Roberston's feisty European campaign

SAILING

Savannah is so far away from Atlanta that the British sailing team has been operating in highly focused isolation from their colleagues in other sports, but the realisation is dawning that they may be able to boost Britain's standing in the medal league table.

It just takes a long time, as the competition is based not on knock-outs with semi-finals and finals, but through the accumulation of results from 11 races which, with rest days in between, are spread over 10 days.

But there is both momentum and a sense of purpose within the British squad, helped by some stunning performances from John Merricks and Ian Walker in the men's 470 dinghy and the 19-year old Ben Ainslie in the Laser singlehander, plus some gritty work from Shirley Robertson, sailing her Europe hard in what are not her favourite conditions.

Robertson is tied for the bronze medal at the half-way stage with the American Courtney Becker-Dey, as Margriet Matthijsse of the Netherlands and Kristine Roug of Denmark have made their greater height and weight pay in the stormy conditions. She is in feisty mood. "I am confident I can get her [Becker-Dey] now, and there are five races to go," she said yesterday, hoping the weather would be lighter for racing brought forward an hour in the hope of restoring everything to schedule.

But Becker-Dey is a fighter and will not give up easily in an American team that is not having everything its own way. Fighting, too, are Britain's men: Ben Ainslie has the bit between his teeth after a second and a first in what the team manager and gold medallist, Mike McIntyre, described as "an absolutely fabulous performance" while the chef de mission, Rod Carr, described the way Merricks and Walker came back in their second race as "awesome. Truly world class."

They beat the opposition by 1min 44sec, finishing nearly a whole leg ahead and showing the kind of form which has so pulverised the confidence of their competitors over the last couple of years.

With the Soling trio of Andy Beadsworth, Barry Parkin and Adrian Stead solidly in third place, their passage through to the six top places and the match racing cut seemingly assured, it is the roll of the weather dice and the ever-present luck factor that is keeping feet firmly on the ground.

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