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Athens sailing set to match Sydney

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Last updated on: August 03, 2004 12:32 IST

The Olympic sailing competition in Athens will look to build on the huge success of four years ago when the natural amphitheatre of Sydney harbour provided a stunning backdrop to the regatta.

The Agios Kosmas sailing centre, situated approximately 14km south of the centre of the Greek capital, was one of the first venues to be completed for the Games and has had favourable reports during pre-Olympic test events.

Racing will take place over four courses on the Eastern Saronic Gulf and will feature 400 competitors from 54 nations.

The programme has 11 events in nine boat classes. The Soling class has been removed from the Olympic regatta and replaced by the three-person Yngling keelboat for women.

The biggest competitions in Athens will be the Windsurfer Men and the single-handed Dinghy Open events, represented by the Mistral and Laser respectively.

Eleven races are scheduled for each Olympic event, except the 49er, for which 16 races are held.

Racing will be anything but predictable with two principal wind conditions -- a conventional sea breeze blowing from the south-east and the northerly Meltemi -- set to test strategy and reward the most tactically astute.

Britain took home five sailing medals, including three golds, from Sydney and expectations are high that this haul can be matched, or even bettered.

British fans remember the epic battle in the Laser class four years ago when Ben Ainslie denied Brazilian Robert Scheidt the gold medal in the final race and was crowned champion only after protest and counter-protest.

GOLD FAVOURITE

Englishman Ainslie, one of the world's best known sailors who burst on to the Olympic stage by winning silver in Atlanta in 1996 as a teenager, has since switched to the heavier Finn dinghy, in which he has won the world title three times and he will start as hot favourite for gold.

"I'm not cocky enough to say I will win. It comes down to getting it right on the day," Ainslie told Reuters during a short break from his relentless training schedule.

"It's a very open class. There are 10 guys who on their day can win a medal."

Ainslie's rivals include his future America's Cup team mates Dean Barker and Kevin Hall. Team New Zealand skipper Barker, who will make his Olympic debut, has brought in Ainslie and Hall to help New Zealand regain the America's Cup they lost last year to Switzerland's Alinghi.

Another America's Cup veteran Paul Cayard, the first American skipper to win the Whitbread Round the World Race, will compete in the Star class with Phil Trinter. The duo will have their work cut out though to challenge for a medal, with British pair Iain Percy and Steve Mitchell favourites for gold along with Sweden's Frederik Look and Anders Ekstrom.

Ainslie's switch to Finn is good news for seven-times Laser world champion Scheidt, who has Australia's Michael Blackburn as his chief rival for gold.

Australian sailors will be among the principal medal contenders in Athens. Jenny Armstrong and Belinda Stowell defend their 470 (double-handed dinghy) women's title from Sydney while Nathan Wilmot and Malcolm Page, ranked first in the world, will be hard to beat in the men's 470.

Multiple world champions and Olympic medallists Darren Bundock and John Forbes hope to go one better than their silver in 2000 in the Tornado (open multihull class).

Justin Palmer
Source:
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