223 team officials,300 media,462 sailors, 1,000 volunteers and one Olympic Test Event

The opening ceremony for the first Olympic test event took place last night in Qingdao. Sailing teams from 39 countries were present for the ceremony, which was followed by a huge display of fireworks.

Qingdao, a coastal city in the province of eastern China, has been praised for the speedy construction of its new Olympic Sailing Center, not least by International Sailing Federation (ISAF) measurer Dick Balt, who admitted he was: ‘surprised with the sailing center. It’s great! Its construction speed is faster than that of Athens.’

As the first test event for the 2008 Olympics, the competition – which starts today – will play host to a huge, star-studded fleet eager to check out the conditions they’re likely to face at the venue. Over 460 sailors are on the list of competitors, with World and Olympic champions a-plenty. 111 of the participants are among the top 20 in the world in various classes as judged in this year’s ISAF August Ranking. Racing will take place over four race courses, with nine days of scheduled competition and two reserve days. Unsurprisingly, the regatta follows the general format of the next Olympic Games, with a ten race opening series followed by a Medal Race on August 30 for the top 10 competitors.

The idea of a test event is not only for the competitors to ‘test the water’, but for the organisers to examine all facilities and systems, both afloat and ashore. Some buildings, such as the media centre and Athletes Village, are yet to be completed, but the main venues are all finished and will now be put through their paces to see if they’re ready to host an Olympic competition. From race management to security, first aid to athlete services and accomodation, all elements of the competition and venue management will be evaluated. The pressure is certainly on for the 50 ISAF Race Officials and many more national officials present, and no-one can predict what the next week will bring, but it’s so far, so good for the 2008 Sailing Olympics.