Weymouth in sight, Sydney the target

This week the action gets serious for Britain's sailors
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The Independent Online

It is because an Olympic medal is still the most valuable currency in sailing that every four years hundreds of athletes expend blood, sweat and tears in the quest to bank the gong that will underpin a professional career in the sport. And this week is crunch time.

Well, it may be. The "Chernikeeff Sailing Regatta - British Olympic Trials" begin tomorrow. And in Olympic circles Britain is good. The haul of two silver medals at Atlanta was applauded at the time but in truth was a slightly disappointing reflection of the calibre of the British squad. This time Team GBR are better funded thanks to the Lottery and the World Class Performance scheme. But first Britain's finest must negotiate the vagaries of the British spring down in Weymouth and triumph at the trials regatta. Well, most of them must.

Having rued a selection system that in the past sent what were perceived to be the wrong sailors to the Games purely on the basis of a win at the trials, the Royal Yachting Association selection committee has given itself a get-out clause. The Notice of Race clearly states: "Winning the Chernikeeff Sailing Regatta - Olympic Trials does not automatically imply selection."

So, if Iain Percy does not dominate the mens' heavyweight Finn class, or if Andy Beadsworth isn't able to top the rankings in the match-race Solings in a week's time, the trials for those two disciplines are almost certain to progress.

Percy has comprehensively upstaged all of the other hopefuls in the past year and is one of the gang of five whose names spring immediately to mind in potential medal-haul arithmetic. Beadsworth narrowly missed out on a bronze last time and is back with his hunger intact, his middleman Barry Parkin in place and a new frontman in Richard Sydenham.

The likes of Ian Williams, Andy Green and others from an older generation such as Eddie Owen and Phil Crebbin may push the United Airlines-sponsored team hard, but if they push too hard they will find themselves embroiled in a continuing trials process that could go on for a month.

The mens' sailboard class should effectively be a two-horse race between the 19-year-old newcomer Nick Dempsey, who won two races at the pre-Olympics, and the more seasoned performer Dominic Tidey, while anything other than a victory for Christine Johnston in the womens' sailboard will be an upset. And in the mens' 470 Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield have been the form performers but never head and shoulders above others like Graham Vials and Magnus Leask, Chris Draper and Dan Newman or Chips Howarth.

The exciting new class - the twin-trapeze 49er - is impossible to call. There is strength in depth across the 17-boat fleet but all of the top five have had their moments on the international circuits. If it's windy, expect Tim Robinson and Zeb Elliot to shine, if it's tricky it could be Ian Barker and Simon Hiscocks. But you can't write off the young upstarts Alistair Richardson and Peter Greenhalgh or the Budgen brothers, Andy and Ian. And there's always Paul Brotherton, who has been to the Games before but this week will need to raise his game to prevail.

While dreams are fulfilled and hopes dashed on the water this week, there are three classes where the short-term pressure is completely off. Ben Ainslie, Shirley Robertson and Ian Walker and Mark Covell have already assured their places in Sydney by pre-qualifying. The Laser, Europe and Star representatives have proved their medal winning potential with top-three performances at their respective world championships.

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