Andy Rice reviews the fleet as these two classes approach the medal race on Saturday
The Finns and the Ynglings were the first to start the Olympic Regatta five days ago, and both classes have completed six of the 10 qualifying races before the top 10 go through to the final double-points Medal Race this Saturday.
It’s easy to remember that Ben Ainslie has won a silver and two golds from his last three Olympic Regattas, but it’s easy to forget just how terribly he has started each of these events. He has always been on the back foot after day one, none more so than after he was disqualified following a protest by French Finn sailor Guillaume Florent for a controversial port/starboard incident on the opening day in Athens four years ago.
So it was a nice change for Ainslie to emerge in the lead from the first leeward gate of the event, a gate which seemed to be trying to squeeze the whole fleet through the two marks due to the fact that it was also acting as a tidal gate. He led up the next beat and rounded on to the final run to the finish, only to fall into a hole and watch helplessly as he dropped from 1st to 10th in a few excruciating minutes.
Ainslie later admitted that thoughts of those past three Olympic Regattas started clouding his head. Fortunately he bounced back with a bullet in the next race and for the first time ever in the Olympics he was in the top three after day one.
The wheels on some of his rivals’ campaigns started to wobble off on day one, notably the Greek Emilios Papathanasiou who was the chief beneficiary of that first race final run turnaround by getting the winner’s gun after lying second from last at the first mark. Not so lucky in the second where he snagged the start boat anchor, played catch-up, caught a few rivals, only to be penalised twice for infringing kinetics Racing Rule 42. The Greek was obliged to retire from that race. He couldn’t afford any further Rule 42 slips, because that would entail a non-discardable disqualification, but that’s exactly what he got the next day in race 4. End of the Greek’s medal hopes after day 2.
Big surprise of the regatta is Zach Railey, the young American sailor who led for the first two days of the regatta, and who still lies just a point behind Ainslie in the overall standings. With GBR on 17 points, USA on 18, these two have quite a gap on third place, the Frenchman – that very same Frenchman mentioned earlier – Guillaume Florent on 26 points.
A similar situation exists in the Ynglings, where British favourites Sarah Ayton/Sarah Webb/Pippa Wilson hold a four-point lead over the Dutch team. It looks like a two-horse race between these two, as the gap from 2nd to 3rd is a whopping 14 points, although sailors are too superstitious to take such things for granted at the halfway stage. But we journalists are allowed to do that and the front two do look very difficult to catch.
After that, the points stack up very tightly. The third-placed Australian team sits just 4 points ahead of 11th placed Germany, so there is a lot to fight for.
It’s impressive that the Dutch team of Mandy Mulder/Annemieke Bes/Merel Witteveen are giving the well-established British team a run for their money. These three emerged from a three-year selection trial that involved the Dutch Federation choosing what it believed to be the best combination of sailors from a pool of nine full-time athletes. The three athletes only knew they were on the plane to Qingdao a month ago. Not much time for a team to gel. Such ‘arranged marriages’ are unheard of in sailing, where sailors tend to choose each other, but on the strength of their performance so far in Qingdao, you can bet that other nations will be considering the arranged marriage option for Weymouth 2012.
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