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Weymouth's 2012 dress rehearsal

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Rob Hodgetts | 06:22 UK time, Friday, 18 September 2009

Britain's Olympic sailing hopefuls are battling it out on home waters in Weymouth this week, trying to lay down a marker for 2012.

The Sail for Gold regatta showcases the first of the new Olympic venues to be operational and has attracted more than 700 sailors from 38 countries across the 10 Olympic and three Paralympic sailing classes. It also serves as the final leg of sailing's inaugural World Cup series.

Great Britain has been the top sailing nation at the past three Games, and though qualification for the one spot in each Olympic class doesn't begin for another two years, it is the first chance for Britain's sailors to really strut their stuff on Olympic waters.

Three-time Olympic champion Ben Ainslie is sitting this one out, but Beijing gold medallists Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson, Paul Goodison and Pippa Wilson are flying the flag at the new National Sailing Academy, nestled behind Chesil Beach in Portland.

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Medals in the Olympic classes will be decided on Saturday in a final race featuring the top 10 crews from the qualification series.

Percy, 33, and Simpson, 32, won gold in the Star class in Beijing and are at the head of the fleet again this week.

"We've all sailed here over the years but not in such a professional or analytical sense as we treat every Olympic Games," said Percy, who also won gold in the Finn in Sydney. "So we're here to treat Weymouth as a new venue and get used to the waters in a Star and the waters we're going to be racing on in 2012."

Goodison has won World and European titles since his Olympic triumph in the Laser last summer, but he is not having it all his own way. After six of the 10 qualification races, the 31-year-old was languishing in 11th and has work to do to muscle his way into Saturday's medal race.

Wilson won gold with helm Sarah Ayton and fellow crewmember Sarah Webb in the Yngling in Beijing, but with the class now scrapped from the Olympics, she is racing with Saskia Clark in the 470.

"It's quite a big change but luckily I'm with Saskia who has got a lot of 470 experience so that's fast-tracking everything," said the 23-year-old. "We've got a lot to learn with both a new boat and me helming but it's exciting times for us."

In place of the Yngling keelboat is the Elliott 6m, still for three sailors, but under a new matchracing format - boat on boat instead of fleet racing, with a round robin before the knockout stages.

It's designed to be more user-friendly for spectators, so they can see who is leading at any given time.

Lucy Macgregor and Annie Lush, who sailed with double Olympic champion Shirley Robertson in the ultimately unsuccessful Yngling campaign ahead of Beijing, have now teamed up with Allie Martin.

"It's a steep learning curve both on the matchracing side, sailing the Elliot and me helming for the first time," said Macgregor. "Obviously we're gunning for 2012 but it's one step at a time."

With Ainslie absent in the Finn class, Ed Wright has already wrapped up the World Cup series but he is facing stiff competition from Giles Scott to be top Briton in Weymouth.

In the men's high-performance 49er, the rivalry for 2012 is already hotting up. Rick Peacock and John Pink won world championship silver in July, while new pairing Paul Brotherton - Wilson's Yngling coach in Beijing - and Mark Asquith took silver at the Europeans in Croatia earlier this month.

Athens bronze medallist Chris Draper and new partner Peter Greenhalgh, and Beijing duo Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes are also in contention in Weymouth.

"The 49er is a very competitive class," said Morrison. "The British are blessed with a lot of strong teams so at the moment it's all pretty tight.

"I guess it's the most fun boat to sail and it's fairly crash-and-burn sailing as well, so it keeps it interesting."

The men's Laser fleet head down wind towards Weymouth during the Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta The men's Laser fleet sail downwind towards Weymouth

Competition for a place as Britain's Olympic representatives in the men's 470 class is also bubbling along nicely. Last year's world champions Nic Asher and Elliot Willis are doing battle with double Olympic silver medallist Nick Rogers and new crew Pom Green, as well as Luke Patience and Stuart Bithell, who won a surprise silver in their first outing together at the world championships in Denmark last month.

Windsurfer Bryony Shaw, winner of a bronze medal at the Beijing Games, is also in action in Weymouth but Nick Dempsey, who claimed bronze in Athens and recently won the world title, is missing through injury.

And what of Ainslie, Britain's greatest Olympic sailor? He's taking a break from the Finn to helm Team Origin, Britain's America's Cup entry. But with political infighting clouding the date of the next competition proper - holders Alinghi and challengers Oracle are set for a one-off head-to-head in giant multihulls next February - there is still the danger of a clash with 2012.

Winning the America's Cup for Britain is Ainslie's last big goal, but it seems unlikely that he would spurn the chance of a fourth Olympic title given that it could come on home water.

Watch the action live on Saturday from 0900-1500 BST on the BBC Sport website, with the major finals from 1200-1400 BST, also on the BBC red button.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Fantastic to see some coverage of Sailing on the blog. Interesting to read about the changes to crews with 2012 in mind. Surely being on home waters we can extend the top sailing country to four olympics in a row....good luck to all in their preperations for 2012.

    Keep up the coverage BBC!!!

  • Comment number 2.

    Interesting article. Great to see that so many of the Beijing girls and boys are still going for it. How about a piece on the differnt types of boat classes ? There seems to be several classes with 2 crew but what is the real difference ? Keep up the blogging

  • Comment number 3.

    Fantastic blog Rob. Whilst I think its great that some of the older hands are still about, (Percy, 33, and Simpson, 32 for example) it may soon be their last hurrah. What is your opinion on the youngsters coming through? Are there any pushing for a spot at 2012? I've been hearing good things about Barry McCartin of N. Ireland for some time now, do you think he could make the step up?

  • Comment number 4.

    I thought the Paralympic classes were racing too?!

  • Comment number 5.

    Good blog, but you've misspelt Ally Martin.

    It's with a 'y' not 'ie'

 

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