Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta 2011, which is the fifth leg of the ISAF Sailing World Cup series, kicks off on the 2012 waters of Weymouth and Portland on Monday 6th June.
British sailing team manager Stephen Park says his charges will face their biggest test of this Olympic cycle so far at the regatta.
The regatta has seen some 1,100 sailors from around the globe descend on the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy in a bid to learn more about conditions at the 2012 venue and, for crews from a number of nations, take their first steps towards securing their qualifying berths for the Olympic and Paralympic regattas next year.
Sail for Gold (6th to 11th June) is one of a number of events which form the selection trials for Skandia Team GBR’s sailors, and the RYA’s Olympic Manager Park is expecting some close battles as British crews across the 13 Olympic and Paralympic classes try to make an early impression on selectors.
'Skandia Sail for Gold is one [event] that we’re going to be looking at very closely at and it is the selection event for our Pre-Olympic Test Event team,' Park explained.
'Most of the sailors are pretty keen to get into that team for the Pre-Olympics – the Weymouth and Portland International Regatta as it’s now called – so that will therefore increase the pressure here, and the sailors all know that getting decent results here on the Olympic waters in Weymouth and Portland is actually going to be crucial to ultimate success in 2012.
'It’s that ultimate Games success that the RYA’s Olympic Selection Committee will be bearing in mind when they make any of their decisions.'
British competition for 2012 berths in a number of classes remains tight, particularly in the Finn, 49er, Laser and 470 classes. In the Finn class, a GBR sailor has won every leg of the World Cup series so far this season. Giles Scott will look to defend his 2010 Skandia Sail for Gold crown – he won the Miami leg of the World Cup series in January but has since missed out to Ben Ainslie who leads the World Cup standings having claimed glory at the Melbourne, Palma and Hyeres events. Finn World Champion Ed Wright picked up the most recent World Cup victory in Holland last week to rule himself in the running for Weymouth.
Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes will also consider their 49er class win in Holland a timely boost to their 2012 ambitions after an under-par start to the season, but several Skandia Team GBR crews will also be in contention including European Champions Chris Draper and Peter Greenhalgh, rising stars Dylan Fletcher and Alain Sign, John Pink and Rick Peacock, and Paul Brotherton and Mark Asquith.
Paul Goodison and Nick Thompson will each be vying for medal glory in the Laser event, with Australian World Champion and defending Sail for Gold titleholder Tom Slingsby likely to be a main rival in their quest for gold, while in the 470 men’s event, the top British crews of Nic Asher-Elliot Willis and Luke Patience-Stuart Bithell will be pushing hard for the podium spots at the end of the week.
Consistency has paid this season for Penny Clark and Katrina Hughes, who currently lead the World Cup series standings in the 470 women’s class with silver and bronze medals in Miami and Hyeres respectively, but after claiming a silver medal in Hyeres the new combination of Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark will hope to continue their ascent on home waters at what is their third major regatta together.
Nick Dempsey and Bryony Shaw will provide tough competition in the men’s and women’s RS:X windsurfing events, while Lucy Macgregor, Annie Lush and Kate Macgregor will look to follow up their Hyeres World Cup victory with another podium finish on home waters in the Elliot 6m women’s match racing event.
A broken mast put paid to Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson’s medal chances at the Holland World Cup event, a situation they’ll be keen to put right at Skandia Sail for Gold this week, while Charlotte Dobson and Alison Young will each be hoping to claim a first podium finish of the year in the Laser Radial class for Skandia Team GBR.
British sailors will also look to be in the mix in the three Paralympic classes – Megan Pascoe will be hoping for a fourth straight World Cup medal in the 2.4mR class, with Helena Lucas looking to add to her bronze from the Hyeres regatta.
Medal hopes in the Sonar class will rest on John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas, with two-time World Champions Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell likely to be among the front runners in the two-person SKUD class.
Team Manager Park is hopeful that his British sailors will put up a tough battle at their home venue and lay down a marker ahead of the Games next year, but is under no illusion that the increasing level of international competition combined will put pressure on the team’s medal prospects.
'I very much suspect that this event is going to be the toughest event in terms of international competition of all the events in the World Cup circuit this year. I think we’re going to see very strong performances from the Australians, the US, the French and Spanish in particular. Teams like the Dutch, the Brazilians and the Croatians will all be there or thereabouts at the end of the day.
'In terms of goals for Skandia Team GBR this week, then I think we’ll be hoping to get four or five medals. It’s going to be difficult I think in some of the classes to perhaps have the ultimate performance as there’s certainly going to be a lot of sailors who are looking over their shoulders making sure that their British teammates are not doing better than they are, and being the top Brit will be important for a lot of sailors,' Park continued.
'From a team perspective of course what we actually want is for people to go and win the regatta and of course if they do that then they’ll achieve their own personal goals as well. There is the danger that with conflicting goals from a team and individual perspective that that might mean the ultimate results from this regatta are slightly compromised but as long as we can get four of five medals by the end of the week then that should be a pretty good place to be.'
For the full line-up of Skandia Team GBR sailors in action and the Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta, and the latest news and information from the British camp here.