Sailing: Percy switches allegiance to Italians

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Britain is set to lose one of its most talented sailors to an Italian team challenging for the next America's Cup in Valencia in 2007.

Iain Percy, Olympic gold medallist in 2000 and a top prospect for a medal in Athens in the Star, is expected to be named by the Clan Des syndicate as one of its recruits, on Monday. The Cowes-based GBR Challenge claimed that Percy had signed a confidentiality agreement with them in August last year, but that on Thursday Percy had informed the design director, Derek Clark, "of what appears to be his final decision."

Percy's move could not have come at a more sensitive time. He was central to GBR Challenge's attraction to potential sponsors and an agreement for major financial support had been expected within two weeks. But Ian Walker, skipper of GBR Challenge in Auckland in 2002, insisted Percy's departure would be "no disaster for the team".

Another of Britain's top sailors, Ben Ainslie, had, like Percy, been linked with Team New Zealand but may now similarly opt for an Italian job.