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Olympics 2008, Sailing – Form Guide to the Olympic Medal Favourites
A look at the medal favorites in the sailing classes at the 2008 Olympics. Find out how the glamorous Yngling girls are expected to fare and see what Ben Ainslie will have to do to secure gold.
Since Olympic laser champion Robert Scheidt graduated to Star, young Australian Tom Slingsby has become the dominant force in laser sailing. He has won the past two world championships, although he has struggled to get down to the weight believed to be optimal for Qingdao. Naturally smaller and lighter than most of his rivals, Great Britain’s Paul Goodison heads into the Games undefeated in Olympic waters having won the past two test regattas. Kiwi Andrew Murdoch will have benefited from training with Goodison in the build-up, while Canadian Michael Leigh has been one of the big improvers in the past year.
Ben Ainslie hasn’t sailed much in the fin since winning Olympic gold four years ago, but he’s won every regatta he’s entered and is the reigning world, European and Olympic test event champion. He is clear favorite for gold in Qingdao; anything else would be a disappointment. However, a number of sailors have pushed the Briton hard in the past year, especially Croatian Ivan Gaspic, who especially likes light winds, New Zealand’s Dan Slater, Canada’s Chris Cook and former world champion from Denmark, Jonas Hoegh-Christensen. Ainslie tends to start the Olympic regatta poorly but comes roaring through in the latter stages. It could be closer than we expected.
Exmouth school friends and sailing partners Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes have been the most dominant team in the hard-to-sail 49er skiff class over the past two years. However, some shaky performances earlier in the season mean the 2007 world champions are only marginal favorites for gold ahead of reigning Olympic champions Iker Martinez and Xabi Fernandez. Aside from Spain, other threats to British Gold come from young Australians Nathan Outteridge and Ben Austin, who were surprise winners of the Worlds at the start of the year, along with Athens silver medalists from Ukraine, Rodion Luka and George Leonchuk.
Although they have not excelled in the past year, Great Britain’s Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield are serious contenders for gold in the 470. They have a reputation for delivering at the Games and relish the pressure. On paper, the Australian partnership of Nathan Wilmot and Malcolm Page is the better team, winning the last European Championship and a hat-trick at the World Championships. How they respond to the pressure of the Olympics is still in doubt as they returned from Athens without a medal. Other contenders include the French, the Italians, the Portuguese and New Zealand teenage team Carl Evans and Peter Burling, who have made great strides on the world circuit between studying for their exams at school.
RS-X Windsurfing – Men
With no restrictions on pumping the sail in light winds, Qingdao is expected to be a test of aerobic fitness rather than sailing technique in the physically grueling RS-X windsurfing class. New Zealand’s Tom Ashley has won the world championship and the Olympic test regatta in the past year, although France’s Julien Bontemps is a major threat, especially in the lighter winds. China’s Yuanguo Zhou is dangerous in subplaning conditions but will struggle if the breeze picks up, while Portugal’s João Rodrigues and Great Britain’s Nick Dempsey are strong medal hopes if Qingdao serves up more than just the usual light-wind fare.
RS-X Windsurfing – Women
The highlight of Bryony Shaw’s career to date has been gold at the Olympic Trials Regatta last year. The British sailor is an extremely fit athlete and his strengths are ideal for the expected conditions in Qingdao. However, Shaw is up against some highly decorated windsurfers, not least France’s Faustine Merret, Italy’s Alessandra Sensini and New Zealand’s Barbara Kendall, all of whom have tasted Olympic gold. Such experience could prove key, although many see Poland’s Zofia Klepacka and Spain’s Marina Alabau as the hot favorites because they seem most comfortable across the spectrum of wind conditions.
A small fleet, but with an incredible depth of talent. Some teams have tried to find the magic bullet, designing and building single boats in an attempt to gain a small speed advantage, including the British team of Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson. At times, the British’s ambitious development program has seemed like an unnecessary distraction. Based on regatta results from recent months and years, Brazilians Robert Scheidt (double Olympic Laser champion) and Bruno Prada start as marginal favorites ahead of a number of other talented teams, notably the Swiss, French, Swedes and Kiwis. If the Brits can go into Qingdao confident of their boat speed, they will be well on their way to a medal.
Great Britain’s trio of Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb and Pippa Wilson are white-hot hopes for gold in Ynglingen. The Sarahs have the confidence of being reigning Olympic champions, while new girl Pippa has become a key part of this team which has won every major regatta in the last 12 months. Biggest threat to British dominance comes from USA’s crew led by Sally Barkow and Russia’s Ekaterina Skudina. The Dutch team is the product of an 11th-hour selection process that may or may not produce a medal-winning performance.
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