The battle lines will be drawn on the Bay of Palma over the next six days. At stake are the final country selections for the Finn class at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. At the end of the 47th Trofeo Princesa Sofia IBEROSTAR, the final European spot and the single African spot will be decided. The stakes couldn't be higher with eight countries targeting one European place and two for the single African spot.
The 47th Trofeo Princesa Sofia IBEROSTAR is the traditional start of the European season and also, this year, the start of a period of activity and training that leads through to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. From now until August the sailor's plans are all different, even if carefully mapped out for each of them, but Palma is always the true beginning of the European season for all of them and where the progress made during the European winter is most apparent.
On paper the African spot should go the way of four time Olympian in the Laser, Allan Julie (SEY). Even though he has spent less than four weeks in the boat he is placing well enough to be heading to his fifth Olympic Games. The other African sailor in Palma is Karim Esseghir (TUN), who has been in the class for two years
The European spot is much harder to call.
Based on recent performance, the main fight is expected to be between Czech Republic, Poland, Russia, Spain, and Turkey. At the European Championships, held just two weeks ago in Barcelona, Ondrej Teply (CZE) came out on top, but Egor Terpigorov (RUS) and Alejandro Muscat (ESP) were immediately behind him, with Piotr Kula (POL) five places further back. It was about as tight as it was possible to get. However the conditions in Palma will be very different.
However based on recent results the Russians are viewed as the favourites. Terpigorov and Arkadiy Kistanov (RUS) have both put in top results in the last year including top 10 places at the 2015 Europeans, while Kistanov took the bronze at the Sailing World Cup Miami two months ago.The Russian team here numbers eight sailors including 2012 Olympian Oleksiy Borysov (RUS), who sailed for Ukraine in 2012, and has been a stand out performer for Russia at many events since. However none of the Russians have performed as well at the qualifying events.
A Spanish conqueror is likely to be between Muscat or Pablo Guitian Sarria (ESP), the two most consistent sailors in recent years. Like the Russians, the Spanish are also fielding an eight strong team team, which includes a number of younger sailors which bodes well for the future of the class.
Muscat was confident of his chances, “There are a lot of strong sailors here this week sailing for a one spot in Rio. I felt really good about the Europeans.” He placed 18th. “I sailed very well and I think I proved something with new sails and new stuff for the event so I'm confident about that. For sure this week is going to be hard, but I think we need to just sail our own races and do the best we can and see what happens, so let's have fun.”
Poland is fielding a mainly young team of six, led by the experienced 2012 Olympian Kula, who hasn't really shown many promising performances during this cycle. However he certainly has the ability and the experience to overcome the others. He finished sixth at the 2012 Finn Gold Cup just before the London Games, but has finished well outside the qualification zone in the both qualifiers so far for 2016.
He is also confident heading into the week, “Definitely it's going to be a tough event for everyone but Mallorca was a always nice and good regatta, especially for me. I always liked sailing here.”
“I am happy with my boat despite it not being the newest boat here. I put in a lot of effort to prepare it before the Europeans and I am just going to try and enjoy the sailing this week.”
“We have a lot of good countries trying to qualify so definitely it's going to be an interesting thing to participate in, and I hope that people who love cheering for Finn guys are going see some nice fights here.”
Also add into the mix 2012 Olympian Alican Kaynar (TUR), the ever-stronger German team, Frederico Melo (POR), Andrii Gusenko (UKR) and Oisin Mcclelland (IRL) and it becomes very hard to predict which way fortune will fall.
Overall the event has pulled in 76 entries from 31 countries, and in addition it is a selection indicator for many other countries, both those who have already qualified and those who are hoping to qualify this week. Selections are still undecided for New Zealand, Italy, Canada and Australia and these are all getting closer to a conclusion.There is still an outside chance that some of these countries may not select anyone, and then the place would revert to the next country not yet qualified at the 2015 Finn Gold Cup. If any already qualified country doesn't select, then the next country space would go to Russia, then Spain, then Czech Republic.
While the racing will surely be intense, the pressure on some sailors this week will be immense, and for sure, everyone will be kept in suspense until the final tot-up of points next Saturday. Racing at the 47th Trofeo Princesa Sofia IBEROSTAR, begins Monday at 11.00.
– Robert Deaves