There is now less than a week until the start of the 2011 Finn Gold Cup at the ISAF Sailing World Championships in Perth, Australia.
For many sailors, as is the case with most classes, this will be their main trials for Olympic selection. Some sailors have already been given the nod, but for others the battle continues, while also of course keeping an eye on the more important country selection. Seventy-five per cent of the country spaces for 2012 will be decided in Perth.
Though the final entry list has not yet been confirmed, the Finns have 77 expected entries from 33 nations, with the strongest and deepest fleet assembled in recent years. In all there are 22 former Olympians, four Olympic medalists and four former world champions.
The 2010 world champion, Ed Wright (GBR), is determined to put on a serious defence of the title he dominated and won in San Francisco 15 months ago. However, it won’t be easy for him, with most sailors having upped their game for this important regatta and also because he – along with several other Finn sailors – has been spending a lot of time with the Green Comm Racing AC45 campaign.
The main challenger and probably the favourite for the title has to be the five times winner Ben Ainslie (GBR). Having been in Perth for about a month before the first race he will certainly be well prepared and it will be interesting to see how he performs. Remember, he has never lost a Finn Gold Cup.
Ainslie revealed, 'The training has been going well. We have had a good mix of conditions and good training with the British squad. The focus for me was getting back into the boat after quite a long break after the Pre-Olympics. Getting the hiking legs going has been the main focus. Conditions have been a little variable but on the whole we have had medium to fresh winds which is what you expect from Fremantle.'
Now that he has secured his place in Weymouth in 2012, is there less pressure on him for this event? 'Well, there were only two goals for me with this campaign, firstly to qualify and then to try and win the Olympics. Having said that, when you are at a World Championships, of course you want to be successful.'
And looking ahead? 'We will take a break in January and then it will be pretty intense all the way up until the Games. We have quite a lot of equipment to test and then the next Finn Gold Cup in Falmouth, in the UK, will be a big one for me as that is where I grew up.'
Of course Ainslie is only one part of the Skandia Team GBR that, even without him, had four boats in the top ten at last year’s Gold Cup. Bronze medallist from last year and the 2011 European Champion Giles Scott (GBR) is sure to put in a strong challenge, as are Andrew Mills (GBR) and Mark Andrews (GBR), and they all excel in windy conditions.
As well as winning the 2010 Perth International Regatta, Jonathan Lobert (FRA) picked up the silver medal at the Olympic test event in Weymouth. He is fighting it out with training partner Thomas Le Breton (FRA) for the French place in Weymouth.
'It's the last event of the year for selection and we should know who has been selected at the beginning of January. Anyway I don't think about it. I am here to give my best and we will see at the end. I will be very pleased to do great with Tom.'
What has he been up to since the test event? 'With Tom we have been training quite a lot. We have been on Garda in September and then we spent fifteen days in Quiberon in Brittany with PJ [Postma] and Tapio [Nirkko]. Then we when to the French Nationals in Maubuisson, and another training camp in La Rochelle.'
'We tried to get some strong winds to be working on the upwind speed but with the weather you never know. We had actually a lot of very different conditions during the training, which is good because when you focus too much on some condition you lose a bit in the other kind of wind and waves. I remember last year in Perth, training three weeks in twenty five knots of wind and for the regatta something happened and we had very tricky weather. I am more relaxed and confident with this large range of wind training and I feel ready for anything.'
'I am happy that I feel good in the boat and I am looking forward to competing with the best guys. Last year I really enjoyed Perth. The weather is usually beautiful. I also remember all the volunteers were very helpful and pleased to see us. I am sure that this year will be really exciting.'
The racing format in Perth will be different to usual Finn Gold Cups, with the fleet split into two and sailing on outer and inner loops, as happened at the last ISAF World Sailing Championships in Cascais in 2007. The silver medallist in Cascais was Pieter-Jan Postma (NED), who after a few years in the wilderness is back stronger than ever and picked up the bronze at the test event this summer.
He commented on the Perth conditions so far. 'Perth so far has been quite diverse. Whereas the last Worlds in San Francisco was mainly decided on upwind speed, here it will come down to good fitness, with more strategy and tactics in play. The wind is often quite patchy and winning is decided on being able to see the shifts.'
'Since test event, I have had training in Weymouth, Garda and Quiberon, always trying to push the level. And also now there is a great training group here, with races at the end of each day, where all the Finn sailors join in. It’s mainly organised by the Brits who do this superbly. There is good cooperation and a great atmosphere.'
A lot of the fleet are also supporting The Prostate Cancer Charity by growing moustaches (see Team GBR’s video below)
Postma added, 'Here also Movember is growing. And awareness for Cancer is needed. This is the biggest threat, and it’s good to see that Finn sailors are contributing to this cause.'
Other favourites in Perth include:
Rafa Trujillo (ESP) – world champion in 2007 and silver medal last year. 2012 would be his fourth Olympics, third in the Finn, after silver in Athens.
Zach Railey (USA) - silver in Qingdao. Up against young Caleb Paine (USA), but Railey is expected to take the slot. Best Finn Gold Cup place was silver medal in 2009, narrowly missing out on the gold.
Dan Slater (NZL) – Runner up the last time the Finn Gold Cup was in Australia in 2008.
Jonas Høgh Christensen (DEN) - the world champion from 2006 and 2009, is making a comeback, training full time since November and could put in a serious challenge.
Ivan Kjlakovic Gaspic (CRO) – European Champion in 2009 and 2010 and one of the fastest in light winds.
Daniel Birgmark (SWE) - fourth in Qingdao and bronze at the 2010 Europeans. Will probably be head to head with Johan Tillander (SWE) for the Swedish place in 2012.
Other names to look for would include Deniss Karpak (EST), Gasper Vincec (SLO), Vasilij Zbogar (SLO), Brendan Casey (AUS), Anthony Nossiter (AUS), Tapio Nirkko (FIN) and the fast improving Greg Douglas (CAN). Interestingly, Chris Cook (CAN), Olympian in 2008, is also on the entry list. Though he hasn't raced competitively since 2008, he has been coaching the young Canadian team, including Douglas.
Cook revealed, 'I've been sailing full time since the beginning of September to prepare for the event, but I haven't sailed a Finn regatta in three years so I have managed expectations, but still hope to sail well. Ken Dool has committed his time to the Canadian Finn Team to ensure it's continued success moving forward to the games and beyond. We'll see what kind of a job I've done coaching these boys up to now, and I think it will be a great fight for the Olympic berth.'
Racing starts on Monday 5 December, with ten races through to Saturday 10 December, with the medal race for the top 10 on Sunday 11 December. The Finn class will be there to report on all the action. Ainslie summed up, 'The Fremantle SC has been a great help with facilitating container unloading and training. Everyone has been very welcoming and I'm sure it will be a great event here.'