Beadsworth keeps calm in the wind

Andrew Preece finds Britain's sailors are still on an Olympic high

With match racing already featuring at the Olympics in the Soling class and women's match racing confirmed as a discipline for Athens 2004, the Chernikeeff/RYA National Match Racing Championship is an important indicator in British sailing which, after Sydney 2000, is at an all-time high.

With match racing already featuring at the Olympics in the Soling class and women's match racing confirmed as a discipline for Athens 2004, the Chernikeeff/RYA National Match Racing Championship is an important indicator in British sailing which, after Sydney 2000, is at an all-time high.

Members of the successful British Olympic sailing squad began the event on Thursday, with gold medallist Shirley Robertson reverting to racing with a crew and Andy Beads-worth looking to make amends for his disappointing 12th place in Sydney. For the eight unseeded qualifiers, the event, staged at the Royal Victoria Dock in East London, offered an opportunity to line up against the big names.

It all went according to plan for Beadsworth, the defending champion and No. 1 seed, as he breezed into the quarter-finals yesterday morning. However, his Olympic crew, Richard Sydenham, a former winner of the event, scraped into the final 16 in the last qualifying position, but upped the tempo to win his races and lead the rankings into the quarter-finals.

Robertson was not as fortunate and missed the quarter-final cut, going out of the regatta before lunchtime. "We haven't been able to practise as a team and I was slow in making the switch from fleet to match racing.

"But I'm happy to have got as far as we have here and we're looking to get back into match racing for the women's' world championship in Florida in a month's time," she said.

As the wind increased towards gale force, the race organisers struggled to complete the quarter-finals, with 49er Olympic triallist Ian Budgen winning three straight races, including a late surge past Beadsworth. Sailing space in the Victoria Dock is severely limited and with the wind gusting at over 20 knots, there were some exciting close encounters with the dock wall.

Beadsworth appeared certain to progress through to today's semi-finals, along with Budgen. Behind those two the competition was tight for the remaining two places, as the wind increased and the dockside walls looked ever more menacing. The race committee reacted by enforcing the no-spinnaker rule.

Sydenham and another former winner Ian Williams looked likely to complete the semi-finals after slow starts but the Campbell-James brothers's head-to-head was going to have a big impact; Mark Campbell-James was due to race his brother Paul in a contest that could have seen Mark elevated to semi-final territory, while the race committee considered whether to continue racing.

While the racing continued, on shore rumour was rife about the prospect of a British America's Cup challenge and the involvement of the Chernikeeff chairman, Peter Harrison.

Harrison is due to open the Peter Harrison Foundation to support sport for disabled and disadvantaged children and teenagers, on Tuesday in London. He made a £30m donation, but later dismissed suggestions that he is also about to launch an America's Cup campaign.

This is despite the many rumours which allege that he has made an offer for the Nippon America's Cup hardware. "There is talk among a number of people to see if we can get something going," Harrison told the Independent on Sunday. "If I can do anything about keeping the British Olympic sailors in a Team Great Britain Challenge, then we will build up the experience between us and I've been working on certain ideas for that. But at the moment I can't go any further.

"I hope to be able to say something more substantial and revealing in the not too distant future," he said.

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