OLYMPICS / Barcelona 1992: Sailing: Time to build on Smith's example: Stuart Alexander on why it was not smooth sailing for the British in Barcelona

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

THE MORNING after winning Britain's sole Olympic sailing medal, Lawrie Smith was putting his achievement in perspective. 'We only spent six months and we won a bronze medal. That's good value isn't it?' he asked.

The British team entered the 10 events with hopes of winning four or five medals. Two-thirds of the way through, four were still possible. What went wrong? The chief coach, Rod Carr, opined that Britain, set in a blustery Channel and North Sea, does not provide ideal preparation in light-airs sailing, and the conditions were lighter than forecast in Barcelona.

What he did not say was that there is not enough talent at the top of British sailing and one reason for that is that competition is horribly fragmented.

The sport needs leagues, local, regional and national, in a limited number of boats all sailing the same type of race. That way there would be a ladder upwards for the winners, and a market downwards for equipment.

There will be a set of proposals given their first airing in September on how to improve for the event in Savannah at the 1996 Atlanta Games. That will be a light-airs venue, too, but at last there is some serious consideration being given to the idea that Britain's Olympic sailing centre of excellence should not be in Britain, but always at the next Olympic venue.

That would help, but so, too, would stronger leadership and tighter management. The coaching system has been undermined at the top level as personal helpers are sought by each competitor and, just as the competition needs more structure at the bottom so it would need more coaching just below Olympic level. To pander to the competitors at the top is not as good as managing them.

It is was simple enough to pinpoint one gamble, a directional switch by Stuart Childerley in the Finn, going for gold or broke; and it was broke. In the 470, Paul Brotherton and Andy Hemmings let the pressure get to them in a competition where the risk-takers were rewarded.

Penny Way, the women's boardsailing world champion,looked brittle throughout, her male counterpart, Barrie Edgington, had a bad regatta. At Olympic level such cracks will be mercilessly exploited. Britain needs to be able to compete at that level. The people who run the sport owe future generations the opportunity of excellence.

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