions expected in Qingdao. However, Shaw is up against some highly decorated windsurfers, not least France’s Faustine Merret, Italy’s Alessandra Sensini and New Zealand’s Barbara Kendall, all of whom have tasted Olympic Gold. Such experience could prove key, although many see Poland’s Zofia Klepacka and Spain’s Marina Alabau as the hottest favourites, because they seem most comfortable across the full spectrum of wind conditions.

A small fleet, but with incredible depth of talent. Some teams have been trying to find the magic bullet, designing and building one-off boats in a bid to gain a small speed edge, including the British team Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson. At times the Brits’ ambitious development programme has seemed like an unnecessary distraction. Based on regatta results of recent months and years, Brazilians Robert Scheidt (double Olympic Champion in the Laser) and Bruno Prada start as marginal favourites ahead of a number of other talented teams, notably the Swiss, French, Swedish and Kiwis. If the Brits can go into Qingdao with confidence in their boatspeed, they stand a good shot at a medal.

Great Britain’s trio of Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb and Pippa Wilson are white hot hopes for Gold in the Yngling. The Sarahs carry the confidence of being reigning Olympic Champions while new girl Pippa has become a key part of this team, which has won every major regatta of the past 12 months. Biggest threat to British dominance comes from the USA crew, skippered by Sally Barkow, and Russia’s Ekaterina Skudina. The Dutch team is the product of an 11th-hour selection process that may or may not produce a medal-winning performance.

Yachting World will be reporting live from the Olympics 2008 Sailing events

Article Source: