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Soviet Cup Bid Survives Coup Chaos

TIMES STAFF WRITER

If “loose lips sink ships,” according to the World War II security slogan, they aren’t helping the Soviet Union’s hopes for the America’s Cup, either.

Doug Smith, the Soviets’ U.S. representative in San Diego, voiced resentment that many observers had written them off even before the recent aborted coup.

“I keep hearing, ‘The Russians don’t have a prayer of getting here,’ ” Smith said. “I think that’s unfair. Whenever those comments come out in the media, whatever progress we’re making with sponsorship gets set back. We’d like to be regarded with some objectivity.”

If anything, Smith said, prospects are looking up for the Soviets to compete in their first America’s Cup starting next February. While their aluminum training boat is awaiting some deck hardware before it sails at Tallin in newly independent Estonia on the Baltic Sea, their carbon fiber campaign boat is under construction at the Energia space plant near Moscow.

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Also, the Red Star ’92 Syndicate, sponsored by the Ocean Racing Club of Leningrad, remains intact, the team is merchandising a line of sailing clothes and caps in the United States--and the Coast Guard and Navy finally have agreed to allow the Soviet boat to enter San Diego Bay.

If they phone first.

Smith received that word from Washington, curiously, on the day the coup started. The events did not seem to be related.

Some other problems remain, such as how they’ll get their boat to San Diego, where they’ll be based and even what flag to fly.

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But least concerned are the Soviets--or the Estonians. In a letter to Smith from Tallin last week, Irena Petrova, secretary of the Red Star ’92 Syndicate, indicated no concern that current events had upset the plans to compete.

“The Soviet Union has gone through a time of frightful turmoil,” she wrote, “but now we can all take a sigh of relief. Estonia has declared its state of independence (and) this has been acknowledged by Russian Federation and a number of foreign countries. Everything happens so quickly now.”

Smith usually hears from the Soviets once a week, on Tuesday, but that was the second day of the coup. Petrova apologized.

“The situation was too hot here,” she said.

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She closed with the comment, “We are pushing forward with our boat-building program.”

There was a dispute over control between the syndicate and the Soviet Yachting Federation, which was connected to the government and whose influence is now uncertain.

“There has been some rivalry between the two,” Smith said. “But when I was in Moscow (in early August) I talked to the head of the yachting federation and brought the two sides together. There were some handshakes and some understanding.”

Smith expected no problems between the Russian and Estonian federations that would affect the Cup involvement.

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“From all I’ve heard it’s more political than personal animosities,” he said.

But what would really convince the world that the Soviets are coming is to get a boat sailing, and Oleg Larionov, the syndicate’s designer, is aware of that.

“He’s told me that it’s really important to get that boat in the water just to show they can do it,” Smith said. “Pride is as much a part of this as competition.

“Our thrust now is to get a boat here,” he said. “Being competitive is being here. When we get on the water we’ll be as representative as the next boat.”

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