Sailors are first to say hello

Inside Lines
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The Independent Online

If Britain's sailors are not yet quite on the crest of a wave as the Olympics approach, then they are certainly getting there ahead of most other sports. So far the sailing squad is the only one to be rubber-stamped by the British Olympic Association as being officially Sydney-bound. The rest will follow in due course, but with four months to go before the opening ceremony it would be good to see a few more names on the passenger list. The majority of our yachtsmen and women, whose sport has been among the most consistently successful in the Games, had their berths confirmed after last week's Olympic trials, with Ben Ainslie, silver-medallist in Atlanta, and Iain Percy heading the list of hopefuls. But it is particularly pleasing to note the presence of Ian Walker and Mark Covell, whose poignant story we told in these pages some months ago. They are the couple whose partnership was forged out of tragedy when their respective shipmates met untimely deaths, Covell's helmsman Glyn Charles being swept away by a freak wave in the Tasman Sea, and Walker's co-Olympic silver medallist John Merricks being killed instantly when the vehicle in which they were both travelling overturned on an Italian hillside. Whatever they achieve in Sydney Harbour (and recent high placings in their Star-class keelboat earmark them as strong medal prospects), this modern tale of two men in a boat is sure to be one of the most captivating of the Games. The way things are shaping up for Team GB, the Games are likely to be a celebration of the unsung, with most medals coming from the so-called fringe sports such as sailing, triathlon, taekwondo and archery, where our world No 2 woman, Alison Williamson, who has even posed topless to boost her publicity-starved sport, is within range of a gold medal despite not receiving a penny from the Lottery.

Hearty Reg still a leg-end

Friends and fans of veteran TV boxing commentator Reg Gutteridge will be pleased to know that he is making a comeback, at 76, after going the distance with a heart surgeon. Reg is recovering at his Barnet home following a quadruple bypass operation which, he says, has left him weak but still in there punching, as always, like a good 'un. The other good news is that his biography, King of Commentary, is now available in paperback (Blake, £7.95), a knock-out read, not least for those of us who have shared some of his game-for-a laugh exploits, like the time he cleared a Riviera beach in seconds. Not everyone knows that Reg, as a young soldier, had a leg blown off in the D-day landings. Unstrapping the replacement limb while taking a break before covering a fight in the South of France many years later, he hopped down to the water's edge , took off his dressing-gown, sat down and yelled "Sharks!" A few dozen blue-rinsed American matrons broke sprint records as they ran for cover.

Aussies can tucker up, after all

Not content with requiring the world's snappers to dress for the occasion (socks and shirts de rigueur at trackside), Sydney's Olympic organisers have been trying to make proceedings even more formal by banning fans from taking their own food and drink into Games venues. However, the proposals put forward by Olympics minister Michael Knight brought such fierce reaction from the tucker-loving Aussies that he has had to backtrack, and yesterday it was agreed that some food and and drink would be allowed. "We will not stop people from bringing in small amounts of snack food, fruit, sandwiches or plastic bottles of water," said Olympic Co-ordination Authority head David Richmond. "If people have special diet needs it's their call. If there are infant and children needs, obviously we are not going to be very fussed." Plans to ask spectators to produce medical certificates if they need to take in special dietary foods have now been scrapped. But cooler boxes will still be barred. The organisers' bid to protect the official fast-food franchises had brought strong reaction from New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Chris Puplick, who described the ban as a "commercial rip-off" and encouraged people to boycott the burger-and-chips outlets. New Wembley please note.

Barada's London comeback

Sport, like showbusiness, has its share of nutty stalkers, as Monica Seles will testify. The latest victim of such an attack makes his comeback from serious injury in London next month. Egypt's Ahmed Barada, last year's losing finalist, is booked to play in the Equitable Life Super Series squash finals at the Broadgate Arena, near Liverpool Street, from 5-9 June; just two months after he was stabbed in the back by a mystery assailant outside his home in Cairo. The 22-year-old world No 3, who underwent an operation on wounds near his spinal cord, will take on Scotland's world champion, Peter Nicol, and the second-ranked Jonathon Power, of Canada.