Double injury blow for British sailing hopes


Injuries have hit British medal prospects at the world championships of sailing in Fremantle. Double Olympic gold medallist Iain Percy was brought ashore in agony today when suffering back spasm pains which he fears have forced him out of a bid for a second world championship title in the Star two-man keelboat.

It was the second time in three months he has been hit by injury at a major championship and the second injury blow on the same day to the British team.

Percy and 2008 fellow gold medallist Andrew Simpson were leading overall and in the top three during the fifth race of their series when Percy, who also won gold in the Finn singlehander in Sydney, was in so much pain that, said Simpson: “He was in tears. We hoped we could just hang on to the end of the race, retire from the second race of the day and be back on Thursday.”

Instead they retired immediately, Percy transferred to his coach Nick Harrison’s support boat, and was rushed back to the dock. There, lying on the pontoon, he was first attended by one of the event medics while still suffering back spasms, helped to the clubhouse to change out of his foul weather gear, then transported to a physiotherapy clinic.

“Iain was completely paralysed, which made us even more confused when we were given a yellow flag penalty, and was in tears,” said Simpson. “He is a tough guy and I have never seen him like that. We probably won’t be sailing again in this regatta; the back is the most important part of your body.”

The blow to Britain’s medal hopes at the world championships of sailing in Fremantle – defending the Olympic gold medal in Weymouth is much more important – came after Percy had to pull out of the Star class European championships in Dublin last September with ankle ligament damage. The second announcement was that 2008 Olympic representative Ben Rhodes was also flying home.

Added to the disqualification of Ben Ainslie from the Finn singlehander, though Britain’s Giles Scott still won gold, Ed Wright bronze, it has been a difficult time for Britain’s Olympic manager Stephen Park.

He was also coming to terms with British 49er sailors Rhodes and helmsman Stevie Morrison being forced to withdraw following an injury to Rhodes sustained during racing on Monday.

They represented Britain at the 2008 Olympic Games and were fighting to win the place again in Weymouth next year. While seven of the 10 class representatives have already been picked to represent Britain, it is possible that the remaining three will not be decided until the Princess Sofia regatta in Mallorca next April. Percy and Simpson are already picked.

During the first of their three opening day races, Rhodes suffered a rib strain but, in spite of being in considerable pain, managed to complete all three.

With the injury restricting Rhodes’ ability to breathe and move freely, there was concern for his safety in such an athletic, high performance boat.

Rhodes is returning home to undergo intensive rehabilitation through the Royal Yachting Association, the English Institute of Sport, and British Olympic Association facilities.

Helmsman Stevie Morrison said of their withdrawal: “We’re hugely disappointed not to be able to continue with the event.  The good news with Ben’s injury is that it’s fixable, it’s just not fixable overnight, so the best thing is for him to return back to the UK.

“We came into the event in good shape, really believing we were sailing well and our pre-regatta training showed that.  We were more confident than we’ve probably felt in a couple of years – we have good kit, we’re sailing well together thanks to the work that we’ve been doing with coach Paul Brotherton and the rest of the Skandia Team GBR squad, so it feels like a lost opportunity to put that into practice.

“It’s a setback for sure, but setbacks only make you stronger and in terms of our qualification for the Olympics, we know how competitive we are.”

Annie Lush and the Macgregor sisters Lucy and Kate are through to the quarter finals of the women’s match racing.