Sailing: More than a game for men

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The Independent Online
The week-long International America's Cup World Championships began here yesterday, offering sneak previews of the leading contenders for next year's America's Cup - namely the United States, Japan and Australia, skippered by Dennis Conner, Rod Davis and Peter Gilmour.

The America's Cup is still some way off, but on the design and technology front the Americans are looking awesomely strong. Also, the first skirmish has been conducted in the courts over whether or not some people are bending or breaking the rules and this involves potentially the strongest of the challengers, the One Australia group.

This could upset the script which would see John Bertrand, Alan Bond's skipper in the historic win over the Americans in 1983, in a rematch with the man he beat, Conner.

Not that Conner, back with much more money than he had in 1992, will be given an easy ride by Bill Koch, the man who beat him for the defence job then and who now backs the first all-woman group to carry the flag for the United States.

There may be lots of media noise from Koch about empowering women, but he is doing it in the same way as last time, making a huge effort to give them a technological edge in the new 75ft boat being built at the Goetz yard in Bristol, Rhode Island.

Another American, Ed Baird, who is coaching Team New Zealand, suspects that an all-woman team would also have won the defence for Koch in 1992 because of superior boatspeed over the Italian challengers.

Koch, a multi-millionaire, is pledging to be less high profile in his campaign this time. But he is well aware of the publicity appeal of his boat and, while there is still plenty of time for musical chairs, the Olympic bronze medallist J J Isler is emerging as the linchpin of his line-up, with Leslie Egnot helming and Courtney Becker-Day navigating.

The Japanese have already broken their new boat, dismasting it in practice.

However, they hope to have it repaired in time to race tomorrow inside the harbour off Broadway pier.

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