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The first Rio 2016 test event, the Aquece Rio International Sailing Regatta 2014, has brought some of the world’s best sailors to the city this week. From 2 to 9 August, 324 athletes – including 23 Olympic medallists – from 34 countries will guide 215 boats across five courses on Guanabara Bay, in the largest Olympic sailing competition ever held in Brazil.
“All the sailors who are dreaming of winning a medal at Rio 2016 are here,” said Australia’s Mathew Belcher, the London 2012 champion in the 470 class, who was training in Rio on Monday (July 29). “There are various Olympic champions here, and many more who will win Olympic medals. It’s my first time in Rio so my goal is to get to know and understand the climatic conditions, as well as to get to the know the city. I already knew that the wind varies from medium to low intensity in the bay and this will be a challenge for all the sailors.”
Belcher is joined in Rio by four other Olympic champions from the London Games: fellow Australian and 49er champion Nathan Outteridge, Spain’s Marina Alabau, who won the 49er FX, Holland’s RS:X champion Dorian van Rijsselberge, and Sweden’s Max Salminen, gold medallist in the Star class, which has been dropped from the Olympic programme for the Rio 2016 Games.
Great Britain’s Luke Patience, who took silver behind Belcher in the 470, also spoke of the high level of competitors and the importance of getting the know the Rio 2016 Olympic venue. “The best boats in the world are here,” he said. “It’s an important opportunity for us to get to know the conditions and gather information, but it’s also clear that everyone who’s here wants to be the first to win a title on the Olympic Waters."
For Patience, the regatta will be his first sailing competition in South America and he expressed his excitement about being in the next Olympic host city. “It’s a really exciting city, full of life and energy. It has a happy atmosphere and is known for hosting big celebrations, like Carnival and the World Cup. I’m really happy to be here and determined to do my best in the test event.”
Of the 23 Olympic medallists that will sail in Guanabara Bay, five are Australians, four British, three Brazilians, two French, two Dutch, along with one each from Argentina, Belgium, Spain, Israel, New Zealand, Poland and Sweden.
Brazilian icon Robert Scheidt, who will compete in the Laser class, is one of the best known sailors at the event. He is one of three athletes to have won five Olympic medals, alongside compatriot Torben Grael and Britain's Ben Ainslie, who is the most successful Olympic sailor of all with four goals and one silver. Scheidt has two golds (in the Laser class at Atlanta 1996 and Athens 2004), two silvers (Laser at Sydney 2000 and Star in Beijing 2008) and one bronze (Star at London 2012) as well as 12 world titles.
Great Britain’s Nick Dempsey, the RS:X silver medallist at London 2012 and bronze medallist in the Mistral (the previous windsurf class) at Athens 2004, is one of the top international stars at the event. Aged 33, Dempsey has twice won the RS:X world championship, including in the Brazilian resort of Búzios in 2013. Austrailia’s Outteridge, the London 49er champion, also has three world titles.
Amongst the women, the leading names are Spain’s Alabau, the London 2012 Olympic and 2009 world champion in 49er FX, and Holland’s Marit Bouwmeester, the London 2012 silver medallist, 2011 world champion and current world No.1 in Laser Radial.
Sweden’s Lisa Ericson, who will compete in the 49er FX, said: “I already feel closer to the Olympic Games by being here in Rio. The competition site is really special, surrounded by mountains, especially the Sugar Loaf. We have caught some good winds and managed to train well. It’s very good to be here, getting to know the wind and currents. The test event will be great, there are some great boats here.”
The International Sailing Regatta will be the first in a series of 45 sports events in Rio 2016 compeition venues that will allow athletes and the organising committee to rehearse for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The majority of the events will be held in 2015.