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Olympic Sailing : In runway for the Semaine Olympique Française

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04/2010 –

The Semaine Olympique Française (SOF), 4th event in the 2009-2010 ISAF Sailing World Cup (SWC), is set to start Sunday 25th of April with most of the world’s best sailors competing for the title and points for their SWC score.

Seven of last year’s winners will defend their title against fierce and talented opponents. Among them, 2008 Olympic Gold medallist and current Laser World Champion, Paul Goodison (GBR). This week he will first have to go through the qualifying series with 150 sailors to make it to the finals. The Laser class attracted so many sailors that strict quota imposed by the ISAF Sailing World Cup rules had to be applied to keep the numbers to 150. With over 41 countries represented, the Laser event in Hyères is a true international event. Goodison will have to face some of his strongest opponents, especially country team mate Nick Thompson, winner of the 2009 SWC and second on the ISAF World ranking. Mike Bullot (NZL), 2009 Vice World Champion and third at the Trofeo Sofia Mapfre, or local French sailor Jean-Baptiste Bernaz who started the season with a second place at the Rolex Miami OCR, will make it tough for the Olympic Champion.

Absent from the Laser fleet will be double Olympic medallist Vasilij Zbogar (SLO) who has recently switched to the Finn class. The 2010 SOF-Hyères TPM will be his first major event in this new boat. Croatian neighbour, Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic, is one of the Finn fleet’s hottest favourites. After claiming the title last year, Gaspic won the European Championship and is sitting on top of the World Rankings since July 2009. Among his main rivals, Ed Wright (GBR) will keep the fleet honest. Wright brilliantly won the inaugural SWC last year with a regatta to spare. His perfect 2010 debuts with victories claimed in both the Rolex Miami OCR and the Trofeo Sofia Mapfre last month, show that the Team Skandia GBR team member is in full form. However, rising French sailors could create a surprise on home turf. Steadily improving, Jonathan Lobert and Thomas Le Breton impressed in Palma placing in third and fourth respectively. Silver medallists in Beijing and Athens, Zach Railey (USA) and Rafael Trujillo (ESP) will also have their say.

ISAF World Ranking leaders in the 49er class, Pietro and Gianfranco Sibello (ITA) are back to defend their title. Emmanuel Dyen and Stéphane Christidis (FRA), strong from their earlier victory in the Trofeo Sofia-Mapfre in Palma, third event in the SWC circuit, are keen to retain their SWC title and collect a victory at home. “We realise that we are the team to beat! We have been training with the Italians in various conditions to be prepared. We will give our best in Hyères.” The Spanish Gold and Silver medallists at the Athens and Beijing Olympics, Iker Martinez and Xabier Fernandez in top form after winning the worlds at the start of the year, or the Skandia GBR team members Morrison/Rhodes and Draper/Greenhalg will surely spice up the contest! Tornado Gold medallist and 2007 World champion, Anton Paz has recently teamed up with his brother Carlos on the 49er. The 2010 SOF Hyères TPM will be their second event in the 49er.

Paz earlier sailing partner and fellow Volvo Ocean Racer, Fernando Echavarri (ESP) has chosen the Star class for his 2012 Olympic campaign. He has started in October with Fernando Rodriguez “With the Olympics and the Volvo, it was very intense, so I took a break. I really wanted to do another Olympic campaign so I have chosen the Star as it is a very technical boat and a big challenge!” Same move for 2008 Finn bronze medallist Guillaume Florent, who is teaming up with Pascal Rambeau (FRA) (Bronze medal in Athens with Xavier Rohart) in the Star class. The new pair started racing last month in Palma. They will provide a good challenge to 2009 SOF winners Xavier Rohart and Pierre-Alexis Ponsot (FRA).

After a promising start to the season Henriette Koch and Lene Sommer (DEN) are back in Hyères to retain their 470 title. 2009 World Champions Lisa Westerhol/Lobke Berkhout (NED) and ISAF World Ranking leaders and 2009 SWC winners, Ingrid Petitjean and Nadège Douroux (FRA) will make it tough for the Danes.

In the men’s 470 division, the French team of Pierre Leboucher and Vincent Garos, confident from their success in Palma, will be aiming for the top place on the podium, after finishing in third position last year. “We are all round sailors and the weather in Palma suited us. The same mixed conditions are expected in Hyères so we hope to climb again on the podium.” All three Beijing medallists are present. Olympic champion, Malcolm Page (AUS), now with helm Mathew Belcher, Nick Rogers sailing with Pom Green (GBR) and Nicolas Charbonnier with new crew Baptiste Meyer Dieu, will all have to fine-tune their new teams to reach their previous top form.

Shahar Zubari (ISR) will have to face a strong fleet in the RS:X men’s division to keep his SOF crown. World ranking leader and Beijing Silver medallist, Julien Bontemps (FRA), current World Champion Nick Dempsey (GBR) or 2009 SWC winner Dorian Van Rijsselberg (NED) are among a long list of talented windsurfers eager to take the title.

In the women’s division, the absence of the strong Chinese team due to the recent air travel problems will leave the door open for Spanish Bianca Manchon and Marina Alabau or Bryony Shaw (GBR) second last year in Hyères. Class newcomer, Marcelien de Koning (NED) has taken into a new challenge after collecting top results in the 470 class.

After switching to the Women Match Racing event late last year, Anna Tunnicliffe (USA) will not fight for her SOF title in the Laser Radial. However, Veronica Fenclova (CZE) last year runner up and second in Palma, current World Champion Sari Multala (FIN) and 2009 Vice-World Champion Sophie de Turckheim (FRA) are among the class’s favourites.

For the first time, the new Olympic event, the Women Match Racing, sailed in Elliott 6.5’s, will take place in Hyères. The best women sailors and match-racers worldwide will provide a non-stop show! Most skippers are coming from fleet racing and have decided to have a go at Match racing. Claire Leroy (FRA), who has been top of the ISAF World Rankings in this discipline for the last five years, has now to face new opponents who are steadily improving. Anna Tunnicliffe (USA), after a Gold medal in the Laser Radial in 2008 and a near perfect 2009 year winning the ISAF SWC with a regatta to spare, has jumped into the Elliott with a team of experienced Match-racers. Sofia Bekatorou (GRE) three times World Champion and 2004 Olympic Champion in the 470 class, Bronze medallist in the Yngling in China, has switched to the match racing event. The same fate is shared by Beijing Silver medallists from Holland, Mandy Mulder and Annemieke Bes racing in different teams in Hyères.

In the Paralympic events, double medallist and 2009 SOF winner in the 2.4, Damien Seguin (FRA), will again meet dutch sailors: Thierry Schmitter and André Rademaker and long time opponent Megan Pascoe (GBR). American sailor John Ruf had to cancel at the last minute unable to find a flight.
The Sonar has attracted a small but talented fleet: ISAF Sailing World Cup winners from Norway Wang-Hansen/Solberg/Kristiansen, or World Ranking leader team of John Robertson (GBR) will race in a 10 boats fleet.

The first race is scheduled on Sunday for all classes. Follow the competition on the event website: http://sof.ffvoile.net

-PR-

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