Britain's only achievers

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The Independent Online
Everything conspired to prevent Britain rounding off a splendid Olympic performance by its sailors when, in the last race of the Olympic regatta, Andy Beadsworth, Barry Parkin and Adrian Stead failed despite a fine effort to win bronze in the Soling match racing off Savannah yesterday to add to the silver medals won by Ben Ainslie in the Laser, John Merricks and Ian Walker in the men's 470.

Thunderstorms and penalties wrecked their chances as Germany's Jochen Schumann was winning his third gold medal, added to a Finn victory at Kingston, Canada in 1976 and the Soling, before it was decided by match racing, in Korea in 1988. Silver went to Russia's Georgi Shaiduko.

In a farcically unpredictable wind, they won the first race but went 1-2 down against Jeff Madrigali of America in their best of five. The U.S. was facing the dismal prospect of just one bronze from the sailing, by Courtney Becker-Dey in the Europe, having won nine medals from the 10 classes in Barcelona and expecting to dominate on their own patch. But Madrigali had brought in Ed Baird, John Kostecki, and even Russell Coutts to coach him.

In their first race Beadsworth dominated Madrigali, who had earlier gone down 3-0 to Shaiduko. He led from start to finish and also won the start of the second race before it was abandoned. Then things started to go wrong as, after the restart, a 25-degree shift in the wind gave Madrigali the equaliser.

Beadsworth then picked up a penalty on the first upwind leg of the third race, trying to force an error by the American and snatch back the lead. Instead he put himself under more pressure. He collected another penalty in the pre-start to the fourth, but that was cancelled out as Madrigali was also flagged by the umpires.

The start went to Madrigali as he crossed the line with better speed. He was never headed and the medal was lost. The comeback which Beadsworth had engineered in the quarter-finals was not to be repeated.

Some of that same aggression cost Beadsworth any chance of a tilt at the gold after his best of five series against Germany's double gold medallist Jochen Schumann had been left agonisingly on hold the night before when storms halted proceedings. He was 2-0 down, and then produced a shut-out start to lead the third race before it was abandoned.

As hostilities were resumed yesterday Beadsworth again won the start and led round the first mark. But Schumann was able to roll over the top of him on the first spinnaker run. He finally attacked again on the top half of the second upwind leg but first tacked very close underneath, then used a luff to force Schumann up into the wind. Both called for a penalty against the other, the judges' flag wagged at Beadsworth, and it was all over.

In the build-up to the regatta, the British sailing team manager, Rod Carr, was saying: "We will eventually be judged by how many medals we get, but the reality is that our preparation has been bloody good, whatever medals we get."

Britain is an old power in yachting, winning a medal or two at every Olympics, except the 1980 boycott of Moscow. The declared intention was to win at least three The management of that objective was left to a new, smaller, younger team called the Olympic Steering Group, and the early selection process returned to a one-week sudden death at home instead of accumulated results over a number of European regattas.

It worked. Government agencies, including the lottery, poured in over half of the pounds 630,000 budget for the final year and Carr was able to say yesterday: "We have met the goal we set ourselves. It was an excellent result, not just for the medallists, but for the whole team. There has not been one weak link."