LONDON (Reuters) - For all the talk of ruling the waves in 2012, Team GB are well aware that turning the tide on a decade of British sailing dominance will be a driving motivation for visiting Olympic competitors at Weymouth and Portland.
Britain topped the sailing tables in the relatively quieter winds but fierce currents of Qingdao in 2008 with six medals, easily beating rivals Australia, Spain and the United States.
But the presence of hardened campaigners such as Brazilian double Olympic champion Robert Scheidt and his crew Bruno Prada in the two-man Star class underlines the depth of the fleet in the 10 events off the south coast of England.
The pair will be pitting their more “freestyle” approach against British Olympic champions Iain Percy and Andrew “Bart” Simpson in a bid to add to Scheidt’s tally.
Both crews have something to prove after losing at a recent warm-up regatta in Weymouth to Ireland’s Peter O‘Leary and David Burrows, who have competed in every Olympics since Atlanta.
For many the prestigious single-handed Finn class will be the focal point for the games with Olympic champion Ben Ainslie, 35, hoping to navigate unpredictable conditions to a record-breaking fifth medal in consecutive games.
After frustration in his attempts to make his mark on the America’s Cup yachting event, Ainslie has returned to the Finn in order to add another gold to his three golds and a silver.
The Briton says a combination of home support, local knowledge of the winds and tides and his Olympic racing experience will help him to beat the record of Danish sailing legend Paul Elvstrom, who has four golds to his name.
Ainslie’s secret weapons include his training partners. The other British sailors he beat to win his place in the Finn are among the world’s best and are now working with him every day on the water to improve his speed and hone his technique.
One of them, 26-year-old Mark Andrews, thinks the racing will be close in the intensely physical event.
“I think there will be some surprises there. There are 10 boats that could win a medal,” he said recently.
The Finn contenders include 2008 U.S. silver-medallist Zach Railey whose sister Paige will race in the women’s Laser Radial.
In the men’s Laser class, Australian Tom Slingsby, 27, will be aiming to repeat last month’s success at Weymouth when he beat 34-year-old reigning Olympic champion Paul Goodison.
Goodison was not the only Briton to have a disappointing pre-Olympic event. 470 women’s world champions Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark are gunning to improve on the third place they picked up behind New Zealand’s Jo Aleh and Olivia “Polly” Powrie and U.S. duo Amanda Clark and Sarah Lihan.
The pressure will be even greater for others. The controversial decision to replace windsurfing at Rio in 2016 with the fast-developing sport of kitesurfing means this could be the last Olympics for some of the sailors.
Editing by Justin Palmer