Better and betterIt just gets better and better for the Great Britain sailing team in Sydney. With five days of the Olympic regatta now completed, the team is in medal contention in five fleets with two more in which the team has good prospects - the Finns and the Star - still to get underway.
John Derbyshire, the team manager, said he had, "quite high hopes" for the squad before competition started but he could hardly have dreamed of a better opening by his sailors than this. All of them are sailing with confidence and high levels of consistency - the key to success at this level.
Of course, things could go downhill at any stage, but confidence is running high in the team and you sense that success in one fleet is spreading to the others. Shirley Robertson in the Europes has rarely started a major regatta so well. After four races she has a score of just 14 points and already has a 15-point cushion over second-placed Kristine Roug of Denmark.
Robertson is a confidence sailor in every sense of the term. When she loses it, she can panic and big numbers appear in her scorecard, often with championship-wrecking consequences. But here her coach Mark Littlejohn has got her focussed, but also more relaxed than I've seen her, and her performance on the water is reflecting that.
On day five she twice found herself in the low teens at weather marks but came back well. In race one, she converted a 13th position into a win in one downwind leg, when she went off on her own hunting the best pressure on the left-hand side of the course, then taking advantage of the wake of the Manly Ferry to surf her way into the leeward mark in the lead. In race two she came back from 15th to finish sixth, her worst result of a series which has already seen most of her main rivals put in at least one finish in the low twenties.
In the 43-strong Laser fleet, Ben Ainslie has again locked horns with Robert Scheidt of Brazil. Between them they have won all four races so far and are separated at the top of the leaderboard by just one point. It is a good clean fight between two of the best sailors in the world, and it already looks as if it will go down to the wire, just like in Savannah four years ago.
The big improvers of the day were Ian Barker and Simon Hiscocks in the 49ers, who climbed from eighth overall to third after eight races, with two second places and a fourth. After two opening days when luck did not go their way (they ran into a wind-hole while leading the first race of the series, and the tack line on their gennaker broke in race three), the British pairing showed that they are on the pace and they are now definite medal contenders in this small but high quality fleet.
Stephen Park, their coach, believes they have come on significantly since they won the British trials at Weymouth in April. He said they have benefited from a pre-Games training session in America with Jonathan and Charlie Mckee, who currently lead the fleet by one point from the Finnish crew of Thomas Johanson and Jyrki Jarvi. "They've just improved their game and are more confident in their boatspeed across the wind range and across different sea conditions," said Park.
Barker was pleased with how things have gone to date. "We had a couple of unlucky breaks but they happen and when you sail enough 49er regattas, you realise there's absolutely no point in getting worked up about good days or bad days, because they happen to everyone. You've got to really concentrate on your performance and make sure you're fast and sailing well and things will happen for you. The important thing at this stage," he added, "is to be in the hunt which we definitely are. In 49er regattas you need to get up to the top of the leaderboard early because it's hard to climb up later on."
Emulating them in the Men's 470 fleet are Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield, who are keeping a very low profile ashore but sailing like demons on the racecourse. Tipped by many as good outside chances for a medal, they are not disappointing and have climbed from fourth overall to third on the strength of a win in the fourth race of the series. This talented duo, who have been racing together for only two years, were fourth at the pre-Olympic regatta in Sydney 12 months ago, so a medal is by no means beyond them.
That leaves Tornadoes, where Hugh Styles and Adam May slipped from third to fourth after races five and six in light winds on the Tasman off North Head. Choosing the right way up the opening beat in races which featured only two laps of the track was crucial, and in both contests, the Britons did not get it right, finishing seventh and sixth. The gold medal in this fleet looks to be heading to the Austrians, Roman Hagara and Hans Peter Steinacher, who have revelled in the light winds. The Australian pre-regatta gold medal favourites Darren Bundock and John Forbes are second, but already eight points adrift after one discard with the French pair, Pierre Pennec and Yann Guichard, in third place. They are six points behind the Aussies but just one point ahead of Styles and May.