Roll Tacks May 2011

It's always good catching up with Percy and Bart. Our Star Olympic Champions, Iain Percy and Andrew ‘Bart' Simpson, have recently become the poster boys for Clarks Shoes. I'm sure Clarks need no introduction - you probably got measured up for their width-fitted shoes when you were younger.

Well, Clarks have targeted the Star boys to spearhead their move into technical marine shoes, and they invited me and some other journos for a sail across the Solent with Percy and Bart. Now, you might recall that Percy has stripped to his birthday suit and allowed (encouraged?) people to spray him in gold paint as part of a tasteful publicity stunt in the build-up to the last two Games.
 
He did it for Athens 2004, and went to those Games as a real medal favourite, but could only finish 6th. I couldn't help but wonder if being painted in gold was Percy's ‘Icarus' moment, one of those times when we see big marketing campaigns around sports stars unwittingly put a jinx on those same stars as they come disastrously unstuck at the actual sporting event. There was a Nike campaign when pretty much every poster child for the 1992 Olympics flopped badly. Or there's that four-year ritual of building up England as Football World Cup winners and, well, you know the rest.

But no, undeterred, Percy came back for more gold birthday suit treatment for the 2008 Olympics looking as ‘buff' as ever (so the ladies tell me). Surely he was tempting fate this time, with a disastrous build-up to Qingdao that included a 52nd place in the World Championships. When I saw Bart just before race 1 of the Olympic Regatta in China, I asked how it was going, cringing at what the response might be. I got a wink back from Bart. "We'll be alright," he said. I was staggered, but relieved. He sounded confident as hell, and well, again, you know the rest.
 
So, having proven my theory wrong, will Percy be back for a third Goldfinger moment? He promises not. Sorry ladies. A relief for the rest of us, but perhaps a missed opportunity for Clarks. Could have used a size 12 deck shoe in place of the fig leaf.
 
Our Solent outing came just before the first big event of the European season, and what would be Percy and Bart's first competitive regatta for many months, the Princess Sofia Trophy in Palma. They were very happy with the training they'd done in Portimao, Portugal, alongside British partners John Gimson and Stephen Milne. Coaching them was their mate from way back in their Laser days, Nick Harrison, one of my club mates from Stokes Bay Sailing Club.
 
The training went fantastically well, with only one of about 50 days lost to bad wind. In fact the routine in Portimao was going so much like clockwork that one day Percy hauled himself out of bed and muttered: "Oh well, Groundhog Day again." Coach Nick when ballistic, as he reminded Percy that he has blokes at his engineering company who have been grinding out the same shaped pieces of metal every week day for the past 30 years. That soon put Percy back in his box. A reminder that even though he and Bart work their butts off to be the best Star sailors in the world, there are worse jobs out there.
 
Anyway, the chemistry seems to be working for our Star hopefuls. Percy and Bart weren't predicting any great result from Palma, reckoning they'd have to relearn their race craft. But they ended up blitzing the event, showing they are still top dogs in the men's keelboat, and with just over a year to go, hot favourites to retain the Olympic title.
 
Shooting Star


Not that they need the extra pressure, and maybe they weren't going to campaign beyond Weymouth 2012 anyway, but winning gold at next year's Olympics will be Percy and Bart's last opportunity. The keelboat, both men's and women's, didn't make it through to the line-up of 10 events for Rio 2016. Percy was one of the sailors to the ISAF Mid-Year Meeting in St Petersburg to make the case for keeping the Star. He passionately believes in the notion that the Star is where the champions congregate.
 
There's no doubt the Star fleet is ultra-competitive, but what Olympic fleet isn't? I never did buy the ‘champion of champion's' argument for retaining the Star. Still, the Star class fought an honourable campaign in St Petersburg, and refused to allow itself to be dragged into any kind of ‘my boat's better than yours' slanging match.
 
But the Star did have some powerful support from the top table of ISAF, with the seven vice-presidents of ISAF's Executive Committee choosing to support a slate of events for Rio 2016 that would have excluded the skiffs in place of the keelboats. In fact the slate of events they were proposing wouldn't have looked so different to the line-up of events at the Olympic Regatta for Savannah 1996. Not exactly a bold leap into the future.

This went totally against the progressive agenda that ISAF had decided to pursue after the multihull was so controversially ejected from the Games at the ISAF Annual Conference in 2007. Some of the same wheeler-dealers were trying to use their Jedi (or Sith, depending on your point of view) mind tricks on influencing the outcome of the vote, but this time the delegates were wise to it. The majority voted for the Japanese submission which runs like this, and which will be the 10 events for Rio 2016:
 
Board and/or Kiteboard men & women - RS:X/Kiteboard - evaluation.

One-person dinghy men - Laser,

One-person dinghy men women - Laser Radial.

2nd one-person dinghy men - Finn.

Two-person dinghy (spinnaker) men & women - 470.

Skiff men - 49er,

Skiff women - equipment evaluation.

Two-person multihull mixed - equipment evaluation.

I could think of a better set of events (couldn't we all? It seems to be the favourite pastime on sailing forums), but for the time being this will do. I'm delighted the women's skiff has made it in, and there are some stunning boats lining up for an evaluation trial.
 
It's sad that the keelboat won't be represented in any way, but the keelboat community needs to present a more affordable option than the Star. Perhaps, ironically, it was the Elliott 6M which will race in the Olympics for the first and last time in Weymouth next year. A shame it won't have a chance to prove itself further. The Star, on the other hand, had done precious little to get its house in order. One Star competing in Qingdao 2008 was rumoured to have cost more than a million Euros to design and build, and didn't even win a medal. How ISAF Executive felt justified in continuing to support such an expensive event, when their remit is to make sailing more accessible to poorer nations, is absolutely baffling.
 
Stop the train

 
Despite all the government cuts, one development that appears to be going ahead is the high-speed rail link between London and Birmingham, known as HS2. The £17 billion construction project will plough straight through the heart of the Chilterns, and also swallow up the Hillingdon Outdoor Activities Centre (HOAC) and Queensmead Sailing Club, according to club enthusiast Nina Zietman.
 
Nina writes: "Situated just 20 miles outside central London, HOAC is a country idyll nestled in the outskirts of urban sprawl, 60 miles from the sea. Thousands of adults and children visit each year to learn how to sail, and partake in other activities, such as kayaking, windsurfing and climbing. None of the local clubs in the area share the same variety of activities as HOAC.

"There is a huge sense of community spirit. It's the centre's welcoming atmosphere and enthusiasm by all that bring people back year after year. If HS2 were to go ahead, all of this would disappear with one flick of transport secretary Philip Hammond's pen.

"Many readers will see this rail link as posing no direct threat to them. However, it has been estimated that HS2 will only cost every person in the country £1000 each to fund, an extortionate amount of money to save twenty minutes off a journey that most people will never benefit from. Not even the residents that live between the two cities will be able to make use of the railway, as there will be no stops between London and Birmingham.
 
"HS2 is currently undergoing a consultation period; the final decision will be made in December 2011. So far, it seems local cries have fallen on deaf ears. In November, David Cameron publically backed HS2 and there is no indication that this will change. The only chance HOAC and the rest of the Chilterns has to stop HS2 is a huge amount of public opposition. Otherwise, in five years' time, the sound of halyards clanging in the breeze will be a distant memory, replaced by the screams of a 220mph train rushing by."
 
If you want to help Nina and the members of HOAC, sign the online petition here: www.gopetition.com/petitions/stop-hs2.html or write to your local MP. For more information, visit: www.stophs2.org
 




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