by RYA / GJN
Olympic Team GBR 2008 (image montage sail-world)
Team GBR have been the top sailing team at the last two Olympics, winning five medals at both the 2004 and 2008 Games. This was a striking achievement following the poor performances throughout the 80s and 90s. At the 1980 Games on the Baltic near Tallinn, Britain did not win a single sailing medal. Then followed one Bronze in 1984, a Gold for Mike McIntyre and Bryn Vaile in the Star class in 1988, a Bronze in 1992 and two Silver in 1996 at Alanta.
The recovery driven by more funding and what has become a world class training programme, hit its stride with the Sydney Games in 2000, with three Gold - Iain Percy in the Finn, Shirley Robertson in the Europe and Ben Ainslie in the Laser - and two Silver - Ian Barker and Simon Hiscocks in the 49er and Ian Walker and Mark Covell in the Star.
The 2004 Games in Athens maintained the momentum with another five medal haul, with Ainslie and Robertson each taking a second Gold, although in different classes. Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield took Silver in the 470, Chris Draper and Simon Hiscocks a Bronze in the 49er and Nick Dempsey a Bronze on the Sailboard.
Where now for Team GBR? Despite a string of World and European titles since the last Games the competition has been getting closer, taking onboard the intense training regimes of the British. But, several sailors standout in their class. Ben Ainslie, going for a fourth medal, is the top Finn helm in the world and unbeaten in major competition for the last couple of years. The Yngling team of Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb and Pippa Wilson (three blondes in a boat) are the reigning European, World and Olympic champions (then with Robertson helming).
In addition, 49er sailors Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes were World champions in 2007. Paul Goodison is the current Laser European Champion and world number two, plus Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield in the 470, and Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson in the Star are also good medal prospects.
This could be Team GBR's toughest Games of recent years, but the preparation has been meticulous and all the British competitors are determined to make it the best, ahead of the next Games in Britain in 2012.
Team GBR 2008
Ben Ainslie - Finn helm
Ben Ainslie goes to Beijing as not only one of the stars of the British sailing team but of the entire Games.
If the five-time Finn World Champion successfully defends the Finn title he won at Athens 2004 he will become Britain’s most decorated Olympic sailor of all time, surpassing Rodney Pattison’s record of two golds and one silver, a feat Ainslie currently shares thanks to his Laser silver (Atlanta 1996) and gold (Sydney 2000) and Finn gold (Athens 2004).
Victory in Qingdao would see Ainslie match Germany’s Jochen Schumann’s three golds, one silver Olympic sailing haul leaving only Dane Paul Elvstrøm, winner of four consecutive golds between 1948 and 1960, with more Olympic sailing silverware.
Stevie Morrison - 49er helm and Ben Rhodes - 49er crew
They have been mates for almost 20 years having grown up competing against one and other in Cadets in Exmouth. But the past 12 months has seen the pair’s stock rise dramatically and whereas just a year ago there were question marks over who would sail the 49er for Team GB in Beijing, now Morrison and Rhodes go to the Games as one of the favourites for gold.
They won their first World title in Cascais last June and immediately followed that with Test Event victory also. Although they were forced to settle for silver at the 2008 Worlds in Australia, their eyes have always been on the biggest prize of the lot in China.
Paul Goodison - Laser helm
Three-time European Laser champion Paul Goodison goes to the Games with the distinction of being one of only two sailors in the world to be unbeaten at the Olympic sailing venue in Qingdao having won gold at both the 2006 and 2007 Test Events. The other is Ben Ainslie.
Since recovering from the wrist injury that knocked his Games preparations off kilter late last year, Goodison has gone from strength to strength and having finished seventh at the Laser World Championships in Terrigal, Australia.
In February he sailed to an impressive victory at March’s Princess Sofia Trophy in Palma to show he is back to his best. Goodison finished fourth on his Games debut in Athens 2004.
Iain Percy Star helm and Andrew Simpson crew
Iain Percy knows all about winning Olympic gold medals having won Finn gold in emphatic style at Sydney 2000.
By 2004, Percy had switched to the Star two-man keelboat, and with Steve Mitchell, won the Star Worlds in 2002 as well as securing World Championship podium spots in 2003 and 2004 before finishing sixth in Athens.
Percy teamed up with Andrew Simpson at the start of 2007 and they won bronze at the 2007 Worlds and Europeans, the Worlds coming just weeks after the end of their America’s Cup duties. A black flag and a disqualification at this year’s Worlds saw them finish down the fleet and they will be desperate to make amends in Qingdao.
Penny Clark, Laser Radial helm
At 33, she may be the eldest member of the 18-strong British sailing team at the Olympics but Penny Clark will be desperate to make big waves on her Olympic debut.
Following an extended trials process, which began at the 2007 ISAF World Championships, Clark got the nod for the sole Radial berth ahead of Andrea Brewster, Charlotte Dobson and Lizzie Vickers. Clark was deemed to have performed most consistently and delivered the best overall results during the second stage of the selection process, finishing fourth at both the Sydney International Regatta and Miami Olympic Classes events.
Clark then finished seventh at the 2008 Laser Radial Worlds and she is no stranger to Qingdao, winning bronze at the 2006 Test Event.
Leigh McMillan Tornado helm and Will Howden crew
This is the final appearance of the Tornado catamaran in the Games and McMillan and Howden have left no stone unturned in their preparations for China.
With McMillan looking to improve on the 13th place he sailed to with Mark Bulkeley on his Olympics debut in Athens and this being Howden’s first Games at the age of 31, the motivation to medal is unwavering.
With a 2005 Worlds silver to their credit, the pair finished fifth at last year’s Worlds. They secured top five finishes at their first four regattas of 2008, including a second and third. But a disrupted 2008 Worlds campaign saw them finish outside the top five for the first time since December 2006. An Olympic medal would be the perfect tonic.
Nick Dempsey RS:X Men
Most men with their wedding day pending are worrying about forgetting the ring and what the best man might say. Not Nick Dempsey. Although he will marry fiancée and fellow Beijing campaigner Sarah Ayton in the wake of the Games before then it is all about bettering the bronze he won in the Mistral class in Athens having taken his Olympic bow in Sydney.
Following the introduction of the RS:X board after Athens, Dempsey claimed the 2006 European title before an ISAF Worlds bronze followed last summer.
And although Ayton’s campaign is likely to dominate the headlines in the build-up to Beijing, Dempsey will be quietly confident that come the wedding both husband and wife will have new silverware round their necks.
Christina Bassadone 470 helm and Saskia Clark crew
For Christina Bassadone it will be a case of bettering what she achieved last time out while