Sailing: Saltonstall steadies his ship in drive to Olympian heights

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The Independent Online


Jim Saltonstall wants a bumper birthday present from his brood of Olympic Games contenders. The newly appointed no- nonsense coach to Britain's sailing team will be 49 on 22 July, the day of the first races in the regatta to be staged off Savannah.

It is also the anniversary of the date he left the Royal Navy 19 years ago to take up a coaching post with the Royal Yachting Association. "When they offered me the job, I did not think I could take it as they wanted me in place within six months and normally it took 18 to fix buying yourself out of the Navy," he said. But a few strings were pulled and his master- at-arms was heard to grumble incredulously that the only other person to depart so quickly, honourably and legally had been the Duke of Edinburgh to marry the Queen.

Saltonstall's first parade is this week in Miami, where the whole of the already picked British squad, plus the Star Class, who are staging their trials, begin the final six-month experimental, development and psyching process, designed to lead to Olympic medals.

In a vowel-mangling Bridlington brogue that could stop Rory Bremner in his tracks, Saltonstall explains the different approach he will need from the one which sees Britain as top nation and with three gold medal winners at last year's World Youth Championships, as well as world youth match- racing champions.

He is proud of his record of producing 27 world champions, 16 European champions and two pre-Olympic gold medallists. Most of the senior team are former members of his youth squad and know how forthright he can be. "John Major pays me to produce medals," he said. "As a coach in any sport, if you are not producing medals, you are looking at being asked to stand down."

Why has he been so successful? "Because I kick them hard enough. To a certain degree, and depending on the individual, they need kicking around a bit. They need motivating," he said, but acknowledges, "of course, at Olympic level they are already highly motivated. We have an existing rapport. We have known each other for a long time." Certainly he is the popular choice of the competitors, with perhaps one or two reservations, and is held in considerable affection.

He has a 10-point plan which identifies any weaknesses and will ruthlessly eliminate them by the time the Games start. He also has the comfort of knowing that overall everyone is well-funded. The gold medal 470 dinghy favourites, John Merricks and Ian Walker, are backed by Mars, their female counterparts, Bethan Raggett and Sue Carr, will announce support from Yale today, as will Shirley Robertson from Aqua Vitae in the singlehanded Europe.

What Saltonstall wants is not spectacular results in Miami but a solid start to a six-month drive. Initially, he will be assessing the other foreign squads, "I'm like a spy in the sky at this stage," he said, "but over the years I have become hardened. Rightly or wrongly, I'm only in this game for winning medals. I'm not interested in fourth downwards. We're on a mission to hoover up as many medals as possible. That's my attitude to the game. I don't think we need to be scared of anybody."