South Coast Sailors Want Gold At 2012

With dreams of winning the next America's Cup gone, Olympic sailing champions Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson are going all-out to defend their title in 2012.

Percy, a two-time Olympic champion, accepts the pair were risking burn-out by trying to win gold in the Olympic Star event in 2012 and an America's Cup victory in 2013.

"We tried to convince ourselves that it (the America's Cup) would not have a negative effect but now we will never know,'' Percy said.

"We would have been sailing a lot - about 130 days with the America's Cup - but we were hopeful of doing both.

"It would have been difficult, there is no doubt, but I think it would have been achievable.

"Every day for 22 days we could have been in a different continent - say, 14 days in the UK and Spain then on (elsewhere). We were motivated and had to be aware of the danger of burn-out itself - now we can manage it (on our London 2012 campaign) a little bit differently."

Percy, 35, was at the helm and Simpson, 34, the strategist on Team Origin, the British yacht racing squad that has now pulled out of the historic America's Cup.

They felt they could double up, unlike triple Olympic champion Ben Ainslie, the Team Origin skipper, who was poised to turn his back on London 2012 six months ago when the team was withdrawn.

This was because BMW Oracle, the America's Cup holders, made the most of their right to define the rules for their defence.

Using wingsail catamarans at the 34th America's Cup made it neither viable commercially, nor an attractive sporting contest, Team Origin felt.

Ensuring they are fighting fit for the technical Star class at London 2012 will still be about mastering time even if the scale of the challenge, minus the America's Cup, has changed.

After what happened with Team Origin we are now "focusing on the real detail and to try and do 40 things rather than 100", Simpson said.

"Time is something that is always against you. You could always use more time on the Star project."

They are playing catch-up to Olympic rivals on race sharpness, sailing fitness and racecraft and attention has switched on full force to the Olympics on home waters at Weymouth.

"We have been going for about three months and going very hard. It is going to be a two-year campaign where we are working very hard,'' according to Southampton-born Percy.

"We will be very motivated and very driven where we do not miss a day in in the gym.

"There is a lot of work ahead of us but it is also about enjoying the process."

Being childhood mates added to the joy of their 2008 Olympic victory.

The big draw about retaining their title at Weymouth is to do it in front of family and friends on home waters - but this also has drawbacks, Simpson, of Sherborne, Dorset, warns.

He notes: "Other countries are going to be sailing on the same waters as us.

"We have got a fair sailing knowledge of the place and what we need to do in the conditions, but we need to learn it all again but to a higher level.

"I know it is England but we have to put ourselves in a bubble to do it.

"We have got families and friends here and we have to try and separate it."

The top teams have spent the last two summers in Weymouth. "We will be living and breathing Weymouth" through to September, Percy said.

Funding a Star campaign includes bills of up to £100,000 a year to be met, making sponsorship vital. Backing from Clarks Shoes, along with support from Skandia and the National Lottery, is important to their Olympic ambitions.

Clarks is developing a special sailing boot, though it may not make it to the high street.

Small technological gains in sailing are hard fought-for and jealously guarded. This technical side is part of the preparations that Percy and Simpson love.

Percy said:

"Hopefully we will be left with a boat that will put us in the hunt but at the end of the day it is a sailing race - that is where we will have to prove ourselves."

Uniquely among the top Star sailors, this year's world championship is not that important for the British pair.

Their first aim is to come top three in the Skandia Sail for Gold regatta in June to qualify for the Olympics test event in August.

This will be a dry run for 2012 and to come top three finish there would fit nicely into their plans. Qualification for the Olympics could be secured.

Percy said:

"We have never been one of those people who like to go to any competition to warm up. We want to go win it, particularly as defending (world) champions, and get everybody annoyed.

"We are looking forward to the regattas on the way but we are thinking Weymouth."

They head to a regatta in Palma next month, their first 'for a while', Percy notes.

"It is going to hurt a little bit but it will be one of those motivations to get us going."