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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 February 2008, 10:06 GMT
Sailors face Chinese challenge
By Ollie Williams

Ben Ainslie sailing off Qingdao in 2007
GB sailors like Ben Ainslie have successfully sailed in Qingdao
Britain's sailors have been tipped to come back from this summer's Olympics with a sizeable haul of medals.

But there are concerns within the team that light winds at the Olympic venue of Qingdao could dramatically reduce the number of races, turning the competition into a lottery.

Although the British are reigning world champions in several classes, GB sailing manager Stephen Park says this summer could "upset the form book".

And Ben Ainslie, who will be chasing a third straight Olympic gold, has described China as a 'sailor's nightmare'.

BBC Sport spoke to some sailing experts about the factors that will make Qingdao such a challenge.

STEPHEN PARK
Team Manager, Skandia Team GBR

As the man who will manage Team GB's sailors in Qingdao, Stephen Park has overall responsibility for the team's performance in the medals table.

The real challenge is primarily the light winds that are very unpredictable. It's highly tidal as well, so we have tides of up to two knots. The Games will be sailed in the strongest tides of the year.

We will optimise our equipment for light winds, by trying to be lighter physically and wear lighter clothing, and using lighter sail cloth. That requires less power to drive the boat through the water.

QINGDAO: THE PROBLEMS
Light, unpredictable winds and strong tides
Lack of wind makes it tricky to pick up speed and navigate well
Winds often barely strong enough to sail, so competition could be curtailed
One small shift in wind could decide the outcome of a race
Fog and sea mist could diminish spectacle for fans
But once you get into the stronger winds you need extra mass to balance the power, and extra weight so the equipment doesn't break.

If you put your eggs too far in one basket, you could go from leading the Games to your mast breaking and you having no score in the last two races.

That could be an issue because it's common to get periods of days where there's no wind at all.

Normally you have a large number of races and the best person reaches the top.

There's a risk in China that without wind, we could have a very short series of races, and that will make the results very unpredictable.

You've got to be able to deliver every day in China, because each day's racing might be your last.

LIBBY GREENHALGH
Meteorologist for the British team

Libby Greenhalgh travels to major events with British teams, forecasting events and explaining conditions to the sailors.

We use a variety of kit, including a lot of information already available on the internet and larger weather models, but we also use anemometers (devices which measure wind speed) so we can gather real-time data.

The big thing is the background work, looking at the climate and what we expect the weather conditions to do.

QINGDAO: THE SOLUTIONS
Success depends on using the right equipment on the boat
Changing to lighter clothing and sail cloth will help in light winds
It is important to add weight if conditions change and winds strengthen
Athletes are dieting ahead of the Games to lose weight and increase boat speed
There are large swells and choppy sea conditions, alongside a lot of tide - most venues we sail at aren't massively influenced by tide.

A lot of sailors are dieting for the Qingdao Games and changing what equipment they can.

You could equate the tides at Qingdao to sailing in the Solent in the UK. At less than five knots you'd think, 'Oh my God, get the anchor out'.

There's not much chance to get hold of local knowledge either. It's not really been a big sailing venue, since sailing isn't a massive sport over there.

JEROME PELS
Secretary General, International Sailing Federation (ISAF)

Jerome Pels is the IOC's technical delegate to the Games. It is his job to oversee the sailing events in Qingdao.

We've tested the venue twice. Some of the conditions were light but over the days we were there, we set strict guidelines on minimum conditions for suitable racing, and we were able to sail a substantial number of races.

In the first test event we had a full programme - we ran a youth programme at Weymouth (the 2012 sailing venue) at the same time and only sailed half the races. So that just goes to show - and we're not worried about Weymouth.

Spectators watching a sailing event at Qingdao
Jerome Pels argues Qingdao has performed well in test events
People say the wind conditions are bad but Ben Ainslie won both test events and the world championship a few days ago in Melbourne. So the best sailors seem to be coming out on top.

The scheduling is under our control and we have used almost the maximum number of competition days in the Games, to allow for flexibility.

I don't think we'll get a full series out of every class, but that's not the aim. We just want fair, good racing under good conditions.

We will have officials from all around the world to set up the racing as quickly as possible once the conditions are right.

We've gained a lot of experience at Qingdao and I think we'll be able to do the best for the athletes.

PETER SIMPSON
Olympics Editor, South China Morning Post

Olympics journalist Peter Simpson lives and works in China, and is a qualified yachtmaster.

Among the sailing fraternity it's a real test of skill but from a spectator point of view it makes for quite boring sailing. In August you get a sea mist too, so you're not going to see much.

Qingdao as a place has some nice beaches and a coastal walk. It's also famous for its seafood and there's not so many cars.

It's got that sea breeze so any pollution is quickly swept away, which means in the summer it's popular and lots of families go there.

606: DEBATE
The athletes' village there is great with lovely, new apartments overlooking the sea, which has been cleaned up.

All the athletes say the new Qingdao sailing centre is probably the best in the world. There's been no expense spared. The only thing that could let it down is whether the sailing will be a spectacle.

MAP OF QINGDAO
Map showing location of Qingdao



SEE ALSO
Olympic sailing fears dismissed
05 Feb 08 |  Sailing
Team GB for Beijing
29 Nov 07 |  Team GB
Start sailing
14 Oct 05 |  Sailing


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