Reigning World Champions Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes will be looking to get their Olympic year off to a flying start by retaining their crown when racing at the 2008 49er World Championships gets underway in Melbourne this Friday (4 January).
The Devon-based duo, the RYA’s nominated 49er pairing for the Beijing Games later this year, sailed to their first World gold in Cascais, Portugal last summer continuing Great Britain’s illustrious 49er World Championships record.
Team GBR sailors have medalled at every Championships since 2002, with 2004 Olympic bronze medallists Chris Draper and Simon Hiscocks twice topping the World rostrum in 2003 and 2006.
And Morrison and Rhodes, who themselves took bronze behind Draper and Hiscocks in 2006, will be keen to not only carry on Britain’s proud medal tradition in Melbourne but also throw down the early gauntlet to their main rivals for Beijing glory.
The Skandia Team GBR pair are not likely to have things all their own way, however, with both the 2007 World silver and bronze medallists, Nico Delle Karth and Nikolaus Leopold from Austria and Australian’s Nathan Outteridge and Ben Austin gunning for Cascais revenge.
Also amongst the leading contenders in Melbourne will be reigning Olympic champions and 2004 World Champions Iker Martinez and Xabier Fernadez (Spain) and Italian brothers Pietro and Gianfranco Sibello, currently ranked number three in the World.
Great Britain will have no fewer than six of the country’s top 49er crews doing battle in Australia with Paul Campbell James and Mark Asquith, Asquith a World bronze medallist in 2002, fresh from an impressive second-placed finish behind Outteridge and Austin at last month’s Sydney International Regatta.
Skandia Team GBR Development Squad pair John Pink and Simon Wheeler, who notched up a notable victory over Morrison and Rhodes at the Skandia Sail For Gold Regatta in September, will also be striving to make their mark on the World Championship stage.
Meanwhile the 49ers are not the only skiffs battling it out for World titles Down Under as the youth 29er World Championships are being run concurrently. Eight RYA Team GBR crews are poised to compete at the regatta keen to emulate the success of predecessors Sophie Weguelin and Sophie Ainsworth who raced to 29er World Championship Under 19 and Women’s title glory in Argentina in January 2007.
James Peters and Ed Fitzgerald go to Australia hot on the heels of a convincing Eurocup victory at Lake Garda in October although they are sure to face a stiff challenge from 29er National champions Bleddyn Mon and Tom Humphreys.
Frances Peters and Hannah Diamond, who together won the 29er title at the RYA Youth Nationals at Hayling Island in April, team up with different crews in Melbourne, Diamond partnered by Dicken Maclean and Peters joined by Claire Lasko.
Meanwhile younger Diamond Becky will be looking to get one over on big sister Hannah with her crew Fiona Hampshire.
The qualification races for both the 49er and 29ers commence at the Sorrento Sailing Couta Boat Club on Friday 4 January with final races and prize-giving scheduled for Wednesday 9 January. RYA Team GBR 2008 49er World Championship entrants:
Stevie Morrison/Ben Rhodes
Paul Campbell-James/Mark Asquith
John Pink/Simon Wheeler
Dylan Fletcher/Alain Sign
Richard Mason/Tom Peel
Dave Evans/Alex Hopson RYA Team GBR 2008 29er World Championship entrants:
Hannah Diamond/ Dicken Maclean
Becky Diamond / Fiona Hampshire
Max Richardson / Alex Groves
Bleddyn Mon / Tom Humphreys
Frances Peters / Claire Lasko
James Peters / Ed Fitzgerald
Mike Wood / Ollie Spensley-Corfield
Alex Cooper / Tom Durham