A cold wind moved through Newport over the weekend, leaving at least two America's Cup skippers with the sniffles.

Ted Turner was up early this morning anyway, rounding up his troops on the eve of the final trials to select the U.S. defender for the Cup races.

His swagger down Bannister's Wharf to his yacht, Courageous, was interrupted when a mighty sneeze came upon him.

He spied a youngster on a bicycle. As the youth drew near, Turner raised a fist, shrieked, "Ah-CHOOO!" and smiled as the boy and bicycle skittered across the lane.

It was exactly the kind of thing Turner's arch rival in these trials, Dennis Conner, would never do.

Conner is the nearly prohibitive favorite to defend the America's Cup in September. In 34 trial races with Turner and young Russell Long this summer, Conner and his deep blue 12-meter Freedom have been beaten only three times.

Conner had a sore throat this morning. Unlike Turner, he seemed to welcome the opportunity to sleep in, then meet in peace in his quarters with sail trimmer John Marshall and navigator Halsey Hereshoff.

It wasn't until noon that Conner made his quiet way to the docks for a short day of sail-testing.

It's strange that Conner, an unimposing, slightly portly, utterly soft-spoken 37-year-old, should be running a boat called Freedom. Better they had named it "Control," because that is his long suit. He's the kind of guy who would stifle a sneeze in a hurricane.

The plan that led to Freedom's dominance in this year's trials was formulated two summers ago when Conner met with two project managers at their request. They offered him the helm of a 1980 venture with the yacht Enterprise.

Conner said yes, if certain conditions were met.

The conditions, according to Ed Moulin, one of the principals at the meeting, were these:

Conner would have two boats to work with.

He would not be replaced as skipper under any circumstances.

Only one of the boats would be entered in the finals, to be chosen by Conner.

He would be free to select any sails and crew he wanted.

According to duMoulin, "Every point that was brought up at that meeting has been carried through. There have been no deviations whatever from the battle plan." He got his second boat, Freedom, and she is the one he finally selected.

Said duMoulin, "We knew Dennis took things seriously, but we had no idea about his organizing ability."

Today, Conner sat in the cool, brisk sunlight at the Williams and Manchester Wharf and spoke briefly about his single-minded two-year, $2 million quest for the Cup.

"What works the best for me is to be as prepared as possible" he said. "I don't think when you are going for the top in any sport you can put too much time or effort into it."

Traditionally U.S. 12-meter organizations have prepared for an America's Cup year by getting their boats in the water early in the spring and waging a five-month campaign.

But Conner's idea was to bury the opposition with practice and planning. He started his two-boat campaign 1 1/2 years ago, and has logged 1,500 hours of 12-meter match-racing time on West and East coasts.

He left nothing to change. He tried out 150 crew applicants, winnowing out the best for his 10-man crew and the 11 men on Enterprise, his trial horse boat.

Through the 1 1/2-year ordeal of testing sails, boats and people, Conner earned a reputation for cool detachment.

Unlike Turner, whose fierce outbursts at the helm are legendary, Conner raised his voice. "Sure, I feel like shouting sometimes," said this artist in self-control. "But I feel it's disruptive. You don't get people to perform better by yelling. Sometimes they do worse."

And in the arduous crew selection he stayed away from favorites. "I like to get the best talent available," he said, "whether they're close friends or not. Then I make it work.

If anything, Conner is a man driven to perfection. In his autobiography, "No Excuse to Lose," he talks about his childhood in California, where he grew up next door to the San Diego Yacht Club. He learned to sail there but never had the money for his own boat until he was 27 yeard old.

"Perhaps because I could never own my own boat as a kid I had a bit of an inferiority complex," he writes. "But since sailing was one of the few things I could do well, and since it was important for me to excel at something, I kept at it . . ."

He crewed for everyone who would take him on the West Coast, compiling in his mind a list of quality traits. "I got to see some of the top sailors of the world," he said today. "I looked for sailing ability, organization, leadership and the total-effort standpoint, and I tried to emulate the best in each."

Now Conner is the man other sailors are trying toe emulate. He and duMoulin predict that his two-boat, two-seasons-of-practice approach will set the standard for all future Cup attempts.

"We had some doubts about the two-boat idea at first," duMoulin said. "The theory has always been to get two boats and two skippers and let them hammer at each other for the right to defend the Cup. Dennis' idea was to get two boats and point the whole effort at turning out one winner. It turned out to be the proper way."

Conner has put himself in the catbird seat by following his instincts to cover all possibilities. His detractors say he's taking the fun out of the American's Cup and turning it into business.

To be sure, he never seems quite comfortable. He dodges the media, citing his lack of charisma, and seems to suffer quietly at social events.

But Conner claims he couldn't be happier. "I love it," he said. "I can't think of any place I'd rather be. I look forward to every single day."