Do ISAF rankings point to Olympic medals ?

Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb and Pippa Wison, Yngling - Semaine Olympique Francaise, Hyeres

Similarly to the situation before the 2004 Games, the only British sailors to hold a top place in the latest ISAF World Rankings, are the Yngling team of Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb and Pippa Wilson, who top the Women´s Keelboat section in the last ranking release before the 2008 Olympic sailing events in China. Australia are top nation this time round but blew it at the 2004 Games when they held second place going in and came out with nothing.

Australia have reclaimed the lead in the national standings with top places in the Laser, 470 and Tornado categories. Spain, Poland and Great Britain also count four crews in top-three positions (but not necessarily going to Qingdao) and ahead of the Games in China there is a timely boost for the Asian sailing nations.

The Australian team will undoubtedly go to Qingdao on a high, but how much can be read into their success in the World Rankings? The example of Australia four years ago goes to prove that Ranking success can easily come to nothing at the Games, although Great Britain's performance in both Rankings and Games provides a counterpoint.

Of the 33 medals presented in Athens, over two-thirds of them went to nations who had enjoyed top-three success on the Rankings leading up to the Games. Of the eight nations who won medals at Athens but did not feature top-three Ranked sailors going into the Games, only one, the hosts Greece, managed to win more than one medal.

Team GBR won five sailing medals at the last two Olympics and on a normal reading of there chances could be expected to repeat that tally, with Yngling, Finn and 49er looking strong and 470 men and Laser a reasonable chance.

But, the Olympics are not a normal International event. Only one entry per country, per category, means that many top competitors do not make the event, removing the ability of one country taking multi medals in a class, unlike in the athletics events.

It also means that if the chosen crew struggle on the day due to particular conditions, there is no back-up alternative, then a perceived outsider crew can shine. And weather conditions could be the Joker in the pack at Qingdao. Crews have down-sized in anticipation of light conditions and the venue has been hit by massive weed banks and fog in the past month, adding a feeling of uncertainty and the opportunity for some unexpected results.
ISAF Ranking and 2004 Olympic results
Looking in more detail at the 2004 Olympic Champions, seven of the 11 gold medals, went to nations who had a sailor in the world number 1 spot.

Amongst the 11 gold medal winning crews, four held the world number 1 spot going into the Games, and equally, only four of the 11 world number 1 Ranked crews missed out on a medal in Athens.

Britain held five top three positions before the 2004 Games and matched that with five medals.

Second ranked Australia and fifth ranked Germany got nothing.

Out-performing their low national ranking, Spain took three medals for the second highest tally.

Across the 11 Ranking lists there are two new crews occupying world number 1 positions. Japan's Ai Kondo and Naoko Kamata are the new leaders of the Women's 470 Rankings following their win at Kiel Week. They become only the second Japanese crew to ever hold the top world Ranking following in the footsteps of Yukio Shige and Alicia Kinoshtia who hit the top of the Women's 470 Rankings in 1995, a year before winning the silver medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.

The gold medal winners at Athens 2004, the Spanish 49er team of Iker Martinez and Xabier Fernandez appear to have timed their return to form to perfection and hit the top spot in the World Rankings for the first time in over five years. Like Kondo and Kamata, the Spaniards will head to Qingdao on a high after securing victory at Kiel.

One of the biggest moves in this Ranking release comes from China's Lijia Xu who climbs up three places to sit at number two in the Laser Radial World Rankings. In her short career Xu has already amassed an impressive series of achievements, winning China's first-ever medal at the Volvo Youth Sailing ISAF World Championship in 2005 and following that up a year later by becoming the first Chinese sailor to win a World Championship in one of the events of the Olympic Sailing Competition.

Team GBR for Qingdao - and their World Ranking

Heavyweight Dinghy - Finn - Ben Ainslie - 28 (going on 1)
Women's One Person Dinghy - Laser Radial - Penny Clark - 10
Men's One Person Dinghy - Laser - Paul Goodison - 3
Men's Two Person Dinghy - 470 Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield - 4
Women's Two Person Dinghy - 470 - Christina Bassadone and Saskie Clarke - 4
Skiff - 49er - Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes - 8
Men's Keelboat - Star - Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson - 12
Women's Keelboat - Yngling Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb and Pippa Wilson - 1
Multihull - Tornado - Leigh McMillan and Will Howden - 7
Men's Windsurfer - RS:X - Nick Dempsey - 8
Women's Windsurfer - RS:X - Bryony Shaw - 10

ISAF World Ranking Leaders - 2 July 2008

Heavyweight Dinghy - Finn Jonas Hoegh-Christensen (DEN)
Women's One Person Dinghy - Laser Radial Anna Tunnicliffe (USA)
Men's One Person Dinghy - Laser Tom Slingsby (AUS)
Men's Two Person Dinghy - 470 Nathan Wilmot and Malcolm Page (AUS)
Women's Two Person Dinghy - 470 Ai Kondo and Naoko Kamata (JPN)
Skiff - 49er Iker Martinez and Xabier Fernandez (ESP)
Men's Keelboat - Star Mateusz Kusznierewicz and Dominik Zycki (POL)
Women's Keelboat - Yngling Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb and Pippa Wilson (GBR)
Multihull - Tornado Darren Bundock and Glenn Ashby (AUS)
Men's Windsurfer - RS:X Przemyslaw Miarczynski (POL)
Women's Windsurfer - RS:X -Marina Alabau (ESP)