Merricks and Walker claim silver medal

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The Independent Online
By the narrowest of margins John Merricks and Ian Walker added a second silver medal to Britain's Olympic sailing haul yesterday. They were 12th in their last race,as the weather played its tricks and the computer said a tie-break would be needed to separate them from the Portuguese pair of Vitor Rocha and Nuno Barreto. However, old-fashioned paper-and- pencil mathematics suggested they had a one-point advantage, and eventually the computer agreed.

"Crikey, what a race. It couldn't have been worse apart from the outcome," Merricks said after enduring sharp changes of weather as they tried to stay ahead of their rivals. "When we were down near the committee boat we turned to it and I hope our faces said 'what's going on, why are we racing in this'."

It was not until they sailed the boat back into the marina that their team colleague Bethan Raggatt was able to tell them the silver was safe. "There was a feeling of complete relief. We are very happy with the silver, we are very happy to have joined Ben's club," Merricks added. "It was an absolute nightmare," Walker said.

The cheers from the British camp drowned out the sighs of relief, not least because the pair have worked so hard for the medal and had to cope with intense pressure in a regatta which never ran smoothly for them.

There was also the knowledge that this is the best sailing result in three Olympics when added to the silver won by Ben Ainslie in the singlehanded Laser the previous day.

It had not been the happiest of starts with Merricks and Walker eighth at the first mark when they needed both to be in the top nine and ahead of the Portuguese to be sure of silver. While the main bunch headed to the left side of the course, Merricks and Walker had gone right with Rocha and Barreto, making sure they were ahead of them. "We got completely stuffed," Walker said. "The course turned inside out, we were going upwind when we should have been reaching down."

The storm coming through made life more difficult, the soggy three-to- four knot near calm which followed it, combined with a strong tide pushing them down the course, made the finale into something of a lottery as they slipped to 12th and then 14th with the Portuguese climbing from 22nd to 19th and knowing they would discard such a poor placing.

The big move came on the final leg when they decided to peel away from the Argentinians ahead of them, set a spinnaker. They picked up a favourable breeze and picked up the two places, which in the end avoided any need for a tie-break.

Andy Beadsworth was again having to play it the hard way in his semi- final match race against the German double gold medallist Jochen Schumann in the three-man Soling. He had come back from 2-0 down in his best of five quarter-final against Denmark's Stig Westergaard and soon found himself in the same position against Schumann.

In their first race he was only briefly in the lead as the German made superior boat speed count in the eight to nine knot breeze, not the favourite for Beadsworth and crew Barry Parkin and Adrian Stead. Although Beadsworth was ahead by two boat lengths in the second, Schumann was catching him on the run. In trying to prevent him passing, Beadsworth incurred a penalty.

The Britons put in a brilliant start and were leading comprehensively in the third when it was abandoned as the wind direction shifted 50 degrees. It was feared the set of races would be terminated and Schumann would go through to the final leaving Beadsworth only the bronze to play for. But the remainder of the best of five will now be played today, although they must be completed by midday.

The Ipswich-born Theresa Zabell led the last race from start to finish and again claimed the gold medal in the women's 470 she won in Barcelona, making it two golds for Spain. The silver went to Japan, their first sailing medal, and the Ukrainian pair added the bronze to the gold won by their 470 male team-mates. Britain's Bethan Raggatt and Sue Carr were 11th.