Monday, 16 July 2007

Ainslie gets a wild card to China

Ben Ainslie has been selected to represent Great Britain in the Finn class at the 2007 Olympic Test Event in Qingdao next month. This is effectively a wild card entry for the reigning Olympic Champion, who has barely set foot in a Finn since winning last year’s Test Event in China.

He’s had other things to do, what with being Dean Barker’s sparring partner and tune-up helm at Emirates Team NZ in Valencia. So Ainslie by his own confession is rusty. Indeed China last summer is the only time Ainslie has raced the Finn since winning the last of his four back-to-back Gold Cups in Moscow back in 2005.

This news will be disappointing but not altogether surprising for Ed Wright, who won last year’s European Championships, but has struggled to reproduce that form this season. He had a solid World Championship in Cascais last week, going into the Medal Race with a good chance of a medal and a shot at gold. However, he had a poor final race, finishing 8th out of 10 and dropping to 6th overall.

I didn’t get a chance to speak to Ed after that final race, but I did see Skandia Team GBR’s Olympic manager Stephen Park giving him a consoling pat on the back. Last week was Ed’s best chance to prove himself selectable ahead of Ben, but it didn’t work out for him. Ed is a mighty talented sailor but like Andrew 'Bart' Simpson four years ago, when Bart won a World bronze, Ed looks like another great athlete who was simply unfortunate to be born in the same era as one of the world's greatest Olympic sailors.

If Ben succeeds in repeating last year’s runaway victory in China, then that will probably be the Finn trials over, right there and then. If Ben finishes outside the medals, then the trials could continue, but it’s hard to envisage this happening.

Skandia Team GBR was on awesome form again, doing sufficient to qualify the nation in all 11 disciplines for next year’s limited entry Olympic Games, and finishing top nation in Cascais with a tally of two golds and four bronzes.

You get some idea of the team’s strength in depth when you consider that last year’s World Champions in the 49er and 470 Men’s classes will be going as tune-up for the British teams selected to race in China this year! 2004 bronze medallists Chris Draper and Simon Hiscocks had a sub-par Cascais regatta, finishing 9th while Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes dominated this year’s Worlds to add that title to their European title earned at the end of last season. Meanwhile the 2006 World Champions in the 470, Nic Asher and Elliot Willis, go as training partners for 2004 silver medallists Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield.

Sarah Ayton’s Yngling team, which won the Worlds last week, is going to China while Shirley Robertson’s crew is not down on the list as tune-up.

Here is the full list of Skandia Team GBR representatives for the Test Regatta:

Ben Ainslie
(tune-up/reserve boat – Ed Wright)

Stevie Morrison & Ben Rhodes
(tune-up/reserve boat – Chris Draper & Simon Hiscocks)

Iain Percy & Andrew Simpson

Laser Radial
Charlotte Dobson
(tune-up/reserve boat – Penny Clark)

Paul Goodison
(tune-up/reserve boat – Nick Thompson)

RS:X Men
Nick Dempsey
(tune-up/reserve boat – Leo McCallin)

RS:X Women
Bryony Shaw
(tune-up/reserve boat – Lucy Horwood)

470 Men
Nick Rogers & Joe Glanfield
(tune-up/reserve boat – Nic Asher & Elliot Willis)

470 Women
Christina Bassadone & Saskia Clark

Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb & Pippa Wilson

Leigh McMillan & Will Howden
(tune-up/reserve boat – Andrew Walsh & Ed Barney)

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