In the final Olympic classes regatta before the 2012 Olympic Games, Britain's sailing team picked up an impressive eight medals, showing huge potential ahead of the Games, which are due to start on July 28.

It was a breezy and demanding regatta, held on the Olympic sailing waters of Weymouth and Portland. With the Olympic team selected, the sailors were already assured of their team positions, so for many, the event was all about warming up for the Olympic Games proper, while for the promising sailors who hadn't been selected, it was about proving a point to those who had turned them down.

 

Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson

Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson had a brutal week of racing in the Star class, they had to settle for bronze, at the Olympics they will be hoping to better that - photo Onedition



 

One class, one country, one sailor
Sailing varies from many other sports in that only one representative from each country can be sent to the Games for each class in which the country has qualified. This very tough on some sailors, who may be among the best in the world, but have other British sailors ahead of them.

Nations are faced with a dilemma when it comes to Olympic selection: early selections enable national authorities to concentrate their resources on the chosen few, ensuring they are as well-prepared as possible for the Games. Once decided, sailors from one nation can switch their focus from vying with one another for that elusive Olympic berth, to sharing knowledge and training with one aim, to ensure their representative beats the other nations to that elusive gold medal. However it can also mean that some athletes may subsequently rise in form and out-perform those selected.

The Skandia Sail for Gold regatta differed from the Olympic Games proper in that multiple national entries were allowed. This opened the way for potential controversy, with unselected sailors on occasion winning out ahead of their compatriots - a famous example being the Finn class, where current world champion Ben Ainslie had to fight off 2011 world champion Giles Scott.

Giles Scott Sail for Gold 2012

Giles Scott obviously has the potential to get an Olympic medal, but won't have the opportunity to prove it - photo Onedition



Did they pick the right sailors?
Giles Scott won't be able to compete at the Olympics as he wasn't selected, Ben Ainslie was. However, at Sail for Gold it was Scott who took gold ahead of Ainslie, who had to settle for silver.

It wasn't just Scott who triumphed ahead of his training partner, in the 49er class, young rising stars Dylan Fletcher and Alain Sign finished two points ahead of Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes to take bronze. Did the selectors get it right?

The answer is probably yes. Statistically those who have previously attend an Olympic regatta are more likely to bring home a medal. In both these cases the selected sailors have the experience of previous Games behind them, in Ben Ainslie's case that includes the experience of four Games and three gold medals. Both Ainslie and Morrison/Rhodes finished just one place adrift of their training partners. The fact that they have training partners who can obviously beat them on occasion is actually a very positive thing and should mean they will be in the strongest possible position to medal when it comes to the Olympic Games themselves.

It's undoubtedly hard on the up and coming younger sailors, but that's the way things are in Olympic sailing - if things were different Britain could be looking at multiple medals in some classes, but that would change the game enormously.

 

Dylan Fletcher and Alain Sign Skandia Sail for Gold 2012

Dylan Fletcher and Alain Sign took bronze in the 49er - photo Onedition



 

Peaking at the right time: Ali Young is GBR's latest Olympic medal hopeful
As the event only comes around once every four years, half the secret of Olympic success is peaking at the right time. There's no point dominating a given class in the years leading up to the Games, simply to 'burn out' and see your rivals take the top prizes.

Ali Young took gold int he Radial to show the world she is a serious Olympic medal contender - photo Onedition



One sailor who seems to have her progression timed just right is Laser Radial sailor Alison Young. A year ago many would have rated Britain's chances of getting a medal in the class as very low. No one sailor seemed to be shining, and the results weren't brilliant. Selection was delayed and delayed, with Ali Young among the last athletes to be selected for the sailing team, earning her call-up to Team GB for 2012 just four weeks before Sail for Gold.

The 24-year-old has seen a steady progression in her results over the past six months. After finishing seventh at the 2011 Perth World Championships in December, she posted fourths at the Miami and Hyeres Olympic classes regattas, and then narrowly missed out on the podium at the Radial worlds in May, where she finished fourth.

Then at Sail for Gold she put in consistent results, topped off with a second in the medal race to deliver a stunning gold medal victory - fully vindicating the selectors' decision. It was her first gold medal at a senior event and signals to the world that she will be a serious medal contender at the Olympic Games.

“It’s a great result for me, you always aim to do your best and if your best means that you win then it’s pretty cool!” she enthused. “It’s a great confidence boost in terms of my preparation for the Games.”

Young, originally from Bewdley in Worcestershire, vows there is still work to be done  before the big event in August. “I’ve had a great programme and have been working hard with my coaches so now I’ll just continue to build on my performance. There are certainly a few little things which we need to tweak from this regatta, so we will be working hard ensuring everything is ready to go in August. I would certainly like to think I can produce the same performance and result at the Games. The fleet is very competitive with it being extremely close between a few of the top girls, so no doubt the racing in August will be very tight all week.”

Luke Patience and Stuart Bithell Skandia Saol

Luke Patience and Stuart Bithell took silver in the 470 Men - photo Onedition



 

Britain on track for its best-ever Games
An impressive six medals, one of them gold, were won by sailors due to compete for GBR in Weymouth later this summer. Britain's best number of medals in modern times is five medals. However a closer look at the results shows that had the regatta been run under the one nation one sailor Olympic format, with only the Olympic team members racing, the tally would have been more. Ben Ainslie's silver would in theory have been gold, the 49er duo would have taken bronze, but also Paul Goodison, who finished fourth, was beaten by two Australian sailors and would therefore have taken bronze. It's all theoretical, as the one sailor one nation format changes the dynamics considerably, but the resulting tally would have been eight medals and two golds out of a maximum 10. Almost unbelievable!

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Skandia Sail for Gold: the medal-winning Olympic team members
Gold: Alison Young (Laser Radial)
Silver: Ben Ainslie (Finn)
Silver: Luke Patience and Stuart Bithell (470 Men)
Bronze: Nick Dempsey (RS:X Men)
Bronze: Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson (Star)
Bronze: Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark (470 Women)

Nick Dempsey RS:X

Nick Dempsey took bronze in the Men's RS:X - photo Onedition



Skandia Sail for Gold: the other team results
4th: Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes (49er)
4th: Paul Goodison (Laser)
5th: Lucy Macgregor, Annie Lush, Kate Macgregor (Match Racing)
8th: Bryony Shaw (RS:X Women)

The results speak for themselves. When you look at the performance records of Lucy Macgregor, Annie Lush and Kate Macgregor in the women's Match Racing - they are ranked second in the world, and windsurfer Bryony Shaw, who won bronze in 2008, it is obvious that Britain has serious potential to medal in every class at the Games this summer! Ten medals out of ten - what a story that would be!

 

Gael Pawson is the editor of Yachts & Yachting Magazine and the founder of Creating Waves. A keen racer, she has sailed all her life, and started writing about the subject whilst studying journalism at university. Dinghies and small keelboats are her first loves, but she has cruised and raced a huge variety of boats in locations across the world.

 

Written by: Gael Pawson
Gael Pawson is the editor of Yachts & Yachting Magazine and the founder of Creating Waves. A keen racer, she has sailed all her life, and started writing about the subject whilst studying journalism at university. Dinghies and small keelboats are her first loves, but she has cruised and raced a huge variety of boats in locations across the world.
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