Plain sailing? 'We're confident we've done hard yards'

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The Independent Online

The fairy story that has been British Olympic yachting over the last 20 years seems set to continue in China led by the golden boy that is Ben Ainslie, three golden blondes in Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb and Pippa Wilson, and a pair of west country buccaneers called Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes.

The target is four medals, compared to five in each of the last two games in Athens and Sydney, though the Olympic bosses are hoping for five, just one less than the burden placed on the best medal delivery hope, cycling.

"No team is bullet-proof, but we are better prepared than any previous Olympic sailing team," says their manager Stephen Park. "We go in good heart, confident we have done the hard yards and, providing the dice don't roll against us, we should be well-placed." Britain's has talent in abundance, funding, though by no means the most lavish, aplenty, and, if organisation is the essential platform, then the Royal Yachting Association is the model for many, the envy of all.

The chefs are in place, the physios are already on daily duty, a pampering support team of 20 is ready to smooth the way, and nothing has been left to chance except chance itself on what is the treacherous track that is the 2008 Olympic sailing venue of Qingdao.

It has achieved international notoriety with pictures of volunteers draped in huge dollops of green algae and seaweed, thanks to the perfect growing conditions in less than crystal clear water turned into a stinging soup by hot and humid conditions.

In typical Chinese style, the authorities threw a thousand clear up boats and tens of thousands of people plus the army at the clear-up job while installing a barrage barrier 32 kilometres long across the bay.

A more serious threat to a schedule that calls for between 11 and 16 races for the 11 classes comes from a lack of wind on a stretch of water that will be experiencing the strongest tides of the year.

The British team has been sailing there ever since the end of the last Games. It has a team house, 10 container loads of kit, including two for inside the venue which are air-conditioned and fully fitted out for a combination of repairs, an office and resting. The Olympic village will be a five-star international hotel which will open for business immediately after the follow-on Paralympics are over. Britain has medal hopes there, too.

Ainslie has three medals in a row, a silver and two golds, and two thirds of the Yngling team are defending their Athens gold after a split with former skipper Shirley Robertson. These, plus the intimidating Morrison and Rhodes in the 49er high performance dinghy, means the medal potential runs deep.

Sydney gold medallist Iain Percy and new crew Andrew Simpson have an even chance in the Star. Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield took silver in the 470 in Athens and their women counterparts, Christina Bassadone and Saskia Clark are improving strongly after Clark's back injury.

Ayton's fiancé Nick Dempsey and Bryony Shaw carry the windsurfer hopes, while Paul Goodison won his fourth consecutive Laser European Championship at Nieuwpoort, Belgium and Penny Clark in the women's division is in the zone, and Leigh McMillan and Will Howden are knocking on the door in the Tornado catamaran.

But Park is not counting any chickens. "There are 33 medals up for grabs and you could see sailors from 15 to 20 countries on the podium to collect them," he says. "It is time to do the business."