Sailing: Percy in stormy waters

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The Independent Online

Mr Cool is looking a little hot and bothered. Iain Percy is one of Britain's most talented sailors, and 20 months down the line his life should be a little more settled. But the time before then could be very turbulent for the man who blitzed his way to an Olympic gold medal in Sydney.

Another one will not be so easy in China next year. And before he even gets there he has interesting times ahead on a different stage. In less than six months a move to a British challenge for the America's Cup, announced early this month by Sir Keith Mills, a leading figure in London's 2012 set-up, should be in place. Though this will put Percy under sailing time pressure, Sir Keith's underwriting of a £20 million a year campaign for four years means life cannot be as fraught as Percy's current situation as the skipper of the Italian +39 America's Cup team.

Percy has hardly sailed for two years. The Italian team's new boat has been sitting forlornly on the dock in Valencia, where the America's Cup will be raced this summer, as there is no money to pay a crew to sail it. The team even had to rely on their neighbours, South Africa's Shosholoza, to borrow a crane to lift the boat out of the water. It is all a marked contrast to the nearby, lavishly funded palace of BMW-Oracle or the Prada-backed Luna Rossa.

It would cost the cash-strapped +39 team more to pull the plug - loss of a $1m (£510,000) performance bond and a shower of litigation - than to start racing when the cup races begin in April. So the show must go on.

At the same time as dealing with that frustration, Percy is trying to run a Star keelboat campaign for the Beijing Olympics - "The America's Cup is the day job, the Olympics is the dream," he said recently. And that involved a major decision to change his long-standing crewman; he rang Steve Mitchell in a snow-starved Austrian ski resort to tell him their partnership of six years was over. Mitchell was replaced by Andrew "Bart" Simpson, one of the +39 crew.

Which is why here, in both sunshine and numbingly cold rain, a new line-up have been making their world debut. Unsurprisingly, they did not reach the final medal races, unlike British sailors in most of the 11 classes in the Rolex Mini Olympic Classes regatta. In a typical tyre-kicking tirade, Percy said: "You can't win if you don't train. The truth is we're out of shape and unfit." Which is better than being no good, and he feels the change will work out in the end if they have enough time in the boat. The crunch will come at the mass world championships in Cascais in July. There are no quick fixes, Percy said, and time is rushing by.

Which is the case for many. The Royal Yachting Association's Olympic manager, Stephen Park, viewed what is the countdown to selection and the Games as a tight and tidy performance by a squad who are becoming ever more focused. "They can see the winner's tape," he said.

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