Shifting winds mar Covell and Walker's fine-tuning

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The Independent Online

As two-man keel boats go the Star, which was designed in 1911, is pretty quirky and, as race tracks go, the Chesapeake Bay off one of Maryland's oldest cities fits the same description. But there is nothing remotely quirky about the methodical way in which Ian Walker and Mark Covell, Britain's wild cards in an Olympic sailing squad which is strongly focused on medals, is using the Nautica World Championship here to fine tune their campaign.

The last pair to do well in the Star were also the last to win a sailing gold for Britain, Mike McIntyre and Bryn Vaile in Korea in 1988. Walker and Covell, despite being in the boat for only a year, have already won the respect of much more experienced rivals. But they are aware that, after this regatta of just six races, there are only two more to go, at Medemblik, the Netherlands, at the end of this month and at Kiel, Germany, next month.

In the first race, and in a fleet of 112 boats from 29 countries, they showed why. An earlier attempt to start was abandoned when the shifting north-westerly breeze lurched too far to make continuation sensible. Walker and Covell had been doing well, but the second start was not so successful and they were 36th at the end of the first, two-and-a-half-mile leg.

"It was always going to be tricky, but it was one of those days when you really had to stick to your guns, especially when you were chasing a spot where you thought there would be better breeze," Covell said. "But we were able to make some opportunities and create some leverage." Enough to pull back to sixth at the end when, as Walker added: "We could have finished with a result that we would have wanted to discard."

Also pushing up was New Zealand's Ian Brady, who finished fifth and needs a strong result both to qualify his country for one of the 17 spots in Sydney and grab the place for himself.

Even the runaway leader, Mark Reynolds, the San Diegan who has already been selected for the Games, was given a fright at the end. "It was as close as it could have gotten without losing it," he said as the Swede Mats Johannsson made big gains on the last leg to finish second by just over a boat length. Another American, John MacCausland, was third in a top 10 which included seven countries.