Sailing: Ainslie gold leads rush of precious metal for Britain

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After delivering Britain's best medal haul at the 2000 Olympic Games, the sailing squad is making clear at the pre-Olympic regatta here that its remarkable return in terms of precious metal is likely to continue if not improve. They are now the most-feared nation in the world.

First into the medal paddock yesterday were Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield, winning silver in the 470 dinghy, and they were followed by the towering presence of Ben Ainslie, going one better with a gold medal in the Finn single-hander. At 26, he has both silver and gold in the Laser class, is the world champion in the Finn and few would bet against him successfully defending that title next month.

He is confident but not complacent. "Winning is important as a psychological factor against the others," he said, adding that he was using his third-best mast and second-best boat here.

Also back on the gold standard was Shirley Robertson. She did it alone in the Europe in Sydney. Yesterday, with a reshuffled crew of Sarah Webb and Sarah Ayton that has been together only two months, she had a storming final pair of races in the Yngling class to dislodge what had looked like a dominant American trio. "Early in the season we were definitely behind," Robertson said. "Now we are fitter, faster, sharper."

The 470 men were jubilant. "This is our best result since being second in the World Championship three years ago," said Rogers. "We took a break earlier this year and we are sailing a lot better now. We definitely feel we are part of a group, which includes Sweden, Australia, Portugal and the United States, that is a bit ahead of the others."

Having finished fourth in the same regatta before Sydney and then been fourth in the Games proper, they were looking forward either to doing the same again or even better. But, ahead of them, as with all the other Olympic classes, lie the World Championships in Cadiz next month. "If we can make top three there then we can secure the British selection and we can still be selected all the way down to eighth," said Rogers. Glanfield added: "This is a huge mental game. Over an 11-race series you are often waiting for others to make mistakes. Some of them don't like long series. We are not one of them."

The British 49er pair, Paul Brotherton and Mark Asquith, are also second with one race to go today. They are assured of a bronze, and just need to be within six places of the third-placed Spaniards to secure the silver.

The bonus was seeing the Star world champions, Iain Percy and Steve Mitchell, hammer home two wins in the last two races. Medal hopes evaporated when they were dismasted in race five, but the winner Torben Grael, of Brazil, and the runner-up, Paul Cayard, of the United States, know they have a tussle on their hands at the worlds next month, never mind the rest of Europe at their championship in Lisbon next week.

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