The good and the bad

The ups and downs of the Olympic regatta, Ed Gorman writes on day 7

Saturday September 23rd 2000, Author: Ed Gorman, Location: United Kingdom
It was a bittersweet day for the Great Britain sailing team on Saturday - day seven of the Olympic regatta - as Ian Barker and Simon Hiscocks sailed a blinder to secure at least a bronze medal in 49ers. But elsewhere on Sydney Harbour, Andy Beadsworth, Richard Sydenham and Barry Parkin were knocked out in the first round robin of the Soling match racing.
Barker and Hiscocks went into the day in third place after 12 races. Despite the obvious pressure as their regatta reached its climax, they produced an impressively consistent performance, adding a fifth, a fourth and their first win of the series in race 15, to move ahead of the Americans into second place with one race to come on Monday.

The Finns, Thomas Johanson and Jyrki Jarvi - the surprise package of the fleet - sailed exceptionally well to add just six points to their score for the day and in doing so captured the gold medal with a race to spare. Barker and Hiscocks are now guaranteed the bronze medal but will take the silver so long as they finish less than six places behind the Americans, Jonathan and Charlie McKee, on Monday.

Barker is not celebrating yet and made the point several times that he is disappointed not to have won this week, having come to Sydney believing his preparation and build-up were spot-on. His good form here has not gone without notice, as he pointed out. "The other competitors have said to me, 'how come you've suddenly decided at this regatta to go fast and beat us?' But this is the important one - this what we're all here to win," he said.

Barker paid tribute to his crewman Hiscocks who, he said, has made no mistakes in a tight fleet where places are won and lost in seconds. "He's done a superb job," he said. "When I started sailing with him he hadn't really had a lot of experience. But he's obviously very good around the boat and he's learnt an awful lot since we started the campaign, as I have."

The British skipper, known to many of his 49er friends and rivals as "Captain Splash" because of his tendency to capsize in his early days in the boat, also paid tribute to the five or six British 49er crews who formed the British squad and who pushed each other along in the build-up to the trials in April. "They all deserve a vote of thanks on my behalf and Simon's. I definitely believe that without that system we wouldn't have got where we are today," said Barker.

In the Solings, Beadsworth's dreams of avenging his fourth place finish in Savannah with a first Olympic medal here have been dashed. It was a day when he and Sydenham and Parkin just never got into gear on the match racing course underneath Sydney Opera House. They sailed five races and lost four of them, finishing the opening round robin in last place and being knocked out along with the French and Ukrainian crews.

Jim Saltonstall, Beadsworth's coach, said they had failed to capture the favoured left up the beat in three races and paid dearly for it. Bowman Parkin, who was with Beadsworth in Savannah, agreed. "Basically we went the wrong way up the beat in three races - it's little things and it's a cruel sport," he added. The turning point came in the fourth race when they were leading against triple gold medallist Jochen Schumann of Germany, but then fouled him at the top of the course and were unable to off-load the resultant penalty without losing. Schumann finished at the top of the group with four wins and goes through to the next round together with Hans Wallen of Sweden and Jesper Bank of Denmark.

Meanwhile in Lasers and Europes the success story for Britain is continuing with Ben Ainslie now leading the Laser fleet after adding two fourths to his score. This gives him a total of 13 points and a four-point cushion over Robert Scheidt of Brazil who, in turn, is 12 points ahead of Michael Blackburn of Australia. Blackburn made a revealing comment in the post-race press conference, when he was asked what he was going to do about the jump the two leaders already have on him. "It's up to them to sail a bit worse I think - I'm trying my hardest," he said.

In the Europe fleet Shirley Robertson added a win and a 13th - her first discard - to remain nine points clear of second-placed Kristine Roug of Denmark. Like Ainslie, Robertson now has two days off before racing resumes on Tuesday.

The Finn and the Stars joined the fray today and Britain's Iain Percy started in awesome form, coming second in the first race and winning the second, to lead his rival for gold, Mateusz Kunierewicz of Poland, by two points. Racing in 10 knots of breeze on the Tasman, Percy had two bad starts and then sailed through the fleet. He was fast upwind and down in conditions which did not particularly suit him. He was reassured by his performance and glad to discover no surprises in the 25-strong fleet. "It was out on the sea which is where I've always been strong and I still am - no-one's made a big jump up to me which is really nice," Percy told madforsailing.

In the Star keelboats, my own favourites among the Games classes, the British pairing of Ian Walker and Mark Covell got their charge for the medals off superbly by winning the first race in a dying 12-knot southerly gradient breeze on the Tasman. Walker and Covell came to the start armed with a detailed weather briefing from the Great Britain team meteorologist, David Houghton, who advised the left-hand side up the beat.

Walker followed that plan and it worked beautifully. While he reached the first mark in fourth place, current world champion Mark Reynolds of the USA, who went right, was 15th out of 16 at the mark and he went on to finish only one place better. Walker and Covell took control at the second leeward mark when they eased passed the Spanish crew of Jose Maria van der Ploeg and Raphael Trujillo.

"We were pretty convinced it was going to go left all day, so we slugged the left and then gybed into it so we were on the right side of a left-hand shift downwind, and that's how we took the lead," commented Walker. "We sailed a nice tidy race and took all our places downwind which is nice," he added.

The second race was sailed in a streaky and shifty sea breeze from the east-north-east. The Britons had a good start and were fourth at the weather mark but they slipped back to eighth by the end of the first run, and eventually finished ninth. This leaves them second overall in this high quality 16-strong fleet. The early leaders are the Spanish who followed their second place in race one with a fourth in race two. At this stage Reynolds is eighth with a score of 14 and three. The Irish pairing of Mark Mansfield and David O'Brien started their regatta poorly, turning in scores of 15 and 12 and are 14th overall.

The weirdest performance was by the Kiwi crew of Gavin Brady and Jamie Gale, who were last in the first race but first in the second, leaving them ninth overall. "It was a pretty strange way to start the Olympics," commented Gale.

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