Press Release: Preview of the Olympic 2012 Finn Class

With competition for the Finn Class just 12 days away, the 24 sailors are ramping up for a fierce medal race. Favorites Ben Ainslie (GBR) and Zach Railey (USA) are just two players among any of the top 14 sailors who could arguably take home a medal of any color.
Sailing World

Preview of the Finn Olympic Class

Francois Richard

The Finns will be the first class to race at the 2012 Olympic Games, starting on Sunday, July 29 and ending with the medal race on Sunday, August 5. The fleet is deeply talented, consisting of four Olympic medalists, six former World or European champions, and another seven championship medalists. There is also a healthy mix of youth and experience in the class, with ages ranging from 19 to 48, with an average of 30.

Whatever happens, Ben Ainslie (GBR) will undoubtedly be the story of the week. He has already stated that anything else but gold would be a disaster, so he is bound to make the headlines, win or lose. He said that, “…a home Olympics makes it very special. I was in Trafalgar Square when they announced that London had won the bid for 2012, the atmosphere was electric and that’s when I decided I wanted to continue my Olympic career and be a part of it. It is the most important regatta in my life right now, but they were all important to get to this point. I guess I have had more time to prepare for it, and I have had to as the home competition has been tougher and the venue is also tough strategically.”

If he wins in Weymouth, Ainslie will take away the accolade from Paul Elvstrøm (DEN) as the most successful sailor ever at the Olympic Games. Victory will not be easy for him, however. The 2008 Silver Medalist Zach Railey (USA) has spent the last four years preparing for this event, and has a good idea of what he’ll be up against. In terms of his mindset, Railey said that, “I race every race from a clean slate. I do not worry about the end result until the regatta takes me there. If I am beaten by someone because they were better than I was, I can accept that, but I cannot accept beating myself. The athletes always get better and better and smarter and smarter. It is amazing the progress you see over just a four year period. You have to constantly keep making improvements or you get left behind.”


The other main challengers are expected to be Pieter-Jan Postma (NED), who took bronze in the test event and silver at the 2011 world championship, Jonathan Lobert (FRA) who took silver at the test event and always produces his best in Weymouth; Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic (CRO), double European Champion, and Rafael Trufillo (ESP) the silver medalist from the 2004 Olympics and the 2007 World Champion.

Double World Champion Jonas Høgh-Christensen (DEN) considers himself some thing of a dark horse, though he is anything but that. Although he hasn’t won anything since returning to the class in 2011, he is clearly on the pace and gunning for a third chance at a medal. He described the challenge. “I think the whole fleet is fitter, stronger and have improved their technique a lot. I don’t have a lot of pressure as I am not one of the favourites to take a medal. Probably more a dark horse, but I think this could end up playing in my favour. I am fresh and really pushing hard all the way. But seeing the last 10 months hard work come together with me performing my personal best, that will be the biggest satisfaction. I am truly blessed to have gotten another chance to do well at the Olympics and I will do my best to make to most of it.”

Portrait of the London 2012 Finn fleet: 24 sailors, one goal

The 24 Finn sailors who will take part in the London 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition have been named. The fleet is full of talented sailors, with a wide range of ages and experience. Some are sailing their fifth Olympics, while for others it will be their first foray on the Olympic stage. But all are determined, focussed and single-minded. It will be the culmination of four years hard work, but only three will take home the medals. Here we take an in-depth look at all of them, their history, their potential, their strong points and the likely medal prospects.

