Rules dilemma will not sink gold medal hopes for driven Goodison

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Two months out from the Olympic Games is not the ideal time to be heading back to the drawing board.

Yet that is exactly the scenario Paul Goodison faces following a disappointing Laser World Championships in Germany earlier this month.

It was not the 20th-place finish that vexed a man who won the title three years ago, more the reasons why it happened.

It was the decision of the judging panel to penalise him in two separate races for a borderline infringement that left the 34-year-old Rotherham helmsman scratching his head.

His crime was forcing the boat too hard, the judges decreeing that Goodison had used his weight to gain an advantage.

The law is written in black and white in the laser sailing guidelines, but a bit like a foul throw in Goodison’s beloved football – he is an avid Sheffield United fan – it is rarely enforced.

“While sailing downwind I was being too physical, too strong with the boat – that’s what they picked me up on,” explained Goodison.

“In previous regattas that’s not been a problem. There’s one or two jury members who have looked at it and are unsure whether it is legal or not.

“Looking at film of other boats, they in my view were pushing the boat harder than I was doing, and they’re not getting stopped.

“I’m not saying people have got it in for me. It’s their interpretation, they’re allowed to have that.

“But if you try and push it too hard you can get to the point where you slow the boat down, because you’re not in sync, and you’re not fluid.

“So it’s very frustrating. It’s almost as if all the training this year has been too good. Every time I’ve been somewhere I’ve achieved everything I wanted to.

“I went to Germany thinking I was going to win, not by underestimating the competition but thinking I had done everything right in my build up.

“So it was pretty hard to stomach when 20 minutes into the first race I had to pull out for a subjective judgment by the jury.

“I know those guys are trying to do the job to the best of their abilities, but when you haven’t been pulled up on this issue in the last two years and you get pulled up twice in 20 minutes, it’s hard to stomach.

“You start questioning yourself a little bit. I had a discussion with my coaches about whether I’d head home or we’d stay there and use it as a training process to work on other key areas – my starting technique being one of them – and the decision was made to stay, and looking back it was the right one. I feel confident that the techniques and the sailing we’ve done over the last four years is good and correct.

“I now just need to make sure the jury can see the same thing.”

What clouds the picture further for Goodison is the fact that the jury he faced in Germany will not be the same as the one he races before at the Olympic regatta in Weymouth this summer.

As if capricious weather is not enough to combat for a sailor, Goodison now has to worry about whether the biggest race in four years will be judged by a lenient or pernickety jury.

“The guys on the Olympic jury have not seen a problem with the stuff I’ve been doing over the last two years, so knowing how to approach it going forward is really tricky,” said Goodison.

“It would be naive not to make changes. Small changes need to be made, but I don’t think they need to be massive.

“Our job now is to check in with the experts, where they think the line is, and if the goalposts remain where they’ve been for the last two years we’re absolutely fine. If they’ve moved the goalposts dramatically you’ve got to learn where the new line is, and that’s going to take some changing.

“Better it be now than at the Olympics. Although it’s a setback, the only regatta that matters this year is winning the Olympics.

“I’d rather finish last in every regatta I do and win the Olympics, than win every regatta and not succeed at the Olympics.”

If the World Championships left more questions than answers, it is the Sail for Gold event at the Olympic venue of Weymouth from June 4-9 that will provide a clearer picture ahead of London 2012.

That the big races of the summer are contested on water that he lives only a mile-and-a-half from could be a big advantage in Goodison’s quest for a successful defence of his Olympic title.

But just as he was exhaustive in his research of the Qingdao waters on which he won gold in China four years ago, so his rivals have been equally dedicated in their preparation for London 2012.

Goodison said: “When I went home to South Yorkshire last Sunday after training, out on the water I left Italian sailors, Spanish sailors, Chinese sailors – all putting the work in.

“They know what they need to do so it’s naive to think we’ll have a home advantage.”

One of those rivals is Australian Tom Slingsby, who won the world title as Goodison drowned in red tape. But a scoreboard does not tell the full story. Slingsby won the two world championships prior to Beijing yet failed to make the top 20 in the Olympics as Goodison strode triumphantly to the top step of the podium.

What also serves Goodison well is his form in Weymouth. Olympic qualification is based on how a helmsman fares on the Olympic waters and Goodison has medalled in the last three ‘home’ regattas.

“Tom won the world title convincingly,” Goodison conceded. “But my confidence is internal, and I get that from achieving the goals I’ve set out to, to meet certain targets and certain skills.

“If I go to a regatta and win but don’t improve on those skills, then it’s almost a negative. As long as I feel like I’m moving forward, it’s good.

“I look back to Athens and in the year before the Games I medalled in every regatta I went to, apart from Athens.

“Then I look back at Beijing, I didn’t medal at every regatta and I won gold. That’s where I want to be this summer.”

Goodison is supported in his campaign by Volvo Car UK.

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