by Lindsey Bell
Britain’s top Olympic and Paralympic classes sailors have descended on Miami for the first major event of 2011, and the second leg of the 2010-11 ISAF Sailing World Cup series – the Rolex Miami Olympic Classes Regatta (24-29 January).
Nick Thompson, Laser class winner at the 2010 Rolex Miami Olympic Classes Regatta
Some 36 Skandia Team GBR sailors will compete across 12 of the 13 events to be held across six days of competition out on Biscayne Bay, including triple Olympic Champion Ben Ainslie in the Finn class, Nick Thompson in the Laser, and Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell in the SKUD class, who all claimed gold in the opening leg of the World Cup series in Melbourne last month.
Finn World Champion Ed Wright has opted to skip the Miami event which he won last year, but Ainslie, Giles Scott and Andrew Mills will be looking to continue the strong British showing in the Finn class which led to a clean sweep of World Cup podium spots for GBR at the Melbourne event.
There was a dramatic build up to the event for Skandia Team GBR’s Women’s Match Racing World Championship-winning team as crew Annie Lush was rushed to hospital after falling 10ft to the ground from her Elliot 6m boat while it was docked in the boat park. She had a lucky escape, suffering a wound to the head requiring 25 stitches, concussion, a broken nose and dislocated fingers in the fall.
She will fly home on Sunday to recover, with Mary Rook, with whom Lucy Macgregor, Lush and Kate Macgregor won their World Championship title in September, now standing in for Lush at the regatta which earned the team a silver medal in 2010.
Skandia Team GBR will have strong hopes in the Laser event, with both world silver medallist and 2010 winner Nick Thompson and Olympic Champion Paul Goodison both in action, with development squad sailor Alex Mills Barton also making his Miami debut.
Bryony Shaw and Nick Dempsey will hold British hopes of silverware in the RS:X women’s and men’s windsurfing events, while Alison Young in the Laser Radial will hope to repeat her first ever World Cup podium spot – a third place in 2010 – at this year’s event.
In the 470 men’s event, Skandia Team GBR will be represented by Luke Patience and Stuart Bithell, and Nic Asher and Elliot Willis, while Penny Clark and Katrina Hughes, Sarah Ayton and Saskia Clark will compete in the 470 women’s competition, along with Hannah Mills and Katie Archer sailing their first World Cup event since joining forces.
The Rolex Miami Olympic Classes Regatta sees to the return to international competition for 49er duo Paul Brotherton and Mark Asquith, now back on the campaign trail after Brotherton underwent knee surgery last summer after tearing a ligament at the 49er Europeans in July. The pair were forced to sit out of their home World Cup event, the Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta, in August but were back training and in UK domestic competition in the autumn.
Brotherton explained: 'I think our focus has been just on trying to get back into the boat – the 49er is a real big handling boat. What was good for us is that after all that time out, we came back to racing for the RYA qualifier in October, which was quite a windy weekend.
'That gave us the confidence that all was doing well with my knee, and to get in some hard sailing over the autumn and we backed that up with a bit of gym work, added a bit more weight – we’re both four or five kilos heavier than we were in the summer, which obviously changes a few things.'
Brotherton, who won the Hyeres World Cup regatta with Asquith in April last year, is eager to get back on the racecourse in Miami and put the hard autumn and winter of training to the test in competition.
'I’m really looking forward to it – really looking forward to getting on the startline and getting some racing that counts, and what a great place to be! Great weather, great conditions, and compared to what we’ve been training in, 20 knots here is an absolute joy.
'We’ve got a new rig that we’re sailing with this week that we’ve had some pretty good feelings about in training, but tuning and racing are a different thing so we’ll be seeing how that rig goes in racing. It looks like we’re going to have a variety of conditions so hopefully by the end of the week we’ll be in a good position to either include that mast as part of our portfolio or exclude it, and certainly so far it’s been pretty positive.
'Our objectives are really to make sure we cement the good communication in that racing tempo, check in with this mast and see if it can cut it across the wind range, and also just to get some time racing against other boats so that when we get into the European season we’re back on the money again.
'The training’s gone really well, we both feel really well, we’ve had a good build up to the regatta, and I don’t see any reason why we can’t come away from here with a good performance.'
Brotherton and Asquith’s 49er teammates John Pink-Rick Peacock and Dave Evans-Ed Powys will also compete for Skandia Team GBR in Miami.
In the Paralympic Classes, British medal hopes include World Champions Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell in the SKUD event, the Sonar trio of John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas, and Megan Pascoe and Helena Lucas in the one-person 2.4mR event.
The Rolex Miami Olympic Classes Regatta – the second leg of the 2010-11 ISAF Sailing World Cup series – runs until Saturday 29 January.
Follow all the action at here