**Brendan Casey (AUS)** Age: 35 World Ranking (highest): 7 (7) Previous Olympics: None Best Results: 2010 Finn Gold Cup (10) 2012 Results: Europeans (34), Finn Gold Cup (13), Palma (19), Hyeres (1), Weymouth (14), Kiel (2)Casey is a very experienced sailor who has tried and failed several times to qualify for the Olympics and has finally made it. He won the Laser Radial World Championships in 1995 and 1996 before switching to the Laser. After failing to qualify in 2000 and 2004 he switched to the Finn in 2006 and won the Australian Championship, but again missed out on a spot on the 2008 Olympic team. He took a few years out and returned in 2010 to place 10th at the Finn Gold Cup in San Francisco. Results came but he still had to prove himself to the selectors. His chance came in Hyeres, winning the last two races, including the very windy medal race to win the regatta and his place in London. He just couldn’t believe he had finally done it, 17 years after that first title.
**Florian Raudaschl (AUT**) Age: 34 World Ranking (highest): 25 (19) Previous Olympics: None Best Results: 2006 Finn Gold Cup (16), 2009 Finn Gold Cup (18) 2012 Results: Europeans (14), Finn Gold Cup (23), Palma (32), Hyeres (17), Weymouth (25)After trying for many years, Raudaschl has finally made it to the Olympics to follow in the footsteps of his father’s illustrious career. (Hubert Raudaschl has competed in more Olympics than any other athlete, so far). Working in the family sailmaking business he has probably had less time in the boat than most of his competitors in recent years, but this year put some hard work in early in the year and the results started coming. Has been campaigning a Finn since 1999 and while he has performed well in the minor regattas, his two 10th places at Kiel Week in 2011 and 2010 are his only top 10 at Grade 1 regattas since 2008.
**Jorge Zarif (BRA**) Age: 19 World Ranking (highest): 39 (35) Previous Olympics: None Best Results: 2009 Junior World Champion 2012 Results: Finn Gold Cup (34), Hyeres (19), Weymouth (20)The youngest sailor in the Finn fleet at just 19 Zarif is the son of the late Jorge Zarif Zeto who competed in the Finn in both the 1984 and 1988 Olympics, where he finished 8th and 19th. Sure to be a contender in his home Olympics in four years time, he is looking to gain experience and insight into the Olympics this year. However he is a clever and hungry young sailor who has put in a few good results and has set his goal for 2012 as getting into the medal race, with the podium in his sights for 2016 in Rio. Zarif has been competing in the Finn internationally since 2009 and in Brazil since 2008 when he was just 15 years old.
**Greg Douglas (CAN**) Age: 22 World Ranking (highest): 27 (27) Previous Olympics: 2008 Laser – 43 Best Results: 2012 Miami (3), 2011 Medemblik (8) 2012 Results: Finn Gold Cup (14), Palma (18), Weymouth (11)Sailed the 2008 Olympics in the Laser for Barbados and finished last. Then switched allegiance to Canada where he was trained by 2008 Olympian Chris Cook and started to bring in some encouraging results. Cook, who placed fifth in China, then returned to the Finn in 2011 and went up against his trainee in the Canadian Olympic trials. Douglas thought he had lost the trials in Falmouth after Cook surged ahead, but then in a twist of fate, Cook got sick, retired from the regatta and Douglas got the 2012 ticket. Proved he can handle big conditions in Falmouth and improving all the time so could be another surprise package. Big, strong and very focused.
**Lei Gong (CHN**) Age: 29 World Ranking (highest): 59 (59) Previous Olympics: None Best Results: 2011 Finn Gold Cup (35), Olympic Test Event (27), 2011 Medemblik (27) 2012 Results: Finn Gold Cup (30)Only sailed a handful of regattas in this cycle after failing to qualify as China’s representative in 2008. Finished one off the bottom at the 2011 Olympic Test Event but has clearly improved since then with a 30th at this year’s Finn Gold Cup in Falmouth where he qualified China for the Olympics. While China does have a core of Finn sailors, they rarely appear at International events. Gong is no exception having only sailed eight ranking events since 2004 and goes into the Olympics as the lowest ranked sailor. His first international event was the Europeans in 2004 where he picked up the bronze medal in the Junior European championship, behind Oleksiy Borysov from Ukraine and Tapio Nirkko from Finland, both also competing in Weymouth.
