Britons falter at the last hurdle

Sailing
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The Independent Online
Despite a contentious and windless start to the Melges 24 Glenfiddich European Gold Cup in Barcelona, the regatta finished on a high as the 47 boats completed six of the scheduled 12 races on the waters that played host to the 1992 Olympic sailing regatta.

Sadly the same could not be said of the British pairing of John Merricks and Ian Walker, who led a fleet littered with Olympic and international names in Glenfiddich 3 at the start of the last day. They did not do so at the end.

The Olympic silver medalists, sailing with Ultra 30 sailors Mark Thomson and Nick Powell, had won the first race of the series, and from that point the defending champion, Italian Giorgio Zuccoli, was on the back foot. Going into the final race nearly six points adrift he needed something special - and found it. In scenes reminiscent of the Olympic regatta this summer when Ben Ainslie went on the hunt for series leader Robert Scheit at the start of the final race, Zuccoli sought out the British team and sailed them down the starting line towards the unfavoured end.

After a bad start and unable to dictate their own tactics Merricks and Walker looked to be in trouble. However they soon managed to shake Zuccoli off and passed through the gates halfway up the first leg in sixth place, sufficient to secure their victory. However on the final downwind leg, Zuccoli went through the gate one place behind the British team, in eighth. As they approached the bottom mark Zuccoli gybed, Merricks and Walker did not defend their position and the Italian rounded the mark ahead, and went on miraculously to win the race with Merricks and Walker eventually finishing 11th. For Zuccoli there was delight at clinching his second Melges European title. For Merricks and Walker, despair at throwing away a regatta they knew should have been theirs.

But as the winners were celebrating in style last night, the threat of a Rule 75 (sportsmanship) hearing hung over some of the local Spanish contingent. Earlier in the week the Spanish, led by Luis Martinez Doreste, the youngest member of an illustrious Spanish sailing dynasty, complained they had been unfairly treated by the international jury who handed out various disqualifications for various misdemeanours. The result was a letter of complaint to the jury which was purportedly signed by Doreste and his crew but which they later denied writing. The jury summoned the Spanish team to a hearing last night which could, at worst, result in a ban from competitive racing.

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