British teams step up the game and beat several fleet favourites
While the sailors may have looked calm as they prepared to head out this morning, there were jitters all round this morning around the dinghy park. Clearly this was a big day for Ainslie as he prepared to haul back Hogh-Christensen and start working his way back to the front of the fleet.
But there were others in the Brit camp who were facing a big day too, not least the 470 men Luke Patience and Stuart Bithell who were embarking on their first day in the first Olympics in front of a capacity crowd on the Nothe. Plenty of pressure there then, even for such an upbeat duo. But by the end of their day they were to become one of several big stories.
In the 49ers Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes proved yesterday that they are capable of hauling themselves back into the mix by posting two solid results, while in the Stars, Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson were out to protect their narrow lead in big seas and potentially boat breaking conditions.
By the middle of proceedings today the news was upbeat for the Brits.
Ben Ainslie nailed his start in his more typical aggressive style taking the pin end of the line to allow him to get out to the left hand side of the race course where there was more tide sweeping him up the course. He pulled off this risky strategy perfectly, leaving his main competitor Jonas Hogh-Christensen mid line and behind.
By the weather mark Ainslie had taken the lead as the fleet charged across the reaching leg before bearing away for the first of two downwind legs. Hogh-Christensen was clearly pushing hard, too hard as it turned out and capsized dropping him to 13th. He righted the boat quickly and fought back later in the race to finish 8th.
Ainslie was challenged later in the race briefly when Dutchman Pieter-Jan Posta took the lead at the final weather mark rounding only to be overtaken by Big Ben on the final downwind leg.
The result closes the gap between Ben and Hogh-Christensen to 4 points overall, a big improvement. But from Ainslie’s perspective the really important issue must surely be that his more typical performance had returned and that his closest opponent may be starting to get rattled.
In the second race Ainslie had to fight hard just to hold onto the front runners. The Dane was ahead for all the opening legs and by the last downwind leg, the prospects of Ben beating the Dane looked grim. But in the last third of the leg Ainslie worked hard on the right hand side of the course, caught a gust and a shift and worked his way down to the leeward mark. The Dane took the left hand side and left the door open for Ben to slip round in front at the leeward mark. A fast reaching blast to the finish and another valuable point had been stripped from the Dane’s lead over Ben.
The 470 race was superb, Patience and BIthell rounding the first weather mark in fifth place before going on to climb to second, a position they held until the finish. Even better news for them was that they had beaten the class favourites, Matthew Page and Malcolm Belcher.
In their second race they stormed off the front of the fleet to lead all the way round. The Australians had a dismal second race after returning to re-cross the line left them at the back of the fleet. They pulled themselves back into the fleet only to clash with the Italians and had to put in penalty turns – they finished 9th.
More good news on the 49er front as Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes took two firsts in the gusty shifty conditions, a superb performance against formidable competition.
In the Star class Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson took 1st in the first of today’s races, the Brazilians 3rd to extend their overall lead over Scheidt and Prada to 6 points.
In the second race the Brits had managed to haul themselves in front of the Brazilians half way around the race.
If nothing else we now know that it wasn’t big Wednesday but big Thursday, at least for British supporters.
More news to follow…