**Ivan Kljaković Gašpić (CRO**) Age: 28 World Ranking (highest): 3 (1) Previous Olympics: 2008 (8) Best Results: European Champion 2009, 2010; 2009 Finn Gold Cup (3) 2012 Results: Europeans (3), Finn Gold Cup (4), Weymouth (9)A well rounded sailor with a good chance at a medal, Kljakovic Gaspic is one of the most consistent sailors on the circuit, and is regularly at the front of international fleets. In China he finished in 8th place despite showing promise by nearly winning the 2007 test event. Since then he has matured as a sailor and put numerous regatta wins under his belt including the European Championship in 2009 and 2010. Over the last year he has strengthened his armoury by improving his strong wind speed, as shown in his fourth place at the 2012 Finn Gold Cup in Falmouth. Earlier in the year he picked up the bronze at the light wind Europeans, though like most of the fleet this year he has only done a few regattas in what has been a very busy start of the season.
**Michael Maier (CZE**) Age: 48 World Ranking (highest): 19 (2) Previous Olympics: 1996 (14), 2000 (19), 2004 (15), 2008 (25) Best Results: 2000 Finn Gold Cup (5), 2009 Finn Gold Cup (15) 2012 Results: Finn Gold Cup (24), Hyeres (8), Weymouth (24)The grand master of the Finn fleet, having just won his fourth Finn World Masters title. Maier will be the oldest sailor in the Finn fleet at 48 and also the most experienced. This will be his fifth Olympics, all of them in the Finn. Maier has been campaigning Finns since the early 1980s and before many of the current fleet were even born. His debut event was the 1982 European Championship at the age of just 16. Thirty-two years later he is still going and just can’t seem to let it go. He is still very competitive upwind but struggles downwind in the free pumping conditions.
**Jonas Høgh-Christensen (DEN)** Age: 31 World Ranking (highest): 10 (1) Previous Olympics: 2004 (9), 2008 (6) Best Results: World Champion 2006, 2009 2012 Results: Finn Gold Cup (3), Palma (8), Weymouth (12)After winning the 2006 Finn Gold Cup and picking up the bronze at the 2008 Finn Gold Cup he went into the 2008 Olympics as one of the medal favourites. However things never really went his way. He did stage a late recovery to finish sixth, but that was a long way from where he wanted to be. He almost gave up, took a year off and came back, unprepared, but fresh, to win the 2009 Finn Gold Cup on home waters. An on-off campaign ended in November 2011 when he started full time again and the results gradually came. He is now right back at the top and will be a serious contender for a medal again. This will be his third Olympics in the Finn.
**Rafael Trujillo ( ESP)** Age: 36 World Ranking (highest): 1 (1) Previous Olympics: 2000 Star (8), 2004 (2), 2008 (9) Best Result: World Champion 2007 2012 Results: Europeans (10), Finn Gold Cup (18), Palma (21), Hyeres (2), Weymouth (10)One of the most experienced sailors in the fleet, this will be his fourth Olympics and the third in the Finn. He picked up a silver medal in Athens in 2004, and then just made the medal race in China in 2008. He won the 2007 Finn Gold Cup after twice finishing losing the title on the final day and claimed another runner up place in 2010. Since then he has struggled with form, though finished fifth at the 2011 Finn Gold Cup. This year he placed 10th at the Europeans and 18th at the Finn Gold Cup. Big, strong sailor who prefers breezy conditions. He is certainly good enough to win another medal. Goes into the Olympics as the new world number one ranked sailor.
**Deniss Karpak ( EST)** Age: 26 World Ranking (highest): 2 (1) Previous Olympics: 2008 Laser (24) Best Results: 2011 Finn Gold Cup (8) 2012 Results: Finn Gold Cup (11), Europeans (6), Hyeres (4), Weymouth (15)After sailing the 2008 Olympics in the Laser he moved straight into the Finn and has made steady progress ever since. He qualified for the 2012 Olympics after a great performance in Perth, and most recently won Kiel Week. A consistent year attending most of the major events also meant he briefly rose to the number one spot in the world rankings in June. A tall, athletic figure he struggled this year in the really windy conditions, losing Hyeres and finishing out of the medals after the medal race was sailed in 30 knots. Generally he is improving all the time and would definitely be considered as top 10 material and a possible for a surprise medal. Karpak won the Sailor of the Year in Estonia from 2005-11 and the Best Young Athlete of the Year in Estonia in 2007.
