Olympic legacy factor gets Dorset buzzing

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The Independent Online

Across the bay, families, couples and friends were enjoying the laid-back traditional delights of a typical, sunshine and clouds British summer holiday, including donkey rides on the sands, but a couple of miles away there was tension in the air. Olympic tension.

The 2012 Games may have just under two years to kick off in London, but down in Dorset things are buzzing this week. Top squads from 57 countries are doing battle. The tracks are not temporary or computer-generated. This is real.

The shadow of possible budget cuts to run the Games hangs over all of the Olympic events as the government works towards its spending review decisions, but one of the major selling points in the overall British bid, the legacy factor, is being delivered long before the Games take place.

The former Portland naval base has been transformed and was long ago identified as the preferred venue to host not just the Olympics but the national training base for all of Britain’s elite sailors, as a site for the complementary Portland Marina, which is also up and running, and as a host for regattas regional, national and international.

So far, everything is running smoothly, on time, and expected to be within its £8.5m. budget. If there is an immediate tight fit it is trying to squeeze 975 athletes, their 212 coaches, loads of officials and media in to the time and space available.

It will not be as crowded as it is now come the Games. Then, there is a maximum limit of 380 athletes and the village which will house them will be completed. This week there is only a show flat to see.

As an equipment sport, sailing takes up a lot of room. There are fewer boats for the rowers and a lot fewer horses for the equestrians, but there is a justifiable feeling that, if the organisation can cope this year, then it should be a whole lot easier two years down the line.

Previously this Skandia Sail for Gold regatta has been in the hands of the national governing body, the Royal Yachting Association, but this time the Games management team is much in evidence.

The sailing manager is Rob Andrews, who has seen many Olympic venues in his time as a coach, and the field of play manager is Rod Carr, a former UK Olympic coach, chief executive of the RYA, a chef de mission at previous games and recent recipient of the CBE.

The technical operation manager, who includes scrutineering of all the equipment among his tasks, is Pete Allam, an Olympic bronze medallist in the Flying Dutchman with Jo Richards, in 1984, and the fourth member of the quartet is Tessa Bartlett, the sailing services manager, who will return after taking maternity leave.

Either co-operating with them and all of the race officers on five courses, or on their backs, is a team from the world governing body, the Southampton-based International Sailing Federation.

The call, as it is nationally, is also out for volunteers. “We are looking at the low hundreds and they will also be chosen from applicants nationally and internationally, but we hope there will be a good representation of locals,” says Andrews.

There is at least some evidence that the locals are already taking the visitors to their hearts. Many teams have already set up, or plan to, their training camps. The Japanese, for instance, have already been here for two months.

A maximum of four or five will be given facilities in the Olympic venue in the rest of the time running up to the Games. Those already in the area have been pleasantly surprised at being greeted and engaged in supermarket queues when out buying the evening pasta.

For the public, in addition to coming down to the Olympic village this week, they can also expect to be offered taster sessions in a sailing boat and on Saturday, when all the medals are decided, the week-long commentary being streamed on the internet, will be attached to live television on big screens.

The problem of driving in and out of the Portland cul-de-sac will not have gone away, but Andrews insists: “We have a major opportunity to deliver a great Games for the competitors. Good racing conditions will also make it look awesome.”

The classes:

R-SX Windsurfer, Men: The 2.86m board has a 9.5 sq.m. sail for the men and is highly athletic. The equipment is supplied and the races are over short courses close to the land.

R-SX Windsurfer, Women: The women use the same board as the men but have a smaller sail area, 8.5 sq. m.

Laser (Men): the Bruce Kirby-designed simple hull, single mast and single sail first appeared in 1969 but was not chosen as an Olympic class until 1996. There are now about 170,000 worldwide and for the Olympic Games the equipment is supplied. Ideal crew weight 80/82kg.

Laser Radial (Women); The version for the women replaced the Europe singlehander for women in 2008 and uses the same hull as that used by the men. But the mast is shorter and the sail area reduced. Ideal crew weight 60 to 70kg.

Finn: Singlehander, single mast, single sail but for heavier competitors than the Laser – perhaps over 90kg even up to 97kg in windier conditions. Designed in Finland by Richard Sarby for the Helsinki Games in 1952. The yacht campaigned by IOC president Jacques Rogge.

470 dinghy (Men and Women): Was designed in France by Andre Cornu in 1963 and was first sailed in the Games in 1976, when it was an open class in which men and women could compete. The women were given their own fleet in 1988. The boat is still high performance in a breeze, but is now dated and, as a class, is perhaps the most vulnerable in the event of either change or a reduction in classes in 2016.

49-er : is the high performance two-man dinghy with boat crew using trapeze wires to lean out from the racks attached to the side of each hull. Easy to tip up, need high agility and run short races, but more of them, in an Olympic series. First seen at the Sydney Olympic in 2,000, on the home waters of Australian designer Frank Bethwaite.

Star: two-man keel-boat class which was designed by Francis Swelguth in 1911 and first appeared in the 1932 Olympic Games. Needs a fast-thinking crew, preferably heavy upfront, to control a very tweaky, sensitive 22’ 7” boat which has no spinnaker, but a very fragile, very thin mast.

Elliott 6m: Will make its first appearance in 2012 after the Yngling was dropped as a three-woman keelboat for replaced and replaced by this 6m keelboat, designed by New Zealander Greg Elliott. The supplied equipment will again be used by three-woman crews, maximum all-up weight 205kg, but in a one-on-one match series instead of racing as a fleet.

Ones to watch: Finn: The internal war between reigning gold medallist Ben Ainslie and two other Brits who have been improving while he has been away, Ed Wright and Giles Scott.

49-er: There are  five hot pairings in the British squad with Stevie Morrison/Ben Rhodes now neck and neck with Chris Draper/Pete Greenhalgh.

Star: The reigning British gold medallists will to return to form quickly against the Brazilians and the French.

RSX Men: Winning the “leather”`medal last time was not good enough for a Nick Dempsey now free from injury.

RSX Women: Bronze for Bryony Shaw in China made her “very happy” but hoping for more on her home waters.

470 Women: Double gold medallist Sarah Ayton with 470 crew Saskia Clark are on an upward trend.