Ayton fights for 2010 campaign place

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Campaign 2010 for Britain’s Olympic sailing squad, with an embarrassment of riches in some classes, much work to be done in others, has been fraught with difficulty during the flights ban.

Even without three golds and silver man Ben Ainslie, and with double gold medallist Sarah Dempsey (formerly Ayton) learning a new trade, Britain’s most successful medal machine is still the most feared internationally.

Nearly a full squad has assembled in Hyeres, near Toulon, for the first of four World Cup regattas in Europe this weekend. The culmination will be at the 2012 Olympic venue of Weymouth in August, with The Netherlands and Germany in between.

Olympic manager Stephen Park is uncharacteristically relaxed, saying only that this is an opportunity for some to test new equipment, others to build confidence, and yet more to establish reputations. “But we still want to be a force to be reckoned with,” he says.

Many eyes will be on Dempsey as, with crew Saskia Clark, she sets out on the path to a third consecutive Olympic gold, this time in the 470 dinghy.

But the overall dream is to win a medal in each of the 10 sailing events, a target made more difficult as other nations, especially the United States, Holland, France, and, to a more limited extent, Brazil learn all they can from the UK blueprint.

There is also a new blueprint being prepared by the sport’s world governing body, the International Sailing Federation, to improve the way in which sailing is presented at the Olympic Games.

Under the chairmanship of Phil Jones, a Brit who has headed Yachting Australia, its Olympic Commission is expected to present a paper at next month’s mid-year conference in Hungary an outline of how the World Cup regattas – there is also one in Miami – can be expanded to take in Australasia, Asia, and South America to meet IOC aims.

These include opportunities to qualify for a place at the Games closer to home instead of, as now, 70 per cent of the places for 2012 being decided at the World Championship of Sailing at Perth, West Australia, in December 2011.

Jones will also look at the balance between those championships, the world cup series, individual class world championships and, less influentially, the world rankings.

ISAF executive secretary Jerome Pels knows that he has to carry his membership of national authorities with him, but, although he see no immediate threat to sailing’s place in the Olympic Games, he says: “We had better figure out how to be a successful Olympic sport. We cannot afford to be complacent.”

By that he means taking a closer look at how the public can be involved in a ticketed event. When the London Olympic organising committee recently first put ticket opportunities online there were about one million expressions of interest. About 10 per cent. were for sailing.

Jones will be setting out plans for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, but some of his core ideas are likely to be trialled either from next year or 2012.