Friday, 10 July 2009

Finn Gold Cup: The most successful Gold Cup nation

Finn Gold Cup. Image copyright Vallensbæk Sailing Club.

by Sailing Intelligence

While the boat may have been born in neighbouring Sweden, the country to have had the most success in the boat at World Championship level, if admittedly not in the Olympics, has been the 2009 hosts of the Finn Gold Cup - Denmark.

Denmark has a long, successful history in the class, its biggest Finn star being its first: Paul Elvstrøm, the greatest Olympic sailor of all time. Elvstrøm won three of his four consecutive Olympic Golds in the men’s heavyweight singlehanded dinghy between 1952 and 1960 while Henning Wind followed this up with a bronze medal in 1964. Unfortunately Denmark hasn’t medalled in the Finn at the Games since, despite fielding some very strong contenders.

But in terms of the class' World Championship, the prestigious Finn Gold Cup, Denmark leads the field with nine wins in its 53 year history (the UK is next with seven, Ben Ainslie alone having been responsible for five of these). The Danish Gold Cup wins went to Elvstrøm in 1958-59, Henning Wind in 1968, Lasse Hjortnæs in 1982 and 1984-5, Stig Westergaard in 1986 and 1989 and their present day Finn star, Jonas Høgh-Christensen, in 2006.

Despite being reasonably local to Vallensbæk, Paul Elvstrøm, now 81, has now retired from involvement with sailing and is not expected to put in an appearance this week. So does Danish success in the Finn stem from him? While it may have done for previous generations, Jonas Høgh-Christensen, who has been Finn sailing at a top level since 2001, is no sentimentalist, preferring to stay in the present. “The class has a very good tradition in Denmark,” he acknowledges. “Beside Paul Elvstrøm we have had Jørgen Lindhardtsen, who has been in the class for ages and still competes; Lasse Hjortnaes, who is a three time World Championship; Stig and Bjorn Westergaard, etc.; so we have a long tradition of good Finn sailors.”

Finn Gold Cup. Image copyright Vallensbæk Sailing Club.

Even today there remains a strong domestic Finn fleet that sails regularly in Denmark. At a Finn Danish National Championship, says Høgh-Christensen, they will typically have 50 boats sailing. “A lot of the guys are older sailors, but they have all the gear and they might be 50 years old, but when they were 30 they were competing at the Olympics and they are really good sailors and if it is not blowing 30 knots you have to get up early to beat them!”

Rather enjoying an apprenticeship in the class with some of the greats, the decade or so between the Westergaards leaving the class and Høgh-Christensen getting into it was large enough that he had to find his own way. This doesn't seem to have been much of a hindrance. “The first regatta I went to we created a training group of five guys from different countries and we all wanted to go to the Olympics," he says. "We all had common goals – ‘let’s work hard at this’ and we just worked hard. When we started no one was in the top 100. While the group changed, by 2006 we had 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 8. We were six guys in the top 10 in the world…”

Høgh-Christensen’s success in the Finn, and particularly his Finn Gold Cup win in 2006, was what attracted this year’s event to Vallensbæk Sailing Club, to the south of Copenhagen. Høgh-Christensen claims to have given up Finn sailing, due to the tough economic climate and found full time employment in ‘the real world’ one month after returning from the Beijing Olympics last year, as Marketing Partnership Manager for pop concert promoter giant, Live Nation. However having had only five days back in the boat since he finished 6th in Qingdao last year, he is putting in a creditable showing currently fifth at the 2009 Finn Gold Cup, 11 points off the lead, with two days of racing to go.

Finn Gold Cup. Image copyright Vallensbæk Sailing Club.

“When Vallensbæk YC came and said ‘we want to hold the FGC’. I said I think that is a great idea, it is probably one of the best yacht clubs to do it in Denmark at this time of year, but make sure that this regatta is at least as good as any other regatta or hopefully a lot better," says Høgh-Christensen. "And I think they have managed well. We have had pretty good sailing conditions except for the first day. And the rest of the time, it has been perfect.”

As to whether we will see Høgh-Christensen on the start line of the 2012 London Olympic sailing down in Weymouth, at present the prospects are not looking good – but with an upturn in the economy, who knows if the lure of winning that elusive Olympic medal might not prove too great.

Finn Gold Cup 2009

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