Trapeze artists are really flying

Sailing: Favourites in full flow

Oh, they cut though the water with the greatest of ease, those daring young men on their sailing trapeze...

You can't resist adapting the lyrics of songwriter George Leybourne as you witness Chris Draper and Simon Hiscocks, the British pair ranked No 1 in the world, aboard their 49er, regarded as the coolest, "sexiest" boat in Olympic sailing.

"Trapezing", in a yachting context, it should be explained, is the art of hanging out from the boat on a harness and a wire to counteract the force of the sails, in order to keep the craft upright. "It's a bit like standing up in a hammock, juggling," says helmsman Draper, with a wry smile. "It's the most unforgiving of all the boats. If you sit down, it falls over. Simple as that. And you couldn't get into this boat if you were a fat slob."

This "double-handed, high-performance, twin-trapeze dinghy" is no craft for anyone but the most nimble and swift-thinking sailor. For Draper, 26, and his crew, Hiscocks, 31, it represents the means to a glorious end - an Athens gold, for which they are favourites to beat their principal rivals, the Germans and Spanish, in this class.

"The best thing about it is, while Ben [Ainslie] will be sailing upwind [in his Finn-class yacht], hiking out hard, leaning outside of his boat and being in a lot of physical pain, Simon and I will be standing out on our trapezes, which is virtually effortless," enthuses Draper. "Racing in these is really a heck of a lot of fun, and the boat is just awesome - a lightweight flying machine. It's the rally car of the sailing world. A souped-up classic. That's why it attracts all the young guns. It requires a lot more agility than other classes. We're always on our feet; we're never sitting down. The boat's very efficient. We can do 15mph in 10mph winds. But consequently, that means it turns over very easily."

Training exercises on land include running between the rungs of ladders which are laid flat, and standing on wobble-boards to stimulate movement of yacht. But most of their preparation takes place on water at their home base of Weymouth and the British Olympic sailing squad's home from home in Glyfada, near Athens.

"Mine and Simon's roles are very different," says Draper. "Simon is very agile about the boat, and dynamic. He's incred-ibly fit and has massive lungs. He needs his strength to pull the spinnaker up and down quickly, and he also trims the main sail as we're going along. Effectively, all I do really is steer. He's the workhorse. I tend to do more of the thinking."

Inspired by his father, Sheffield-born Draper's first sailing experience was as a seven-year-old. Then the family moved down to the south coast. "We began mixing with the [Iain] Percy family and other notable sailing families, sailing Optimists," recalls Draper. "From then on, that's all I really wanted to do."

Draper, who worked for a sailmaker for a year before being accepted at Portsmouth University to study sports science, adds: "Ultimately, I suppose, my dream would be to sail in the America's Cup. But I've always been one for the moment. I'm just enjoying the competitive element, and achieving what we set out to do. I find that massively rewarding."

The partnership with Hiscocks was established after the last Olympics. At the Sydney Games, Hiscocks, from Dorking, secured a silver, with Ian Barker, in the 49er class. In the same year, Draper had won the British trial in the 470 dinghy class, but the selection committee opted for the more experienced Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield.

"That was disappointing, but made me realise I could do it, if I really put my mind to it," he says. "Simon and I have finished second, first and second in the last three world champs. There have only been two or three events in the past two or three years where we haven't medalled." Earlier this month, they won the 49er Euro-pean Championships at Lake Garda, Italy.

Clearly, Draper and Hiscocks enjoy a harmonious rapport. "We spend more time together than a married couple would, living and training together 12 days out of every 14," Draper says. "We have to get on well - and we do." Not that they agree on every facet of preparation. Draper seeks the assistance of a motivational coach, Paul Stevens. "He's helped me a lot. Most of the time, I'm a laid-back character. I don't always find it easy to turn it on and find that single-mindedness you need at this level." But Hiscocks mocks the concept of such an aid.

Barring mishaps, a podium place appears assured next month. "It's starting to get really exciting, now we've started that final climb to the Games," says Draper. "Although we finished second in the last worlds [championships], we left something to work on."

From these trapeze artists, you certainly couldn't ask for a better-balanced act.