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Great Britain will on Thursday add to an impressive medal haul on the water when Chris Draper and Simon Hiscocks, who are guaranteed a bronze, will be challenging for silver in the 49er class.
The pair's performances in Tuesday's three races in the Saronic Gulf put them in an unassailable position in third place before Thursday's final race. The 49er is one of the most spectacular classes of sailing, with the crews perched on twin trapezes delicately balancing the boat, which is shaped like a soap dish.
Draper and Hiscocks' balancing act on Tuesday left them 11 points behind the Spanish leaders, Iker Martinez and Xavier Fernandez, and just two points behind Ukrainians Rodion Luka and George Leonchuk. Gold is unlikely the Britons would have to win Thursday's race and the Spaniards finish 12th or lower but silver is a realistic possibility.
“We just need to go out and believe in ourselves, it's ours for the taking,” said Draper.
In the 16-race series, Draper and Hiscocks, who won a silver medal in this class in Sydney, have had a difficult time with the weather conditions. They are heavy-weather specialists and the light breezes of Athens have conspired against them. Whatever medal they win, it will bolster the sailing team's tally of two golds, secured by Ben Ainslie in the Finn class and Shirley Robertson's crew in the Yngling, and the silver gained in the 470 class by Nick Rogers and Jonathan Glanfield.
“It's just amazing to be a part of this team,” said Rogers.
“You look at all the fleets and we've got a realistic chance of a medal in every single one. There is no other discipline in the Olympics where you can say that.” The weather conditions have also had a significant effect on the progress of Britain's Iain Percy and Steve Mitchell in the keelboat Star class. At the mid-way point they are also in contention for a medal but are unhappy about the organisation of the event. “I don't understand why the race committee insist on sending us out at 1pm when they know that the sea breeze kicks in at 3pm,” said an angry Percy after Tuesday's racing. “After all the preparation we've done for three years, the racing is coming down to little wind shifts and pressure bands. On boat speed alone, we're the fastest but you can't legislate for people taking chances and getting lucky.”
The Star class is becoming a dog-fight after six races in the 11-race series. The Brazilian pair of Torben Grael and Marcelo Ferreira are leading by 13 points while Percy and Mitchell lie in seventh, just three points off silver after recording a third place on Tuesday. Percy, who won a gold medal in the Finn class in Sydney, said Wednesday's racing would be crucial. “Sure, the Brazilians are looking pretty, but a couple of bad results and the fleet will come right back at them. We're in the hunt and I'm very confident in our abilities and our chances.”
The British sailing team is reaping the benefits of a having a national structure that is the envy of other nations. With National Lottery funding and Royal Yachting Association administration, Britain's elite sailors are full-time campaigners on the world circuit. Before Athens, Stephen Park, Great Britain's sailing performance manager, said: “Our goal is to win a medal of every denomination: gold, silver and a bronze. We can then say that this Olympics has been a success.” His wish is likely to be granted, and Britain, for the second consecutive Olympics, could finish at the top of the sailing medals table.