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At the end of Friday's opening ceremony spectators filed out to the Bobby Darin song “Beyond The Sea”. With its “I'd go sailing” catchline, it is starting to look like the perfect anthem for Britain's 2004 Olympics.
With three days of racing gone, the news from the magnificent Agios Kosmas sailing centre could hardly be better, with British sailors leading in three of the 11 categories. With three of our better crews still to hit the water and Paul Goodison lying seventh after two races in the Laser single-handed dinghy class, the message is clear: in contrast to the disappointments elsewhere, British sailors could do even better than at Sydney four years ago, when the haul reached an impressive three golds and two silvers.
Double Olympic medallist Ben Ainslie has been the most inspiring performer. Sailing in the Finn single-handed dinghy class, he got off to a terrible start, finishing ninth in his first race before suffering disqualification in his second.
He began to put right the damage on day two, winning both scheduled Finn races and yesterday he again sailed brilliantly in rough seas that forced the postponement of most of the day's races to claim a fourth place and another victory enough to carry him to the top of the leaderboard.
The only bad news was that he had lost his appeal against the disqualification. As things stand, Spaniard Rafael Trujillo is close behind Ainslie and Poland's Mateusz Kusznierewicz could also mount a challenge. Another Sydney gold medallist, Shirley Robertson, and her Yngling keelboat crew enjoyed another good day yesterday to lead the way from the Danish trio after six of 11 races. More than halfway through the series, Robertson and her team-mates have yet to finish lower than fifth.
Nick Rogers and Jonathan Glanfield, fourth in Sydney, did not race yesterday and keep their noses in front in a keenly competitive double-handed dinghy 470 class.
Three classes the Star, Tornado and 49er have yet to begin and medal hopes are high in all of them. In the Star, Sydney gold medallist Iain Percy and crew Steve Mitchell should be among Britain's strongest contenders. In the Tornado multihull, Leigh McMillan and Mark Bulkeley, the world's fifth-ranked crew, are also a medal prospects, while in the 49er, Chris Draper and Sydney silver medallist Simon Hiscocks look to have every chance of reaching the podium.
Compared with professional football, where every public utterance by its dramatis personae is carefully choreographed, one of the refreshing things about the Olympic Games is the exposure to sports less used to the public eye. Sailing may be one of those sports, like equestrianism, that the wealthy industrialised countries tend to have to themselves, but it certainly falls into this category.
Wandering around the area where the boats are kept between races, the atmosphere is refreshingly informal. The crew of one Norwegian boat have hung their gear out to dry like washing on a line. A competitor from New Zealand sits on deck munching a brown bread sandwich.
But this informality does not betoken a slapdash attitude to racing; not for the British contingent anyway. Chatting after a race, Nick Rogers, the 470 skipper, is clutching a bottle of what looks like lemon barley water. “It's something the British team had developed by physio Pete Cunningham,” he says. Further inquiries reveal the preparation is a reasonably standard rehydration drink. It is a small thing, but it is this sort of attention to detail that, for a second consecutive Olympics, looks like bringing success. “We like to make sure we leave no stone unturned in our quest for performance,” says Stephen Park, Olympic manager at the Royal Yachting Association and team leader. Early signs are that the stone-turners have done a good job.
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