Best of British try to avoid being 'first of the losers'

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The Independent Online

The best of British, who have been producing big medal hauls at the last three Olympic Games, will be at each other’s throats this week. There is one place per class in 2012; coming second, as America’s Cup holder Larry Ellison says, “is just being first of the losers.”

When the time comes, the UK’s Olympic sailing manager, Stephen Park, ‘Sparky’ will be working hard again on turning representatives from 13 Olympic sailing classes, three in the Paralympic Games, into the sort of mutually supportive group that produced six medals in China, four gold, one silver, one bronze.

Right now the best he can hope for is that his current brood can achieve top six results in all classes and let the opposition know that the Brits will be defending their territory on every front in 2012.

“This is the first time we have all the major big hitters sailing in Weymouth,” he says. “It is important to make every opportunity count. It is important for our guys to put a marker down. In team terms we have a broad range of abilities in each class and I think we are further ahead than we were at this stage in 2006.

“Remember, then we were playing away and were restricted in the number of people we could send to many overseas regattas. Here in Weymouth we have taken the opportunity of bringing more people.”

Britain is admired for its management as well as its success. Chasing are Australia, the United States, France, Spain and Brazil and, from the smaller nations, Croatia.

One of the more bloody scraps would be in the Finn singlehander. Reigning gold medallist, 2004 gold medallist, and the 1996 and 2000 Laser silver and gold medallist Ben Ainslie has had his hands full for the last week with skippering Britain’s America’s Cup challengers, Team Origin, in Cowes.

He is underweight if Weymouth Bay produces lively conditions and is having to rely on snatched days of training in Valencia while also competing in the Audi MedCup series, to which he returns the week after next. Rivals Ed Wright and Giles Scott have been sticking to the Finn class.

In the Laser class 2008 gold medallist Paul Goodison is being pushed hard by Nick Thompson, bronze medallist at last year’s world championship. This year’s worlds at Hayling Island start 29 August.

At the more intriguing end of the scale, Britain has three teams entered in the women’s match racing. The Macgregor sisters, Lucy and Kate, with Annie Lush remain the favourites but against them will be Pippa Wilson, one of the ‘three blondes in a boat’ 2008 gold medallists. She was supposed to campaign a 470 with Saskia Clark, walked away from it in Miami earlier this year, and up stepped another of the three, Sarah Ayton to race with Clark.

One of Wilson’s crew is Ally Martin, who was sailing with Lucy Macgregor, so the crew chemistry reshuffle, which so often happens, continues, though Park also feels that there could be opportunities to mix and match.

Intriguing, too, will be the Star class, where current gold medallists Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson have also been tied up with big boat America’s Cup and MedCup racing. The big fight could be between two Brazilians. Torben Grael is a past gold medallist – his daughter Martine is campaigning a 470 - and Robert Scheidt took the silver in China. Both have been away from the Luna Rossa MedCup team training hard.

Racing is scheduled every day at 11.00 with the paralympic medal deciders on Friday, the rest on Saturday.

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