I'm Not Just Mrs Bitter of Cowes; ON THE ROCKS: Shirley Robertson (above, and Far Left) Feels the Selectors Could Have Delayed Olympic Selection So That the Winning Team of 2004 (Left) Could Compete Again

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Byline: Peter Higgs

SHIRLEY ROBERTSON, who catapulted to fame as one of the Three Blondes ina Boat, has criticised the selection process which means Britain's sailing teamwill head for Beijing next year without the double Olympic gold medallist atthe helm.

Robertson, denied the chance to become Britain's greatest female Olympian whenshe was omitted last week from the team for the 2008 Games, claimed thedecision had been made on the wrong evidence and without due respect for herrecord in the sport.

'If I was making a decision that was bound to be such a close call, I wouldwant to know all the facts,' claimed the 39-year-old Scot, 'but they didn't. Iwouldn't know most of them if they passed me in the street and they nevercontacted me to find out what we'd been up to.

'In any other country, if they had a double gold medallist who had just won amedal at the World Championships they wouldn't hang her out to dry. They wouldbe making some kind of effort at least to allow her to put her case. I'vealways been a thorn in their side and they took the easy option.' In afascinating sequel to the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Robertson has been involvedin a duel with two of her former crew mates from the Yngling boat which tookthe gold medal and captured the headlines.

While Sarah Ayton and Sarah Webb immediately began a three-year campaign,eventually recruiting 20-year-old Pippa Wilson as the third crew member,Robertson took time out to start a family, gave birth to twins 14 months agoand spent only eight months bidding to clinch a place in her fifth Olympics.

But the competition could not have been closer. At the World Championships inCascais, Portugal, in Julythe Olympic trials for the British teamthe Yngling contest was settled in the final race. A single point separated thetwo rivals, but Ayton's Team

Harrison's Mirabaud were declared world champions with Robertson's crew ofAnnie Lush and 20-year-old Lucy Macgregor taking the bronze medal.

Robertson argued that, because the race had been so close, the Royal YachtingAssociation should make a special case and delay selection until after nextyear's World Championships in Miami in February. That would still allow thesuccessful crew time to prepare for Beijing in August.

But, last week, the selectors chose Ayton's crew, while delaying theirdecisions on other classes. Robertson was furious, but not shocked.

'Maybe, I'll come over as Mrs Bitter of Cowes,' she said at the RoyalCaledonian Yacht Club, near her home on the Isle of Wight. 'But I'm not really.

Time has passed and my expectations weren't that high over the decision. I justfeel angry that we were hung out.

'I've been around this set-up a long time and I know that, generally, peopledon't stick their necks out.

'Surely they could see the potential.

We were on the comeback fast and after a short campaign I would have thoughtthey would have recognised that and said: "OK, she deserves our respect anddeserves a chance". …