Sailing: British bypassing Spa regatta

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The Independent Online
THE Spa regatta, on the Netherlands' Ijsselmeer, is one of the three big European meets for the world's Olympic squads and this year a record 54 countries have sent a record number of boats. But there is no British team roar. There is little to strike fear into rival organisations already well down the road to Sydney. Britannia is looking unlikely to rule the waves, at least at this stage.

The absence of Ben Ainslie, still catching up on A level exams, removed a competitor whose attitude and performances can lift all around him. Ainslie is working to improve on the Olympic silver he won in the singlehanded Laser in 1996 and is Britain's best bet for a medal in 2000.

Following their own silver medal performance, in the 49er World Championships last week, the Budgen brothers, Andy and Ian, are resting. And Ian Walker, now pursuing his own 49er campaign with Tim Robinson, is in Medemblik as a coach to the 470s.

The 49er has attracted talent from many classes but a repeat for Britain in the 470, which has consequently seen the pecking order open up, looks a long way off especially after the death of Walker's partner John Merricks in a car crash last year.

Shirley Robertson, fourth in the Europe at the last two Olympics, is up to third in the world rankings, having won the first of the three World Cup events in Europe, at Hyeres at the end of April, and then the Princess Sophia Trophy in Spain.

Another who was fourth in Savannah, Andy Beadsworth in the Soling, is back, with middle man Barry Parkin moving to the front to replace Adrian Stead, who has been on Whitbread duty with Lawrie Smith in Silk Cut, as Chris Mason moves into the middle.

So, of the four classes in which Britain has Sydney medal hopes, in two of them the players are absent. Nevertheless, the air of change in British sailing may take a while to settle.

Olympic manager John Derbyshire is upbeat as he sees a raft of young talent come into recognition. He may also hope that they will be easier to manage than the anarchic old hands.

While Derbyshire is looking long term, he also has to deliver the results on which the Sports Council bases its decisions on continued financing.