Olympic Countdown: Sailing: Britain look for right way

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN go into the 1992 Olympics with what looks like their strongest sailing squad for some time, but nevertheless the bookmakers would have a hard time assessing the pre-start odds.

The competition is not only becoming tougher, it is coming from an increasing number of countries. There are 412 competitors from more than 50 countries in the 265 entries spread over 10 classes. And there is a significant lottery factor.

The traditionally strong countries will probably still dominate the medals again, with the United States, despite sailing's narrow and elitist appeal there, in the hunt for at least three top prizes.

Kevin Mahaney in the Soling, Mark Reynolds in the Star and J J Isler in the women's 470 all have reason to think it may be their year.

The Spanish hosts have set their hearts and stacks of cash on success, perhaps knowing they are far more likely to do well on the water than on the track. In Teresa Zabell they have the top-ranked women's 470 helmsman and in Luis Doreste the second-ranked Flying Dutchman helmsman. They will have to work hard.

The French, the only ones to win two golds in Seoul, maintain their strict squad system. They hope that self-inflicted pressure on the Spanish will take the heat off them and so give them an easier run. Only in Thierry Berger, in the FD, do they have a world-ranked No 1.

But then the Danes, Germans, Scandinavians, Italians, New Zealanders and even a couple of Brazilians are also in with a shout.

How the might of the former Soviet Union will now re-emerge under Estonian or federalist flags has yet to be seen. But sports competitors are usually more interested in their sport than their political masters.

And then there are the British, who have a sort of squad system, but largely campaign individually. They have a form of central funding through the Royal Yachting Association and the Richard Ellis elite support scheme, but most also rely on personal sponsorship or jobs in the marine industry. And they move between central RYA coaching and their own personal helpers.

In the heat of Olympic battle, especially in waters where the wind may be shifty, or stronger in some parts of the course than others, there is also the need for a good dollop of luck.

There are three top prospects for gold. Lawrie Smith has his work cut out in the three-man Soling, but Stuart Childerley should not be put off too much by his Hungarian opponent Attila Szilvassy having the letters HUN on the mainsail of his singlehanded Finn. Penny Way, in the first Olympic staging of the women's board, makes up the trio.

And do not be surprised to see Penny's male counterpart Barrie Edgington up there, too, with the men's 470 dinghy pairing of Paul Brotherton and Andy Hemmings able to produce a firecracker of a finish.

The structure of the sailing events, however, means that some of the problems have already been removed. Each country can send only one representative boat to each of the 10 events. So, even if a country have three or four in the top 10 in any class, they can select only one.

With the weather then playing its part - most of the British would prefer the light to medium winds expected than the strong sea breezes which can develop in the afternoons - Union Jack hopes are flying confidently.

GREAT BRITAIN (first named is helm): Soling (three-man): L Smith, R Cruikshank, O Stewart. Star (two-man): D Howlett, P Lawrence. Tornado (two-person catamaran): D Williams, I Rhodes. Flying Dutchman (two-man): A Stead, P Allam. Finn (single-handed man): S Childerley. Europe (single-handed woman): S Robertson. 470 (two-handed) dinghy: men: P Brotherton, A Hemmings; women: D Jarvis, S Carr. Boards: man: BEdgington; woman: P Way.