The field is narrowing as the Rio Olympics draws ever closer and a key event for many of those fighting for the few remaining paces is the 2016 Senior and Junior Finn European Championships which is set to begin this Friday, 4 March, in Barcelona, Spain.
The final Olympic qualification event will be the Princesa Sofia Regatta in Palma later in March, but the European Championship is being used by many nations as part of their selection series, both by those nations already qualified as well as those that are still hoping to qualify for the final European place in Palma.
The entry list is a huge 98 boats from 31 countries including an encouraging number of new and returning countries to the Finn class. The defending senior champion Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic (CRO) will be looking for his fourth European title, but more importantly he is still looking to close down the selection series for Rio against Milan Vujasinovic (CRO). Their selections end in May, so this event is not being used, but will be crucial for confidence building for both of them.
The defending Junior Champion, Arkadiy Kistanov (RUS) will have just as tough a battle to defend his title against at least 20 other juniors, as well as looking to stake his claim for a place in Rio, should Russia win the final European place in Palma. One of his main adversaries will be world junior champion Ondrej Teply (CZE). This will be the last ever international Junior Finn event, as from this summer, the age limit will be extended by one year and the titles will be called U23 in line with other international sports.
Of the nations already qualified for Rio, selection trials continue for New Zealand, Italy, Canada, USA, Croatia, Australia. Some of these are subjective, some are based on results. Most are too close to call.
Of the nations still hoping to qualify there are selections to be decided for Poland, Russia, Spain, Czech Republic and Germany. There are expected to be about 10 European nations trying for the single Rio place in Palma. So far there are also three African nations expected in Palma for a fascinating battle for the Rio place, with Allan Julie (SEY) the only one taking part in Barcelona.
The USA results based trials will conclude in Barcelona with 2008 Qingdao silver medalist Zach Railey (USA) going in one point ahead of Caleb Paine (USA) after the first leg at the Sailing World Cup Miami.
Meanwhile, the Italian trials continue through to the Gold Cup in May, with a strong team of eight athletes competing in Barcelona. While Italy has already qualified for Rio, Spain and Poland have not yet and are fielding large teams in Barcelona, but as usual the largest team is Russia with nine athletes taking part.
With only a handful of the top sailors missing, including world champion Giles Scott (GBR), the list of favorites is pretty long. The 2013 European Champion Vasilij Zbogar (SLO) is likely to be a top contender, as is former World and European Champion Ed Wright (GBR). Then there is Pieter-Jan Postma (NED), back from an extended training period in New Zealand, including a win at the Kiwi nationals ahead of Josh Junior (NZL) and Andrew Murdoch (NZL), who will both be in Barcelona and still fighting for their country selection for Rio.
Other potential top performers include 2012 London silver medalist Jonas Høgh-Christensen (DEN), 2012 European Champion Ioannis Mitakis (GRE), Deniss Karpak (EST), Ben Cornish (GBR), Zsombor Berecz (HUN), Jake Lilley (AUS), Jorge Zarif (BRA) and Björn Allansson (SWE).
The event opens on Friday 4 March, with the practice race on Sunday 6. A 10 race series from Monday 7 through to Saturday 12 March culminates in the medal race for the top 10 after the 10th race on Saturday morning. The class is trialing running the medal race on the same day as the final opening series race in order to do away with having the 11th race, dubbed by many as the ‘losers’ race, and to bring the series more into line with the format of the Sailing World Cup.
What is certain is that an exciting week of Finn racing lies ahead
Event website: 2016.finneuropeans.org