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Epic Europeans Finn fight ahead in Olympian arena

by Robert Deaves 9 May 09:48 PDT 13-18 May 2019
Pre-Europeans Easter Regatta in Athens © Nikos Zagas / HSF

Around 90 Finn sailors are about to begin battle at the 2019 Open European Championship in Athens. It will be a truly Olympic fight in one of the most Olympic settings on the planet. Also at stake are at least four places on the starting line at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

The symbolism of racing the Olympic Finn in the original Olympic city is not lost on the athletes, which is also the final major event for many before they head off to Tokyo for training and the test event in August.

The line-up of Finn stars says it all. Just about everyone who is anybody in Finn sailing will be taking part, either to test themselves against the best sailors in the worlds, or to scrap for one of those elusive four places.

Eight nations qualified for Tokyo 2020 at the Hempel Sailing World Championships in Aarhus last year. With the exception of Japan, which gets a place as host country, a total of 21 nations are here trying to qualify for Tokyo 2020.

A warm up regatta at Easter, very kindly organized by the Hellenic Sailing Federation, to cater for the large numbers of Finn sailors who have been training in Athens since the Trofeo Princesa Sofia in April, was won by the current World Champion, Zsombor Berecz, from Hungary. Results. He will be one of the favorites next week, but with so many sailors training at the venue over the last month, it won't be easy for him - or anyone.

The defending European Champion is Ed Wright, from Britain. After a successful 2018 season in which the 2010 World Champion narrowly missed out on his second world title, he is arguably sailing as well as he has ever done. However to achieve his Olympic dream he has to get past Olympic champion, Giles Scott. And while Scott is not yet dominating the fleet in the way he did leading into Rio 2016, he has not shown any signs that he will make it easy for anyone else. This will be Scott's first Finn class championship since winning gold in 2016.

First and third in Palma, sandwiching Scott, were the Kiwi pair of Andy Maloney and Josh Junior. In Mallorcan waters they showed an incredible consistency and speed in the lighter winds at the start of the week, winning six out of the first 12 races between them. Conditions so far in Athens have been on the light side, so these two are widely expected to be on form.

The local hero is Ioannis Mitakis. European Champion himself in 2012, after two Junior European titles, he took part in both London 2012 and Rio 2016. Mitakis still has to qualify for Tokyo 2020 and will carry many Greek hopes on his shoulders next week. He fell some way short in Aarhus, finishing 22nd, but hopes to put that right on home waters next week.

Other favourites include the 2012 bronze medalist Jonathan Lobert, from France, the 2017 World Champion, Max Salminen from Sweden, Alican Kaynar from Turkey, Facundo Olezza from Argentina, and Nicholas Heiner and Pieter-Jan Postma, from The Netherlands, who conclude their Olympic trials here. All of these have qualified for Tokyo except France.

Of the other nations yet to qualify for Tokyo, perhaps the most surprising is USA. After Caleb Paine's monumental bronze medal in Rio, he has had his ups and downs since, chased hard by the increasingly fast Luke Muller, who has impressed at many regattas. Winning two races in Aarhus last year and a bronze medal at the Hempel Sailing World Cup Series in Miami, made a clear statement that he is able to make significant challenge to Paine. As the dominant North American nation in Finn sailing, one of them qualifying next week would open the door to several other nations hoping for a Tokyo place, such as Bermuda and Cuba. Canada has already qualified.

Likewise in South America, the 2013 World Champion, and winner of the recent Hempel Sailing World Cup Series in Genoa, Jorge Zarif, has yet to qualify. He is fully expected to put that right next week, but in sailing you never know what will happen. If he does qualify for this third Olympics, it opens up the South American qualifier to countries such as Chile and Venezuela, both with active sailors.

Australia has also still to qualify for Tokyo, with 2016 Olympian Jake Lilley hoping to secure the place. If he does, and with New Zealand already qualified, it could mean a fifth place in Tokyo is available from the Europeans next week, as all current Oceania Finn sailing nations will have qualified, so the place reverts back to the upcoming event.

Of the other 20 European nations hoping to qualify, the other nations from Rio 2016 who have not yet qualified include Croatia, Finland, France and Norway. Then as now, Czech Republic, Spain, Poland and Germany will be in the game as well. All of these nations have sailors that have put in some good results over the past few years and will be fully prepared to meet the challenge ahead.

The racing is being held out of the Athens International Sailing Centre on the eastern side of the bay, overlooked by the Olympic Stadium. A relatively new facility, the sailors are being made to feel at home by the enthusiastic staff and volunteers.

Registration and measurement take place over three days from Friday 10 to Sunday 12 May, with the opening ceremony Saturday evening and the practice race Sunday afternoon. The series will consist of 10 races from Monday 13 to Friday 17 May with the 11th race and medal race on Saturday 18 May.

The event has attracted huge media attention with TV coverage by the Greek national broadcaster, and live coverage from the water, both through YouTube and social media.

It is likely to be the most widely covered and broadcast Finn championship ever, with high interest not only in a fantastic battle on the water between sailing's gladiators, but also the national interests in Tokyo qualification.

Further details on how to follow the event will follow.

Finn sailors clean up Olympic harbour ahead of European Championship

Finn sailors at the Finn European Championship in Athens took time out of their intense preparations this week to help clean up the marina at the Athens International Sailing Center, ahead of the start of racing next week.

Around 40 sailors and coaches joined the effort to collect a substantial amount of trash. In only about 45 minutes they filled three dumpsters and 15 garbage bags.

Luke Muller, from the USA, who organised the event, said, "There is a lot of trash that collects when the wind blows into the harbour and we managed to get a lot of it out."

"The guys from the sailing centre here gave us nets to use and some of the locals working on their boats stopped what they were doing to help us clean."

"It really was something special."

This follows on from the clean up operation before the Trofeo Princesa Sofia in Palma last month, as part of the #sailors4thesea movement across the Olympic classes in an effort to influence the larger sailing world, and matches the commitment of sailors at the 49er/Nacra Europeans in Weymouth and the 470s in Italy to clear the water and the marinas of trash and plastic waste.

Olympic champion Giles Scott took part in the clean up. He said, "Spending an hour of your time cleaning up rubbish highlights how much there is in the water and we didn't even really make a dent in it, but it is more about drawing awareness to the problem. So it's good to get the word out as it's obviously a massive issue at the moment and a lot of organisations have agreed that change needs to happen."

Muller concluded, "Actions like this do bring a greater awareness of the problem and we hope it will not only lead to further clean ups but also make everyone more aware of their own impact on a venue and the local environment."

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