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Tough assignment for Boyd and Nicholson in Olympic 49ers

by ISAF on 6 Aug 2004
Athens 2004 will be the second Olympic Sailing Competition to see the inclusion of the high-performance 49er as equipment and few will forget the spectacle the class created in the natural amphitheatre of Sydney Harbour in 2000.

For 2004 all the athletes taking part are more versed with the boats. The 49er’s inaugural appearance in Sydney, was for many a steep learning curve with the advent of a new style of sailing, but this time around a further four years of experience has tightened up the fleet, less mistakes are being made and the racing will be tight and intense.

Of the 19 teams and 38 athletes already set up in Athens, only one complete team is returning for a second bite of the cherry, Rodion Luka and George Leonchuk (UKR) finished tenth in Sydney and since then have progressed further up this high quality fleet. They finished third at the ISAF World Championships in Cadiz in 2003, although they did experience a disappointing World Championship in 2004, finishing 14.

Having said that, they did finish fifth at the recent ISAF Grade 1 Kiel Week. This will be Rodion’s third Olympic Games, as he competed in the Laser in Savannah, the pair are currently ranked fourth in the ISAF World Sailing Rankings. Luka and Leonchuk are part funded by the Olympic Solidarity Scholarship programme, recognising their dedication to Olympic Sailing and their potential in the sport.

Whilst the Ukrainians may be the only complete crew making a second appearance, six other athletes have entered new pairings in the class for Athens 2004. One of those, silver medallist in Sydney Simon Hiscocks (GBR) has teamed up with Chris Draper. After a tough national selection process that could have gone any of three ways, the pair secured selection by winning the ISAF World Championships with a race to spare, and are looking strong and well prepared for Athens.

This will be Draper’s first Olympic Sailing Competition, but with the experience of Hiscocks at his side, big things are expected of them in Athens. Draper himself is no stranger to the World scene; he finished in second position in the 1996 ISAF Youth Sailing World Championship in Newport, Rhode Island in the Laser II.

Marred by injury over the last couple of years, Spanish favourites Iker Martinez and Xavier Fernandez are hoping to put that all behind them for the next three weeks in Athens. The pair withdrew from the 2003 Worlds due to injury, then came back in dominant form and won the 2004 World Championship in style.

Rarely out of the top three at any of the events they have competed in, they are firm favourites for a medal. They followed up their World Championship win this year with a victory at SPA Regatta and providing they can keep injury at bay, you’d be hard pushed to bet against them being on the podium at the end of racing.

Recently off the sailing scene, but freshly teamed up with Juka Piirainen, Sydney Gold medallist Thomas Johansen (FIN) could well be a dark horse in Athens. The team recently finished in runner up position at the European Championship on Lake Garda, and for Johansen, this will be his third Olympic Games, as he too sailed a Laser in the 1996 Olympic Sailing Competition in Savannah.

Whether this team, who have trained and competed outside of the usual ISAF Olympic Classes regattas, can draw on their experience of winning medals and deliver remains to be seen in the difficult meteorological phenomenon that is the Saronic Gulf! But we all saw what happened in Sydney, where the team’s detailed and independent training on Finnish lakes replicated the conditions in Sydney, and propelled them to the front.

Marcus Baur (GER) is another Olympian returning for a second medal attempt in the 49er, he finished fifth in Sydney sailing with Phillip Barth. Following Sydney, Baur has teamed up with Max Groy, and the pair has consistently shown what it takes to be at the front of this fleet.

Third in the 2004 World Championship and winners of the 2004 Athens Eurolymp, they clearly know about sailing on the Saronic Gulf, and look set to be mixing it up with all the other medal hopefuls when racing starts next week. Baur and Groy are currently ranked second in the ISAF World Sailing Rankings, behind Draper and Hiscocks in first.

The home of skiff sailing, Australia, has sent a pair of its most prolific supporters and worldly experienced 49er teams to Athens in order to take a medal back to the southern hemisphere.

Chris Nicholson and Gary Boyd have a wealth of talent behind them and following a disappointing 14 place finish at the Europeans in Athens, they have bounced back to score a string of top five placings since. Ranked fifth on the ISAF World Sailing Rankings, Nicholson has already represented his country in the class, at the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

All things considered, this team are at home in the 49er and will certainly be up there in the fleet, and have already demonstrated their ability in the Saronic waters winning the 2003 Olympic Test Event.

Americans Tim Wadlow and Pete Spaulding survived a tough single regatta selection series for the right to represent USA in Athens and since that time they have developed from strength to strength. With a desire to at least equal USA’s Bronze medal from Sydney, there will be no shortage of pressure for these two who are ranked number 3 in the world.

With top five places at all the events in which they have competed this year, they are clearly on form to perform.

Special note must also be made of Cristoffer Sundby and Frode Bovim (NOR), training partners with Draper and Hiscocks. However, all cordiality will fly out of the window as soon as racing starts next week as both teams will be fighting for medal positions.

This is Sundby’s second Olympic Games as he finished 13 in Sydney in the class and he’s certainly be aiming to improve that position. Perhaps some of his success will be drawn from the knowledge that Siren, his sister, is a clear medal favourite in the Europe Class, and the pair are perhaps one of the few brother and sister teams to be competing here in the Olympic Games.

Another sibling pairing is Pietro and Gianfranco Sibello (ITA), who with a world ranking of 9 are certainly amongst the favourites. Wins at both the ISAF Grade 1 Kiel Week and earlier in the year ISAF Grade 1 Semaine Olympique Francaise demonstrate their ability, and a bronze medal position at the 2003 Olympic Test events is a clear indication that they can cut the metal in Athens.

The host nation’s hopes will be in the hands of Thanassis Pachoumas and Vasilios Portosalte (GRE) who whilst relatively new to the 49er fleet, have shown excellent form in recent international events. Familiar with their home waters could see some good results.

There will be two more entries, for a total of 19, competing in the Double-handed Dinghy Open event in Athens than were on the startline in Sydney. Nations competing in Athens who were not in Sydney include Austria, Brazil, India and Ireland.

Measurement is currently underway for the class and racing starts on Monday 16 August.
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