by Jo Grindley
The waters of Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbour will be filled with the stars of sailing over the next couple of weeks as the team’s training camps at the 2012 Olympic venue turn serious with the final pre-event. The annual event will this year feature almost all of the medal contenders for the upcoming Games. The 523 entries from 59 nations will feature 723 athletes and 249 coaches, and while numbers might be down on last year – when many nations used the event to select their Olympic teams – there’s no doubt that the cream of world sailing will be racing at Skandia Sail for Gold.
Ben Ainslie (GBR)- Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta 2012
The top story for pundits and fans alike will be Ben Ainslie, the silver medallist and three-time Olympic champion will be going for a fourth gold medal at the upcoming Games, an achievement that would make him the most successful Olympic sailor of all time. Ainslie would equal Paul Elvstrøm’s four golds, but move past him because of the silver the Brit won at his first Games in 1996, at the age of just 19. He remains the man to beat in the Finn, having just won his sixth World title in his Olympic boat.
Right behind Ben Ainslie in the medal-count stakes comes Brazilian Robert Scheidt, the only man to have beaten Ainslie at an Olympics, way back in 1996 in the Laser. Since then, Scheidt has won silver behind Ainslie in 2000, gold in Athens (after Ainslie moved to the Finn), and then silver in Qingdao after Scheidt moved on to the Star class. Another couple of Brits also prevented Scheidt from taking gold on that occasion – Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson.
Percy and Simpson are another pair to watch; Percy won gold in the Finn in 2000 in Sydney, then gold again, this time with Simpson in the Star in Qingdao. He will be looking to repeat that in Weymouth at the Games, but it was Scheidt that prevailed at the recent Star World Championships and at Skandia Sail for Gold 2011. This year’s regatta promises to be another fascinating battle in this long rivalry as they head towards judgement day in August.
Another British gold medallist from Qingdao will also be renewing a long-standing rivalry at Skandia Sail for Gold. Paul Goodison took the Laser title in Qingdao at the expense of the 2007 and 2008 World Champion, Australian Tom Slingsby. But Slingsby is back, and he’s not messing around – he’s won both the world title and Skandia Sail for Gold for the last three years – Goodison has his work cut out if he wants to repeat the Qingdao result, and Skandia Sail for Gold is the perfect time to make a statement.
In the Women’s Laser, the 2010 and 2011 Skandia Sail for Gold winner will be back to defend her title. Marit Bouwmeester of the Netherlands will be up against both the silver medallist from Qingdao, Lithuanian, Gintare Volungeviciute Scheidt (Robert’s wife) and China’s bronze medal winner Likia Xu. The Qingdao gold medallist in the Laser will also be at Skandia Sail for Gold, but competing in the Women’s Match Racing – Anna Tunnicliffe. Tunnicliffe and her Team Maclaren women – Molly Vandemoer and Debbie Capozzi – won the match racing at Skandia Sail for Gold in 2011, and the recent US Olympic trials, also held in Weymouth. Many pundits will probably regard them as the team to beat, but they will face tremendous competition in a highly talented fleet. World number two Lucy Macgregor (GBR), World number three Claire Leroy (FRA) and World number four Ekaterina Skudina (RUS) will also be fighting it out for the top spot in what will be a highly competitive display of Women’s Match Racing.
The Men’s and Women’s 470 classes will also be packed with both medallists and previous winners. The French duo of Pierre Leboucher and Vincent Garos won the event in both 2010 and 2011, but they will be up against the otherwise all-conquering Aussie duo of Mat Belcher and Malcolm Page, who have won the last three 470 world championships. Page also won gold in Qingdao with Nathan Wilmot, with whom he previously won another three world championships. At the most recent world’s, Belcher and Page won from Leboucher and Garos with a day to spare – everyone will be watching this contest for an important psychological victory in the battle for Olympic gold.
In the Women’s 470 fleet we can expect equally intense competition, with recently crowned British world champions, Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark looking to go one better than their silver at the 2011 Skandia Sail for Gold. They will once again have to beat the second-placed girls at the latest world championships – the Netherlands’ Lisa Westerhof and Lobke Berkhout, multiple world title winners. But expect to see plenty of other names at the front of the fleet over the six days of competition; this is one of the toughest classes for consistency.
The 49er stands out as the only class with none of the Qingdao medallists competing at Skandia Sail for Gold. Most conspicuous is probably the absence of the 2004 gold and 2008 silver medallists, Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez – both are currently competing in the Volvo Ocean Race, and defending an overall lead. The class will not be short of talent though, with the dominant Aussie pairing of Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen being the team to watch – Skandia Sail for Gold champions in 2009, 2010 and 2011.
In the Women’s RS:X, both the Qingdao silver medallist, Alessandra Sensini of Italy, and bronze medallist, local girl Bryony Shaw will be back. Sensini is the only woman to have won four Olympic medals – bronze in 1996, gold in 2000, bronze in 2004 and silver in 2008. It’s an extraordinary record in such a physical sport. Also racing will be the 2011 Skandia Sail for Gold winner, Marina Alabau of Spain. In the Men’s RS:X, Qingdao silver medallist, Julien Bontemps of France will be in Weymouth to resume his rivalry with Nick Dempsey – Britain’s Skandia Sail for Gold champion in 2011, 2007 and 2006. Bontemps just took the 2012 RS:X world title from Dempsey (also a former World Champion) by a couple of points.
In the Paralympic classes many of the 2008 medallists will also be in Weymouth for their final opportunity for top flight competition ahead of the Games. In the SKUD, the 2008 silver medallists Daniel Fitzgibbon and Rachael Cox will be competing, along with the bronze medallists, John Scott McRoberts and Stacie Louttit from Canada – both teams will be looking to go a place or two better later this summer, however Britain’s current SKUD world champions Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell, who have won the world championship for the past four years in the class and will be looking to put their marker down on home waters.
The German 2008 Sonar gold medallists, Jens Kroker, Robert Prem and Siegmund Mainka will be looking to take the win at Skandia Sail for Gold, they will be looking out for last year’s winners John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas (GBR). While in the 2.4mR the man to watch is gold and silver medallist Damien Seguin of France – he will be attempting to go one better than Jens Kroker at the Games, and become the most medalled Paralympic sailor of all time. And trying to stop him will be Paul Tingley of Canada, the 2.4mR gold medallist in Qingdao – watch out for these two at Skandia Sail for Gold, neither will want to cede a psychological advantage to the other ahead of this summer’s contest.
Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta website