Top Dogs? Not Just Yet. 

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Iain Percy insists he and Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson won’t be reading too much into their recent gold medal winning success at the Princess Sofia Trophy Regatta in Palma despite wrapping up victory with a day to spare against the World class fleet.

The reigning Olympic champions returned to Star racing for the first time since last August’s Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta in Weymouth and Portland and, in often tricky conditions, they took an unassailable 27 point lead into the final day to claim their first Olympic Classes silverware since winning the Star World Championships in January 2010.  

After the closure of TEAM ORIGIN’s America’s Cup campaign last autumn, Percy and Simpson have spent the bulk of the year so far training with fellow Brits John Gimson and Steve Milne in Portimao in Southern Portgual, working heavily on the technical development of their boat as well as reacquainting themselves with sailing double-up again.  

But although admitting there were parts of their Palma performance that were as good as they have ever been, Percy insists the big names in the fleet have far too much in their lockers to start thinking he and Simpson have already reasserted themselves as top dogs.  

“We weren’t particularly fast,” Percy said, “And our boat handling left a bit to be desired, which is to be expected when you have been out of racing action for so long. But not everyone sailed a good week and the top guys, like Robert (Scheidt) and Bruno (Prada), Freddie (Loof) and Mateusz (Kusznierewicz) maybe made a few too many uncharacteristic mistakes, which allowed us to capitalise. I certainly don’t think the result is a true reflection of where we are with our campaign compared to the rest of the fleet.  

“These guys are top, top sailors and we have raced them hundreds of times across many different classes, and they are a lot better than they were in Palma. We know they will come back strong and we still have a lot of catching up to do. Saying that we were really pleased with the tactical elements of our performance in Palma, and our communication and decision-making were as good as they have ever been. Bart and I may not have done much Star racing recently but we have sailed a lot together with TEAM ORIGIN over the past two years and I think that has really helped certain elements of our campaign.”  

Unlike many of their Skandia Team GBR teammates who are battling for 2012 selection this year, Percy and Simpson are in the unusual position of, assuming they maintain their form, having their place in next year’s British Olympic team as good as guaranteed.  

Percy says it was apparent in Palma just how much selection pressures are driving sailors from all countries to outstanding performance across all the fleets. But he admits being the only contenders for the British Star spot does have its advantages when it comes to their 2012 preparations.  

“I don’t think we realised until Palma just how much pressure many other sailors are under at the moment. There were guys in the Star fleet who have no previous track record high up the rankings as they try to get selected for their countries.  

“Not having that pressure to perform this year does make it easier in terms of focussing all our planning around performing next year. There are a lot of technical building blocks we will be putting in place this year, and it is good that we can get on with everything to take us to where we need to be by 27 July 2012 without worrying about racing especially well this year. We are very focussed on 2012, maybe more so than any other previous campaign.  

“We are very lucky that we have John and Steve who have been fantastic in throwing so much energy into supporting our campaign as our full time training partners. They have come on an incredible amount themselves and have been invaluable to our training programme. To mentally take on the role of supporting our campaign is massive but that really underlines the whole Skandia Team GBR spirit really.”  

To aid he and Simpson’s quest to repeat their Beijing 2008 success on home waters next year, Percy is relocating back to England having spent the past few years based in Valencia, Spain. Having spent most of the past six years travelling, and the past three years flying up to 3-4 times a week, Percy admits making the call to come home was not too difficult.  

“When you are travelling so much you get ill a lot, and it is not ideal preparation for such a big event. This will enable us to spend a lot of time down at Weymouth training and working with the support team to really prepare as best we can for 2012. It is great for the UK that the Olympics are being held here but from a selfish point of view it is also great to be able to be based at home. It is fun being back in the Star, we really enjoy it, which is so important.”  

However, whilst all eyes are firmly on who will win the battle for Star supremacy in 2012, it could also be the last time, for four years at least, that a men’s keelboat event is contested at the Olympics, with the discipline having been provisionally excluded from the 2016 Games by the International Sailing Federation (ISAF). 

Although the final decision to axe a men’s keelboat class is still to be ratified by ISAF – the final decision will be announced in May – Percy believes the move would “do an injustice to the sport.”  

He added: “For the sport I think it is pretty important there is a men’s keelboat event. 80 per cent of the sport is keelboat racing, and probably predominantly male, so it is important it is represented in the Olympics. It is the responsibility of the sport to allow people to progress technically. If you look around the boat park there are people playing with the controls in their boat and that is not only a massive part of sailing, it is an enjoyable part and the part that keeps a good proportion of enthusiasts around the world interested for life. If you get rid of that at the Olympic level you are going to not only do an injustice to the sport but you are not going to produce sailors that can perform in the other areas of the sport.  

“Having the ‘names’ like Robert (Scheidt) and Torben (Grael) in Olympic Classes is good for the sport and I personally feel we need to be keeping the keelboat classes in. That does not necessarily mean it has to be the Star.  If you can tell me there is a better two-man keelboat or even a three-man boat then I would be all for it. I just think we need to represent all aspects of the sport as that is one of the primary goals of the Olympics.”

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