The next Shirley Robertson?
The top six female Laser Radial sailors from the Volvo RYA National Youth Championships and Trials (held earlier this month) were asked to return to the Weymouth and Portland Sailing Academy to race in an extended trial on Saturday and Sunday.
Sixteen-year-old Colette Blair, from Bewl Valley Reservoir Sailing Club in the heart of Kent, won the right to race for Great Britain in the Byte class. Only the two windsurfing representatives have yet to be decided.
Maxine Webb and double Olympian Stuart Childerley were appointed by the RYA to make the selection but the announcement was a mere formality. Colette was in a league of her own with an impressive scoreline of four first and two second places in the six race series.
Childerley has just returned to the UK from Baltimore after helping Team News Corp secure their first leg win in the Volvo Ocean Race. He will be the RYA youth singlehanded selector for the next two years.
The switch of class from the Laser Radial - a standard Laser hull with a smaller lower mast section and sail - to the Byte is due to the popularity of the latter in Canada, the host nation.
The Byte has a lower optimum weight than the modified Laser so the top six Radial sailors from the Volvo National Championships were joined by three girls from the Byte class and one Topper squad sailor.
Natalie Lloyd, surprise bronze medallist at the Youth World Championships last year finished fourth. Lloyd is suited to the heavier and more powerful Radial rig and will now turn her attentions to the Olympic Europe class in preparation for either the 2004 or 2008 Olympic Games.
Mark Littlejohn, who coached Shirley Robertson to the gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, has been appointed as the singlehanded coach for the world championships.
His focus will be firmly on Colette and Andy Brooks (who won the Laser Standard rig trials) in the hope of emulating Mark Powell and Natalie Lloyd’s success at the 2001 event. The pair helped Team GBR finish as third nation overall in the Volvo Cup with their individual gold and bronze medals.
RYA Youth Manager Steve Joel was on hand all weekend to watch over proceedings.
"Conditions were quite similar to those expected this summer in Canada," said Joel, referring to the steady 7-14 knot breeze.
"I was particularly impressed with the strong competition, competitiveness, attitude and focus shown by all the girls this weekend," continued Joel, who views Colette as a strong medal contender for the summer games.
He was also impressed with the spirit and comradeship between the competitors. "When Colette goes to the Volvo Youth Sailing ISAF World Championships this summer, I am sure all the girls competing at Weymouth this weekend will be willing her on to win".
Overall results ( after six races with one discard):
1. Colette Blair 1,1,2,2,1,1 6 points
2. Kate Williams 2,2,1,4,2,4 11 points
3. Charlotte Dobson 4,3,5,3,3,3 16 points
4. Natalie Lloyd 7,8,7,1,4,2 21 points