Racers enjoy a vital respite

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The Independent Online
An enforced day off yesterday because of too much wind was both an irritation and a blessing for those on a roll in the regatta here.

Shirley Robertson, leading the Europes, and John Merricks and Ian Walker, third in the 470s, wanted to keep their run of form going. But they were also aware of the value of a rare day off in what is becoming an increasingly punishing schedule.

After three races on a breezy Sunday, Walker said he was "absolutely knackered". The reason is that sailing is becoming physically more stressful.

It demands athleticism, the body is often severely contorted, the boats are awkward, and the track is bouncy. With races lasting around 45 minutes, competitors are looking at the equivalent of two or three 10,000m races a day for six consecutive days when they go to the Olympics. Merricks and Walker came here knowing they could have to finish 19 races.

For windsurfers the position is even harder because a former rule, largely unenforceable, that competitors could not use their arms and bodies to pump the sail, thus creating greater speed, was dropped. Now, competitors are involved in frenzied pumping all the way up the course. The calorie burn is enormous and the potential for muscle breakdown worryingly high.

Yet there is an acceptance that the physical, rather than cerebral, side of sailing will continue to grow in importance, though both still have a part to play, as does engineering and technology.

A change of boat has meant a rethink for Britain's Soling trio of Andy Beadsworth, Barry Parkin and Adrian Stead. They came to the French Olympic week with the knowledge that, over the past month, they had proved they could compete with the best.

But, as in motor racing, the margins are so tight they need to retune a piece of equipment they have not used for nine months in order to ensure a place in the top eight after the fleet racing to put them in the match- race play-off.