Ainslie proves a class apart

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The Independent Online


reports from Miami

Some hard work is in prospect for the whole squad following the opening regatta of Britain's 1996 Olympic year, which finished here yesterday. With the exception of Ben Ainslie in the Laser, both physical and mental fitness needs to be sharpened up, but the team manager, Rod Carr, said he is "encouraged by some brilliant individual results."

Ainslie, 18, the current world youth champion, powers serenely on, almost oblivious to the frustration and alarm he engenders among his opponents. "Ben is very sharp, he can beat the best in the world," Carr said.

John Merricks and Ian Walker are still favourites to take the gold in the 470 dinghy, despite a week focused almost entirely on gear testing while the defending champion, Jordi Calafat of Spain, was winning the class. There will be no room to let him go at the world championships in Brazil next month.

In the women's division, Bethan Raggatt and Sue Carr started on a high with new sponsorship, half of which goes to Derbyshire County Council to pay for Carr's teacher replacement, but ended with some very average results and their new boat so badly damaged in a collision that they could not race yesterday.

They, too, go to Brazil for much needed top-level match practice with the coach, Jim Saltonstall, said: "They won't be tough enough to win at the worlds, but by the Games they will be."

The newly-remarried Penny Wilson (formerly Way) showed a new appetite for fitness and success on the Mistral windsurfer.

Andy Beadsworth, with crew Barry Parkin and Adrian Stead have been improving significantly in a tough Soling fleet. As coach Bill Edgerton said of the whole team: "We annoy the opposition at times because we don't muck about. We are a presence on the race track."

The unresolved issue is in the Star class. Lawrie Smith leads the trials, just, from Glyn Charles with the other three contenders likely to be also- rans at the second half here in March in a fleet so stuffed with talent that even the best can struggle for a single number finishing slot.