Race for Rio gathers pace

Sophie Weguelin and Hayling Island's Eilidh McIntyre, right, go for gold in the Women's 470 class Picture: Richard Langdon
Sophie Weguelin and Hayling Island's Eilidh McIntyre, right, go for gold in the Women's 470 class Picture: Richard Langdon
Yachts taking part in last years Clipper Round the World Race			             	  Picture: onEdition

‘Team spirit’ will keep us buoyant on global challenge

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It may be a long way to the Rio Olympics but the competition for the single slot in each sailing class is intense – and it’s already started.

This week’s Sail for Gold Regatta, the third stage of the EUROSAF Champions Sailing Cup being held at the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy, provides extra focus for the UK’s would-be Olympians and Paralympians as most of the competition comes from fellow British Sailing Team rivals.

‘Every regatta is important and a crucial stepping stone towards Rio,’ said the on-form Paralympic 2.4mR racer Megan Pascoe who has four podium finishes already this year, including two gold medals.

‘It’s always nice to win regattas and it’s always the aim to carry that momentum into the next regatta and the next one after that and so on.

‘I won Sail for Gold last year so it would be great if I could retain my title, but we have some tough competition here this year.’

One of the biggest tussles for bragging rights will come in the highly-competitive 15-strong 49er fleet where Dylan Fletcher and Lee-on-the-Solent’s Alain Sign hope to continue their winning streak.

But they will face stiff competition from the likes of Portsmouth’s John Pink and Stuart Bithell who finished hot on their heels in second at the recent Delta Lloyd regatta.

Also aiming to build on a strong performance in Holland are 470 sailors Luke Patience and Elliot Willis, while Hyeres World Cup silver medallists Sophie Weguelin and Hayling Island’s Eilidh McIntyre will be going for gold in the women’s 470 class.

The latter duo will, however, face stiff competition from Portsmouth’s Katie Tomsett – racing with Joanna Freeman – and Emsworth SC’s Jess Lavery and Megan Brickwood.

In the 49erFX event, last year’s champions will be aiming for a repeat success – this time around with different sailing partners.

2013 victors Charlotte Dobson and Nicola Groves are now teamed with Sophie Ainsworth and Hayling Island’s Frances Peters respectively.

Hampshire Nacra 17 sailors Ben Saxton and Hannah Diamond are looking forward to getting back out on home waters.

‘We are still building up towards the summer events, especially the Santander Worlds in September, so part of the emphasis is on training’ said Diamond.

‘But while we are racing we have always got one eye on winning as many races as we can.’

Elsewhere, RS:X Windsurfing world champion Nick Dempsey will be a firm favourite, while world number two windsurfer Bryony Shaw will be hoping to continue her 2014 form in the RS:X Women’s fleet.

Giles Scott will be the one to beat in the Finn, with the 26-year-old Portland-based sailor looking to maintain his unbeaten run since returning to full-time Olympic classes sailing in September.

Meanwhile, John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Stephen Thomas will be hoping for their fourth straight consecutive Sail for Gold title in the Paralympic Sonar class.