**Tapio Nirkko (FIN)** Age: 27 World Ranking (highest): 17 (7) Previous Olympics: 2008 (18) Best Results: 2011 Finn Gold Cup (12), 2009 Europeans (2) 2012 Results: Finn Gold Cup (5), Palma (14), Weymouth (16)The only internationally competitive Finnish Finn sailor, this will be Nirkko’s second Olympics after a disappointing regatta in China, where he placed 18th. Since then he has had a few moments of brilliance, picking up the silver medal at the 2009 Europeans and winning races here and there, generally in windy conditions. A tall and strong sailor, he is finally starting to add some consistency, and some promise, to his regattas, something that has been lacking in recent years. He sailed his best Finn Gold Cup ever this year to place fifth, so if he keeps it together he should be well inside the top 10 come medal race day.
**Jonathan Lobert (FRA)** Age: 26 World Ranking (highest): 12 (6) Previous Olympics: None Best Results: Olympic Test Event (2), 2011 Finn Gold Cup (6) 2012 Results: Finn Gold Cup (15), Palma (23), Weymouth (7)A silver medal at the Olympic Test Event in 2011 was the culmination of steady progress over the previous few years. Lobert won his selection for the Olympics after the 2011 Finn Gold Cup against training partner Thomas Le Breton. He has a very athletic style in the boat, especially downwind and should do well at the Olympics. Hasn’t quite repeated his test event form since last August but is always pushing the leaders. He first moved into the Finn in early 2007 after outgrowing the Laser. Should almost certainly be a favourite for a medal at the Olympics based on past performance, and he seems to produce his best in Weymouth.
**Ben Ainslie (GBR)** Age: 35 World Ranking (highest): 18 (1) Previous Olympics: 2008 (1), 2004 (1), Laser: 2000 (1), 1996 (2) Best Results: World Champion 2002-5, 2008, 2012 2012 Results: Finn Gold Cup (1), Palma (1), Weymouth (2)After winning gold in 2008 there was much speculation whether Ainslie would return, but the demise of Team Origin made the decision easy and he returned to full time Finn sailing in 2010. After being unbeaten since 2004, his greatest threat came from Giles Scott and in the UK trials, the 2011 Skandia Sail for Gold was the decisive regatta for them both. Ainslie won and went on to dominate the Olympic Test Event to win selection. The controversial 2011 Finn Gold Cup was followed by a back operation, but he bounced back to dominate Palma and the 2012 Finn Gold Cup. Ainslie is going for a record fourth Gold Medal, which together with a silver from 1996, would make him the most successful Olympic sailor of all time. He is the absolute favourite to win gold.
**Ioannis Mitakis (GRE)** Age: 23 World Ranking (highest): 13 (11) Previous Olympics: None Best Results: 2011 Finn Gold Cup (20), 2010 Europeans (12) 2012 Results: Europeans (1), Athens (1), Weymouth (26)Mitakis won the 2012 European Championship out of nowhere in very light and shifty winds. He first appeared in a Finn in 2009 and took the Junior European title in Bulgaria with ease. The following year he won it again in Croatia, this time also finishing 12th overall in the senior fleet. Then in 2010 he finished as runner up in the Silver Cup in San Francisco. A clearly talented sailor, many thought he would be a serious challenger in 2016, but he didn’t want to wait that long. Probably still one of the lightest sailors in the fleet and struggles when it is windy, but produces his best when it is light. His biggest enemy may be lack of regatta practice this year.
