Estonia holds a special place in the hearts of Finn sailors and the opening of the 58th Finn Gold Cup in Tallinn this Sunday, 25 August, will be a momentous occasion for many reasons, and for many people.
It has been 19 years since the Finn Gold Cup was last, and first, held in Estonia. In 1994 it was sailed at Pärnu, but next week it heads to the country's capital to be raced from the Tallinn Olympic Yachting Centre at Pirita, which was originally built for the 1980 Olympics. Estonia has only ever hosted four Olympic discipline world championships, and two of those will have been in the Finn.
The organising yacht club, Kalev Yacht Club, is situated on the left bank near the mouth of the River Pirita, and is one of the oldest and most respectable clubs of its kind in Estonia. The large complex at the yachting centre also includes the iconic Olympic SPORT hotel, which was built for the 1980 Olympics and has been renovated and renmed the Pirita Top Spa Hotel. Many of the sailors are staying there. The race area is just a 10-15 minute sail outside the harbour in Tallinn Bay, which is a closed bay within the Gulf of Finland.
The large pre-entry list includes 97 sailors from 30 nations and is the first time that virtually all the top Finn sailors have raced together this year. With last year's winner Ben Ainslie (GBR) leaving the class and the 2011 world champion Giles Scott (GBR) sailing on Luna Rossa in San Francisco, the only former world champion competing this week is the 2010 winner Ed Wright (GBR), who is on top form after picking up the silver at the European Championships last month.
Wright leads a strong British team that have won all the major European events in the early part of the year and includes Mark Andrews (GBR) and Andrew Mills (GBR), as well as the young Peter McCoy (GBR) who will be looking to capitalise on his recent Junior European title win. However he will now have to reckon with Jorge Zarif (BRA), who won the Finn Junior world title in July.
Vasilij Zbogar (SLO) has had an eventful few weeks, which started with him winning the 2013 European championships, his first major title in the class. “I had a rest for a week, and then another Finn sailor, my son, was born on the 6 August and I spent a few days with my family and the kid.” Back home in Slovenia, “My result made headline news, so that was really good, for me and my supporters. I asked them to not make a big party as usual after a good result, so they made a small one. After that I went to Valencia for some training.”
“It is going to be hard for the worlds, a few things happened that took away the focus for the Gold Cup. I hope in the few days to the start I can push myself so I will be ready for it.”
The line up also includes several sailors from North and South America who were absent at last month's European Championship. Caleb Paine (USA) will be sailing his first event as the new ISAF ranked world number one, while Olympians Greg Douglas (CAN), Jorge Zarif and Bruno Prada (BRA) are also competing.
The Kiwis Andrew Murdoch (NZL) and Josh Junior (NZL) have performed well so far this year and are now joined by New Zealand's top ranked sailor sailor Matt Coutts (NZL). Murdoch was the surprise bronze medalist at the Europeans. He said, “It has been a great season for me so far. I was aiming for top 10s this year, so to place third at the Europeans motivates me to keep learning and working hard to make gains.”
Looking ahead to the Finn Gold Cup, “I know it's going to be tough, but I'm really looking forward to the challenge. The more time I spend in the class the more I hear some of the great stories from times past. The Gold Cup has been won by some big sailing names over the many years it has been contested. I'm sure I'm not the only person wanting to add their name to it.”
Will the addition of Coutts to the team add further motivation? “Everyone wants to be the top performer for their country but getting caught up in that doesn't help your regatta. He's just like anyone else in the fleet, another boat to beat.”
Estonia's number one Finn sailor Deniss Karpak (EST) is very excited about the prospect of racing the Finn Gold Cup in his home town. He said, “The 2013 Finn Gold Cup is only the fourth World Championship in any Olympic discipline in Estonian history. So it's a big sporting event and the largest this year I think. To me personally it's a huge opportunity to show my best on my home water. I feel so proud to see the top Finn guys sail in our gulf, it's awesome.”
Staging the event has also done a lot to promote sailing in Estonia. “The organisers are trying to promote this event in all the newspapers, making a momentous occasion from it. It's cool to have this mass attention.”
On his own preparations, he said, "This year has been a post Olympic year, which is always a hard year for getting back in shape. After six months out of professional Finn sailing, it was hard to come back, but now I feel ready to show some speed during the Gold Cup. But my goal is just to sail my best, to be consistent.”
Other top sailors lining up in Tallinn also include double European Champion Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic (CRO), London 2012 bronze medalist Jonathan Lobert (FRA), Pieter Jan Postma (NED), long time world number one, Brendan Casey (AUS), Thomas Le Breton (FRA) and Piotr Kula (POL), while Double Olympian, Gasper Vincec, (SLO) also returns for his first regatta for more than a year.
New talent continues to emerge and after some great performances earlier in the year names to keep an eye on include Zsombor Berecz (HUN), Alican Kaynar (TUR) and Oliver Tweddell (AUS).
More interviews will follow over the coming days and of course during the event next week.
There will be several ways to follow the 2013 Finn Gold Cup. As well as the usual on-the-water Twitter feed and daily reports, each day will be live streamed courtesy of ERR Sport at http://sport.err.ee. Video summaries will be released each day on YouTube.
A special media release will follow with further details and all the links you need to follow the Finn class event of the year.
The practice race is scheduled for the afternoon of Sunday 25 August, followed by an opening series of ten races from Monday 26 to Friday 30 August, with the medal race for the top 10 and the final race for the rest on Saturday 31 August. The opening ceremony will be held at Sunday 25 August at 19.30.