Britain's sailors enter the melting-pot
Saturday 09 August 2008
The open air sauna that is the Olympic sailing track faces its first big test today as two of Britain's brightest medal hopes, Ben Ainslie in the Finn singlehander, and the three-woman team of Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb and Pippa Wilson in the Yngling keelboat, open their accounts.
Ainslie, who is hoping to avoid a tendency to bomb in the early stages of a regatta and then storm into a comeback, is riding a medal record of silver in 1996 and gold in both 2000 and 2004 as well as being current world and European champion. He is "the governor", unbeaten in the Finn class since the last games, the undisputed king of the boat park, and the other 25 Finn contenders may be left scrapping for the minor medals.
Two of the three blondes in a boat, the Sarahs, are also defending gold won in Athens and need to demoralise the Americans and the Russians early to give them what should be a power-play platform. All 400 competitors from 62 countries - Britain is one of only four with every cannon loaded - are hoping that conditions will be worthy of Olympic competition.
The final practice race on Thursday could not go ahead as the notoriously light winds returned, making any serious progress impossible against a roaring three-knot tide. At least the green carpet plague of seaweed-like algae, which has taken an army of soldiers and volunteers to clear and necessitated the hasty erection of a 20-mile long barrier boom, is not in evidence.
Slightly reluctantly, the Royal Yachting Association's Olympic manager Stephen Park has bowed to outside pressure and increased his medal haul prediction from three to four -"we were being accused of setting a soft target," he explained - but, significantly, he said he would be disappointed if every member of the British team were not involved in the medal shoot-out which is restricted to the top 10 in the 11 classes.
Cycling may be seen as the biggest hope for the greatest number of British medals, but, if the chips fall favourably, the sailors could pull in even more than the five they have bagged at each of the last two Olympics.
That is, if there are medal races in all 11 classes and fortunes are favouring British interests in all of them. Apart from light winds threatening a programme of what should be 11 races, 10 plus one, in every class except the 49er, which should be 15 plus one, there is also the fog factor.
When that descends like a sickly shroud, the sailors cannot sometimes even see each other, never mind a mark of the course half a mile away. The regatta rules have had to be written so that, in the event of the programme being cut down, only one race would be needed to decide the medal winners.
But they have now been modified so that there will be no double points medal decider until at least six races have been sailed. What has not been modified is the vulnerability which the choice of Qingdao has created of turning what should be a pinnacle regatta into a five-ring lottery. As the Chinese threaten, the sailing may be in for interesting times.
Qingdao is about 450 miles from Beijing, a city of six million people, and at times about half of them seem to be in volunteer shirts. The distance meant that only the 470 women pair of Christina Bassadone and Saskia Clark was able to join the rest of Team GB for the opening ceremony parade in Beijing last night (Friday). The real fireworks begin on the track.
WWE Raw results: Brock Lesnar suspended for post-Wrestlemania 31 rampage after losing title to Seth Rollins
Raheem Sterling interview: No amount of money can convince Sterling to stay at Liverpool
The 10 potential biggest transfers of the summer: Raheem Sterling, Theo Walcott and Radamel Falcao in the mix
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England shirt is now
Liverpool injury news: Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren expected to be ready for Arsenal clash
- 2 Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
- 3 Gamers confess the worst things they've done in The Sims
- 4 6-year-old writes ice cold Valentine's card to his stepmother
- 5 Syrian child photographed 'surrendering to camera because she thought it was a gun'
Katie Hopkins attacked me on Twitter — so I reported her to the police for inciting racial hatred
Street preacher quoting from the Bible fined for calling homosexuality an 'abomination'
Woman filmed launching racist tirade against men on the Tube for speaking in 'own lingo'
David Cameron calls Labour 'hopeless, sneering socialists' while announcing 7-day NHS plans
Revealed: Putin's army of pro-Kremlin bloggers
Katie Hopkins reported to the police for race hatred by Labour MP Simon Danczuk after tweet about Pakistani men