**Filippo Baldassari ( ITA)** Age: 24 World Ranking (highest): 40 (27) Previous Olympics: None Best Results: 2011 Finn Gold Cup (24), 2011 Hyeres (10) 2012 Results: Europeans (4), Palma (13), Weymouth (21)The first sailor to qualify for the Olympics, Baldasaari won the Italian national trials back in April 2011. He has made steady progress since and has gradually moved up the ranks, including an impressive fourth overall at the light wind 2011 Europeans in Italy. One of a few sailors who skipped the Finn Gold Cup this year to take a break from the hectic early season. His 10th place last year in Hyeres was Baldasaari’s only top 10 placing at a Sailing World Cup or Grade 1 event since he switched to the Finn from the Laser in 2009.
**Pieter-Jan Postma (NED)** Age: 30 World Ranking (highest): 4 (2) Previous Olympics: 2008 (14) Best Results: 2007 Finn Gold Cup (2), 2011 Finn Gold Cup (2) 2012 Results: Finn Gold Cup (9), Europeans (7), Palma (15), Medemblik (3), Weymouth (3)Postma picked up the silver medal at the Finn Gold Cup and the Pre-Olympics in 2007 and then had a disastrous Olympics in 2008, failing to even make the medal race. After a few years taking it easy and studying he is now right back in contention with a bronze at the 2011 Olympic Test Event and a silver at the 2011 Finn Gold Cup. He placed seventh at the Europeans after being one of the favourites, and the spectre of national qualification perhaps played its part in a scrappy 2012 Finn Gold Cup where he salvaged a ninth. However he pulled a third out of the bag at the 2012 Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta. If he is on form, then he can sail fast and clever and will be a clear medal contender at the Games.
**Dan Slater (NZL)** Age: 36 World Ranking (highest): 15 (2) Previous Olympics: 2000 49er (8), 2008 (12) Best Results: Finn Gold Cup: 2008 (6), 2008 (2), 2009 (7) 2012 Results: Finn Gold Cup (16), Palma (5), Hyeres (5)Third Olympics for Dan Slater after sailing a 49er in 2000 and finishing a very disappointing 12th in 2008 in the Finn, after finishing as runner up in the 2008 Finn Gold Cup. Selected late by New Zealand Yachting, he is perhaps a bit short on training but his experience of the arena and the fleet should easily give him top 10 potential and he could well be in with a shot at the medals if things go his way. A very experienced sailor he also campaigned the Laser for the 1996 and 2004 Olympics but failed to get selected. Finally switched to the Finn in 2005 and immediately made his mark with a silver medal at the 2005 European Championships. Has won several Grade 1 regattas in recent years and surely has the ability and potential to medal.
**Piotr Kula (POL)** Age: 25 World Ranking (highest): 28 (13) Previous Olympics: None Best Results: 2011 Finn Gold Cup (23), 2011 Medemblik (7) 2012 Results: Finn Gold Cup (6), Palma (11), Hyeres (12), Weymouth (17)Won a very close Polish trials against the 2008 Olympian Rafal Szukiel and placed a very creditable sixth overall at the 2012 Finn Gold Cup, which clearly showed he has talent to burn. He has struggled with a knee injury over the past year, which kept him out of the 2011 Finn Gold Cup in Perth but proved this year he has the tenacity and the determination to race at the highest level. The Poles failed to qualify for the Olympics in Perth so it came down to Falmouth in addition to being the final selection trials. Kula was clearly on a mission all week and produced the best results of hiscareer to date. He could well be the surprise package of the Games.
**Eduard Skornyakov ( RUS)** Age: 31 World Ranking (highest): 14 (7) Previous Olympics: 2008 (17) Best Results: 2010 Hyeres (10), 2011 Fin Gold Cup (33) 2012 Results: Finn Gold Cup (17), Europeans (11), Palma (22), Hyeres (6), Weymouth (27)First appeared on the Finn scene in 2007 when he was the surprise winner of the European Championships on Lake Balaton in Hungary, in similar conditions to his home waters on the lakes in Moscow. Since then he hasn’t ever got close to repeating that performance but is starting to make headway into the top of the fleet. After a brief spell in the Laser and the 49er he moved into the Finn in early 2007. His European title was only his third major regatta in the class. Since then he has only made the top 10 on a handful of occasions, but a sixth this year in Hyeres proves he is on the right track.
