The World Class Performance 49er squad will officially start their countdown to the UK Trials Regatta to decide the sailing representatives for the British Olympic Team for Sydney 2000 this weekend (23/24 October) with the opening round of the Chernikeeff RYA 49er Gold Series in Weymouth.

The 49er, which will make its Olympic debut at the Sydney Games next September, is a two person, extreme, modern high performance racing machine, which comes from the design table of former 18ft skiff World Champion Julian Bethwaite.

In every sense of the word, it is a true skiff and the ultimate test of skill and agility, offering spectacular performance for those crews who can master the vagaries of twin trapeze high performance racing at its uppermost level.

Great Britain has already secured its place as one of the nineteen countries that will be racing in the 49er fleet in the Sydney. Now the job is to select the team that will be sent to the games.

With Olympic selection being decided by a ten-day series in Weymouth next April, the Chernikeeff RYA 49er Gold Series will be the final build up event for the World Class Performance 49er squad.

The event will also act as catalyst for keeping UK crews in racing trim until the Australian Olympic class season (Sail Brisbane, Sydney International Regatta, Sail Melbourne and Sail Auckland) and next March’s World Championships in Mexico.

With only one team per class per nation at the Games, there will be fierce competition amongst the UK crews in the coming months as they each try to edge a small advantage, which could win them the place in the British Olympic Sailing Team.

As such, the series will provide a good indication of which crews will be battling for the Olympic slot.

Five British crews have been sharing international success, featuring in the top ten at every major event in the class calendar since the 49er’s inception as an Olympic discipline in 1997.

Amongst RYA Team GBR’s notable successes are the Silver Medal position at the 1998 World Championships (Andy and Ian Budgen; current National champions) and the Gold (Paul Brotherton and Neal McDonald) and Bronze (Ian Barker and Simon Hiscocks) medals at the 1998 European Championships as well as fourth nation at the 1999 World Championships (Brotherton and McDonald).

Alistair Richardson and Peter Greenhalgh, who represented the Team GBR at the recent IBM Sydney Harbour Pre Olympic Regatta, have also emerged as potential challengers despite their youthful status, having proved their ability with some stunning international results this season, including third and fourth overall in the opening two rounds of the recent 49er European Grand Prix Series.

A number of other countries have realised Great Britain’s potential as Olympic medal contenders, with eight elite foreign crews also joining line up for the Chernikeeff series.

Amongst the foreign crews that will be challenging the World Class Performance squad members for overall series honours and the large prize money fund are current European Champions Marcus Baur & Philip Barth (Germany), European Championship Silver Medallists Santiago Lopez – Vasquez & Javier De La Plaza (Spain) and Marc Audineau & Julien Farnarier (France), ranked second in the ISAF O’Neill World standings.

The strong international line up will also provide a clear indication of which British teams are capable of contending for medals next year.

Chernikeeff, sponsors of this year’s Champagne Mumm British Admiral’s Cup team will sponsor the series as part of their ongoing interest in developing British sailors into world class crews.