Sailing: Ainslie leads way as British impress

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The Independent Online
BRITISH YACHTSMEN and women were in top form on the world stage yesterday, notching up wins in four of the seven Olympic classes holding their World Championships here on Port Phillip Bay.

In blustery conditions that at times were skittling boats over, it was the trio of singlehanders - Ben Ainslie in the Laser, Iain Percy in the Finn and Shirley Robertson in the Europe - who were showing the way, joined by the Budgen brothers, Andy and Ian, in the flying 49ers.

With two days to go Ainslie still holds the lead in the Laser class after posting a first and a third in the two races yesterday. Although his great rival, the 1996 Brazilian gold medallist Robert Scheidt, also had a win, Ainslie maintains a six-point advantage, with the Australian, Michael Blackburn, slipping a further three points behind.

The win in the third race for Iain Percy in the Finn Gold Cup pulled him up to fourth overall and a fifth in the second rubber of the day was enough to secure second place overall overnight, five points behind the 1996 Olympic gold medallist, Mateusz Kusnierewicz.

Opening with a pair of wins was a great boost for Robertson as she beat off strong opposition that, although missing the 1996 gold medallist, Denmark's Kristine Roug, included the current world champion, Carolijn Brouwer of the Netherlands, and her second-placed compatriot, Margriet Matthijsse.

In a 49er fleet split into four groups, the contest is a three-cornered affair between the Australians, British and Americans. However, these early stages are merely a preliminary to qualifying for the gold fleet later in the week.

An eighth for Andy Beadsworth in the Soling championship for fleet racing was enough to lift him to 15th after two races, eight places ahead of Lawrie Smith and his 1992 bronze medal-winning crew. The top 16 nations go through to next week's Soling Match Racing World Championships, and it is likely Britain will nominate Beadsworth even if Smith were to beat him in the fleet racing.

The leading crew in the women's 470 class, Bethan Raggatt and Sarah Webb, are also struggling to hold off their UK rivals, particularly the new pairing of Liz Walker and Sue Parkin.

As Sue Hay, Parkin partnered Debbie Jarvis in 1988 and as Sue Carr they again teamed up in 1992. She sailed with Raggatt in 1996 and since then the Derbyshire woman has married Barry Parkin, one of Beadsworth's crew, who were fourth for Britain in the Soling in 1996. She would be keen for her husband to make the Soling slot again next year and just as enthusiastic, as Britain's best at 10th after six races, to make her own fourth appearance at the Olympic Games.

Results, Digest, page 23