**Vasilij Zbogar (SLO)** Age: 36 World Ranking (highest): 13 (4) Previous Olympics: Laser 2000 (19), 2004 (3), 2008 (2) Best Results: 2011 Europeans (6), 2011 Finn Gold Cup (13) 2012 Results: Europeans (2), Palma (7), Hyeres (3)Won a very aggressive trials again the 2004 and 2008 Olympian Gasper Vincec. Zbogar is a seasoned Olympian having competed in three Games in the Laser already and picked up a bronze and a silver in that class. He took the silver medal at this year’s Europeans and then dominated the close of the Slovenian trials before taking some time out. Going into the Olympics he won’t have raced in a competitive regatta since Hyeres. After his first medal he was awarded Slovenian Sportsman of the Year 2004. He switched to the Finn in 2010 and has made steady progress ever since. Should be in the top 10 and perhaps fighting for a medal come the end of the event.
**Daniel Birgmark (SWE)** Age: 39 World Ranking (highest): 9 (4) Previous Olympics: 2004 (14), 2008 (4) Best Results: 2011 Europeans (3), 2009 Finn Gold Cup (5) 2012 Results: Finn Gold Cup (12), Palma (6), Weymouth (8)After missing out in the Laser class in 2004, Birgmark switched to the Finn which was a much better fit for his size and weight and immediately qualified for Athens. After a 14th there, he lost the bronze medal at the Olympics in 2008 on the tie break after the medal race, so will be very keen to put that right in 2012. Best result since 2008 is a bronze medal at the 2010 Europeans. Struggled for form so far this year, though he normally sails well in medal races and almost won the medal race at this year’s Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta. A very consistent, steady and calm sailor who is always there or thereabouts. Probably his last Olympics in the Finn so will be more determined than ever to make it count.
**Alican Kaynar (TUR)** Age: 23 World Ranking (highest): 35 (35) Previous Olympics: None Best Results: 2011 Finn Gold Cup (52), 2011 Europeans (33) 2012 Results: Europeans (12), Finn Gold Cup (29), Hyeres (21), Weymouth (28)Sailed the 2009 Europeans and the switched full time to the Finn in 2010 after many years in the Laser. Won the Turkish trials after the Finn Gold Cup in Falmouth after sailing well to beat the long time Finn sailor Akif Muslubus. Kaynar has steadily improved over the past two years but has yet to break through very often. One highlight was this year’s European Championship in Scarlino, Italy where he won a race and finished 12th overall. He is still relatively small compared to the rest of the fleet but is clearly quick in light winds.
**Oleksiy Borysov ( UKR)** Age: 29 World Ranking (highest): 24 (15) Previous Olympics: None Best Results: 2011 Finn Gold Cup (22) 2011 Europeans (20) 2012 Results: Finn Gold Cup (21), Palma (24), Hyeres (16), Weymouth (34)After just missing out on qualifying for the 2008 Olympics by just one place, this time around Borysov qualified at the first attempt in Perth to secure a place in Weymouth. Has been sailing the Finn internationally since 2004 and has only won one major ranking event, the 2011 Sail Melbourne, in that time. He also placed second in Kiel Week in 2010. One of only two dinghy sailors representing Ukraine in Weymouth (the other is in the Laser), Borysov unfortunately was forced to miss the 2011 Skandia Sail for Gold and the 2011 Olympic Test Event due to lack of financial support. He can normally can pull out a few good races in each regatta, including race wins, but now needs to put it all together at one event.
**Zach Railey (USA)** Age: 27 World Ranking (highest): 8 (1) Previous Olympics: 2008 (2) Best Results: 2009 Finn Gold Cup (2), 2011 Finn Gold Cup (9) 2012 Results: Finn Gold Cup (10), Miami (1), Palma (2), Weymouth (4) Against all expectations Railey won the silver medal in China and has been trying to live up to his billing ever since. The closest he got was a silver at the 2009 Finn Gold Cup, losing the title on the medal race. He has picked up various medals at several Sailing World Cup Events, and posted a solid fourth place at the recent Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta. Though not the biggest sailor in the fleet he has historically produced some of his best results at windy regattas, as well as at light wind venues such as Qingdao. Railey is a very thoughtful, analytical sailor and it is well within his abilities to pick up another medal this summer.