Smith's Olympic mission

SAILING
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The Independent Online
SAILING

BY STUART ALEXANDER

Lawrie Smith makes his debut today in the two-man Star class keelboat he hopes will next year bring him the Olympic gold medal he has yearned for throughout an illustrious career which has taken him from dinghies to ocean racers.

He and his crew, Chris Mason, will have 70 others alongside them in a large British squad at the Spa regatta for all 10 Olympic classes at Medemblik in the Netherlands.

In typically laid-back fashion Smith joins the elite having never sailed a Star before. Mason, who has spent the last year as mainsail trimmer for the Nippon Challenge for the America's Cup in San Diego, weighs in at a huge 120kg, giving the pair an ideal all-up weight for the boat of 195kg. They are coached by Bryn Vaile, who crewed for Mike McIntyre when they won a surprise gold in Korea in 1988.

Smith won bronze in the three-man Soling in Barcelona, but has decided not to return to that class as he does not like the trial system, which is based entirely on match racing.

That may leave the door open for an in-form Andy Beadsworth who, with Barry Parkin and Adrian Stead, won the Soling European Match Racing Championships in Torquay last week.

Already in dominant form are Britain's world top-ranked 470 sailors, John Merricks and Ian Walker, who won the French Olympic regatta at Hyeres with a race to spare.

Of more concern for Britain's Olympic coach, Rod Carr, is increasing the consistency and confidence levels of his women's 470 squad and Europe singlehander sailors, although Shirley Robertson has been the world's highest-ranked Europe class sailor.

But in 19-year-old Christine Johnson from Whitchurch, Hampshire, he has discovered a boardsailor who, in stronger breezes, has shown impressive speed and potential, while the near-veteran and former world champion, Penny Way, is still hard to beat in lighter breezes.

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