Sailing: Walker takes his chance

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The Independent Online
TORBAY HAS served up a variety of conditions for the five-day, 10-race Melges 24 World Championships, but the top group in the 93-boat fleet had been able to demonstrate mastery in all circumstances until yesterday's topsy-turvy throws of the dice sent things pear-shaped for the duo who seemed to be fighting for overall honours.

Chief beneficiary, as series leader Giorgio Zuccoli found himself eighth in the soupy conditions of the first race and then was black-flag disqualified from the second, was Britain's Ian Walker. Also joining Zuccoli, along with 18 others in the sin bin, was his second-placed American rival Brian Porter, who had also posted an uncharacteristically low 20th in the first race.

Walker had had his own problems. The 1996 Olympic silver medallist had taken over on Thursday from US helmsman Vince Brun, who was suffering from a back injury. Brun could not resume yesterday, either, but Walker could not find the crewman he had recruited for the middle of the boat and it was 16-year-old Lucy McNeill who answered the last-minute call.

Even worse, in the cold and drizzly conditions, the crew could only find two sets of oilskins between four, so Walker quietly suffered in shorts and with no shoes. Lucy, according to crew Simon Fry and Simon Russell, was "great", though she herself was numb with cold, but not so numb she could not contribute to a third and an eighth which puts Walker second overall and pressing.

However, the young stand-in will not be available for today's final pair of races, so Walker was last night frantically searching for someone weighing less than 86 kilos who could help lift a title being contested for the first time since the class was given full ISAF international status.

"We are more than happy," said Walker afterwards. "We had a remarkably good day, given the opportunities for disaster, and that has really focussed the mind."

MELGES 24 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (Torbay) Provisional results, race 7: 1 B Ayres (Nor); 2 T Foyen (Nor); 3 I Walker (GB). Race 8: 1 M Wieser (Ger), 2nd E Eich (Ger); 3 A Haavel (Est). Overall after eight races with one discard: 1 G Zuccoli (It); 51.77pts; 2 I Walker (GB) 58.4; 3 E Eich (Ger) 76.0. Selected GB: 7 K Sproul 114.7; 10 R Smith 126.