Sailing: Percy on the path of progress

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BRITAIN'S OLYMPIC singlehanders were poised for more success today as Iain Percy scored his third win of World Championship series in Port Phillip Bay and he goes into the final race holding the bronze medal position. Coming hard on Ben Ainslie's gold medal triumph in the Laser, the British team was in buoyant mood last night and hopeful that Percy, twice a United Kingdom national champion in the Laser and a friend of Ainslie's, would earn the recognition which his startling talent deserves.

This is the 22-year-old's first full season in a Finn, though he contested a few events in 1997, and at his first major event, the European Championship in Portugal, last year he won bronze. He comes from a Winchester family with a strong sailing heritage and is improving rapidly.

Out in front is the reigning Olympic champion, Mateusz Kusnierwicz, with the Swede Frederik Loof in the silver medal position.

With two races remaining in the three-man Soling, Britain's 1996 representative in Savannah, Andy Beadsworth is still eighth as Denmark's Stig Westergaard holds on to the lead he established on the second day. He is clear of the triple gold medallist, Jochen Schuemann of Germany, who has a six- point lead on the third-placed Roy Heiner, the Dutch heavy air specialist.

Conditions were tough, too, for the opening five races of the 49er Skiff finals. Held just off the beach at Port Melbourne, swimming skills were often as important as sailing as even the experts struggled to avoid capsizing.

The defending world champion, Chris Nicholson, from Lake McQuarrie, New South Wales, and his new crew, Ed Smyth, recorded an eighth and a 10th place, followed by a disqualification. That was discarded, however, and the sixth and third places he scored in the final races of the day, plus the first he carried over, left him fourth overall.

Australia were thus second, third and fourth, Emmett Lazich and Euan McNicoll slipping to third after leading as Adam Beashel and Teague Czislowski saw America's Morgan Larson and Kevin Hall take the lead, on an equal points countback, with two close-of-play wins.

However, Italy's Bruni brothers, Francesco and Daniele, were set to improve their sixth position as they protested after a collision with Britain's Paul Brotherton and Neal McDonald. Their boat was holed in the fifth race, and they could not make the final rubber, so they will be asking for average points, which would be two fifth places.

Britain's Budgen brothers also had to discard a disqualification in the first race of the day, for a premature start. They are still in touch with the leading group in fifth, followed by Brotherton and McDonald in ninth, who face a drop in position if they are disqualified for the collision. Tim Robinson and the 1996 470 silver medallist, Ian Walker, are 15th, but the current national champion, Ian Barker, with Nicholson's former crew Daniel Phillips standing in for the injured Simon Hiscocks, had a dismal day, going into the club-house last. They broke a rudder pin, forcing them to retire from the second race, and did not finish in the time limit for the penultimate rubber as they capsized so many times on the downwind legs.

A fourth win in the final race for Australia's Grant Geddes and Craig Watkin just pipped, on a countback, Britain's defending world champions, Charles Stanley and Moray Gray, in the International 14s.