Having sailed the opposition out of the water in the Worlds, the British Yngling crew then squeaked a Europeans victory by just one point. It's all down to the fourth team member, says Andy Rice

The British Yngling keelboat crew keep on winning. The trio of blondes, Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb and Pippa Wilson, dominated
the Yngling World Championships in Miami a few weeks ago and in early April they clinched the European Championships in Blanes, Spain, although this time by just a single point. So they have proved that they can win at a canter or can win with a last-gasp dash across the line.

What’s their secret? The Yngling is a three-woman keelboat, yet whenever Ayton talks about the team, she refers to a team of four. That ‘fourth team member’ is their coach, experienced Olympic campaigner Paul Brotherton. So how does it feel to be referred to as one of the team?

“Obviously it’s very flattering,” Brotherton says. “But it’s embarrassing too. When people come up to me after a regatta and say well done, I think, ‘What for?’ I mean, when I’m out there watching them compete, I’m not saying I have less nerves than they do, but they’re the ones executing under pressure.

Brotherton knows all about that sort of pressure. He represented GBR in the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, steering the 470, where he came tantalisingly close to a medal. He campaigned for the next three Games cycles, in the 470 and 49er classes, and while he was world class, there was always another British team slightly more world class than him.

So if – call that ‘when’ – the ladies go up to the podium to receive their Olympic medals in China, Brotherton cannot hide the fact that it will be a bitter-sweet moment. He says: “As committed as
I am to the campaign, being the coach is not the same as competing. There might be four team members, but I’m acutely aware that there are only three medals available.”

The team’s expectation is that those three medals will be Gold, although the vagaries of the Qingdao conditions mean nothing is guaranteed. Having wiped the floor with the opposition in the last two world championships, there is no doubt that the British girls are favourites for Olympic Gold, but perhaps the less convincing Europeans victory suggests there are still vulnerabilities.

From his coach boat perspective, Brotherton has no such worries. “We’d just come back from the Worlds in Miami and everything had gone their way. They spanked it, they were out of sight, they were beyond the horizon. And then in the Europeans they were scrapping from day one.”

Brotherton saw signs of impatience creeping into their game, taking unnecessary risks which left them in a six-way fight for victory going into the final Medal Race.

“The pressure was on for the last race. But that was a fantastic opportunity for them to know what it feels like to go to bed before the Olympic Games Medal Race, knowing that you could finish anywhere from 1st to 6th, and going out there and delivering.” The girls were 2nd in the Medal Race, clinching overall victory from the Americans by a point. Brotherton was delighted. “They were spectacular. They were absolutely bloody brilliant.”