Monday, 6 July 2009

Olympic heavyweights prepare to lock swords

Finn Gold Cup practice race. Image copyright Vallensbaek Sailing Club, Denmark.

by Jakob Nybroe

Leading international Finn sailors have been gathering in Copenhagen, Denmark, over the last few days ready for next week’s Finn Gold Cup. The world championship for the heavyweight men’s Olympic singlehanded dinghy runs from 3-11 July, out of Vallensbæk Sailing Club, some 17km southwest of the centre of the Danish capital.

Uber Olympian, Ben Ainslie, Finn gold medallist at the last two Olympic and winner of the Gold Cups on each of the four occasions he has competed in it since 2002, is taking a year out from the class and says he will return for next year’s Gold Cup. However Skandia Team GBR are still fielding one of the strongest teams with six sailors, favourite being pretender to the Ainslie throne, Ed Wright. This year Wright has already won the Rolex Olympic Classes Regatta in Miami and the Delta Lloyd Regatta in Holland and with just one event still to go, is the clear class leader in the ISAF Sailing World Cup, ahead of Croatia’s Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic and Spain’s Rafa Trujillo.

This will be Wright’s fourth Finn Gold Cup and he will be gunning hard. “I have won most other events on the calendar, but the Gold Cup is one that has evaded me for a while now,” he says. “I came very close in Cascais [at the ISAF Sailing World Championship in 2007] and then I didn’t have such a great event last year. This year I am really hoping that I can put a consistent series together and I might be able to win it.”

It may be far from reliable, but the long range forecast is indicating a week of relatively light 5-10 knot winds for the Finn Gold Cup, with occasional rain probably hampering the sea breeze on some days. In such conditions Wright rates Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic and the USA’s Zach Railey. “But everyone is sailing quite consistently through the wind ranges, so it is more about how people are sailing on the day.” He believes of the 98 sailors from 30 nations taking part in the Finn Gold Cup, around 10 are capable of winning and special attention should be paid to leading Danish Finn sailor Jonas Høgh-Christensen and Sweden’s Daniel Birgmark, for whom these are local waters.

While the majority of Finn sailors decamped straight to Copenhagen after Kiel Week finished a week and a half ago, the British Finn squad benefitted from an additional two week long training camp there beforehand. However this was in rather different conditions to those forecast for this coming week. “There was a hell of a lot of breeze then,” states Wright. “A couple of days were blown off and we didn’t stop hiking for the whole time, so it was very good!”

While the Danish hosts have the largest entry in the Finn Gold Cup with nine sailors competing, they are closely followed by the Netherlands and, surprisingly, the USA with eight apiece.

US Sailing’s Olympic squad has been undergoing a metamorphosis recently and while four of their Finn sailors have been regularly competing in Europe this year, they are now up to their full compliment. “We have been working really hard with the sailing team Alphagraphics on getting more members of the Finn team over to the World championships. It is fantastic for the US team,” says their leading light, Zach Railey, who picked up Finn silver last year at the Beijing Olympiad.

The Finn class in the US have been also running a development program and have bought their own boat. The recipient of this has been Laser turned Finn sailor Caleb Paine. Having freshly graduated from high school, he competed in his first European regatta at Kiel Week before coming to Copenhagen.

As to the venue, Railey says: “It is fantastic. I sailed here when they had the Laser Europeans when I was just starting to get on to the European circuit. It has been a little while since I’ve been here, but Copenhagen, where I’m staying in the city, is fantastic.”

During the event Zach will receive moral support from his sister Paige, who is leading the US squad of Laser Radials for their European championship on the opposite side of Copenhagen, the week after the Finn Gold Cup.

After a practice race on Sunday 5th July, the first two races of the 2009 Finn Gold Cup are to be held on Monday culminating in the medal race the following Saturday, 11th July.

Finn Gold Cup 2009

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