But is there more going on? As the pressure starts to build on the race course are we seeing a battle ashore as well?
I wasn’t expecting to talk to Ben today after racing.
With four fleet races and a medal race to go, the end of the runway has started to come into view and it is not unusual when the pressure comes on for sailors to be hustled past the press as quickly as possible. It’s understandable, for the moment a medal is more important than an interview.
We know that he was pretty hacked off yesterday. Today’s races showed little reason for him to feel any different as the points gap between him and Hogh-Christensen, taking the discard into account, is now 10 points.
A further two defeats by the new Danish superstar today were among the most damaging of the regatta so far. In the first race he showed Ainslie a clean pair of heels from the start while Ainslie was forced to look at two other transoms between him and Hogh-Christensen as he finished fourth. Furthermore, his best position in the race was third, but then dropped to fifth before recovering to fourth by the finish. We are all used to seeing Ben’s position during a race change like a count down to New Years’ Eve with a steady progression to the top rather than fluctuating like the readout on a digital anemometer.
In the second race of the day the damage was even worse despite figures on the score sheet that suggested that the gap had been closed between DEN and Ben.
Hogh-Christensen had gone for another pin end start but thought he was over and returned to clear himself. Being at the pin end meant that he had to round the end, gybe and return to cross the line, a far more costly manoeuvre than simply dipping back towards the line and back up again. And still he came out smelling of roses, rounding the top mark in fourth, overtaking Ben and finishing in second.
On shore or afloat, this was new territory for all of us, so what the mood must have been like aboard Rita, Ben’s boat, was anybody’s guess.
Yet come the daily parade past the press Ben ambled up to a pack of journalists that seemed more nervous about asking what had happened and what he could do to reverse his fortunes than he was telling us.
“It was a better day today but obviously Jonas had a better day, it’s tough,” said Ainslie. “He’s certainly having the regatta of his life at the moment and on fire.
I’m not as angry with myself as I was yesterday, I was really pissed off to be honest,” he continued, taking many of us by surprise.
“For one reason or another he’s the one who’s managing to find those wind shifts out there. So at some point the tables need to turn and I need to start getting some points back.”
Was this a hint that he felt Hogh-Christensen had been lucky with some of his more radical choices? You’d be hard pressed to find any British team member that will use the word ‘luck’ in any reference to either their performance or that of their competitor’s but this seemed to come as close as you could. Was he also firing a warning shot, ‘I’m out to get you now’?
“I need him to start slipping up, he’s been sailing incredibly well so far, but whether he can keep that going until the end, we will see.”
There has been friction between these two before and both admit to getting quite fiery on the water. Today’s chat with the press was starting to feel like that before a boxing match, albeit more gentlemanly and more subtle.
Beaming as he has been for the last three days, Hogh-Christensen was bubbling this afternoon as indeed you would expect with such an impressive score line against such a high profile favourite.
“Today we had a straight game plan. We wanted to go left, there was more current going up the left. To me it was about getting a good start and going hard for the left side. That was going well and I led all around the first race,” he said before describing his claw back in the second race after thinking he was over the line.
“I was in a pretty bad spot and had to fight my way back, working the middle of the course, trying to come left. But I had to take the shifts because I couldn’t find a lane. But I did that well and rounded the weather mark fourth,” he continued.
“But it’s still close on points, ten points is nothing so it’s all about going out and trying to do one or two good races on Thursday and then seeing where we are after that.”
Was he surprised to be in this position?
“It’s a bit of a surprise at being 6:0 on Ben after six races,” he said. “It’s rare to be sailing as well as I am, but someone has to do it!”
Nevertheless, in Falmouth at the Worlds the racing had been more spread out, almost processional and Ainslie had led the charge, why was it now so much closer?
“It’s closer because you have fewer boats and they are all great sailors, so it’s quite easy to find clear air and get a lane, whereas in a big fleet someone has a bad start or they get on the wrong side and all of a sudden they are a long way behind,” said Ainslie, countering a popular view before this Games that it was more difficult to win a World championships than it was an Olympic medal.
“In this situation with fewer boats we are seeing guys get bad starts, bale out, go behind and get a clear lane, go fast and get back in the top three or four at the top mark. So it’s a very different style of racing to what you see in a bigger fleet.” A rather different take on Hogh-Christensen’s performance today.
So would Ben prefer to see different conditions?
“It would generally be better right now if the wind went very light because of the guys in the fleet. I’m generally quicker than them,” he said.
Yet in Falmouth for the Worlds he had shown dominance in strong winds, streaming away off the front of the fleet.
Perhaps he had selected the wrong rig? Developing the right rig and sail combination is one of the key areas for Finn success. It is difficult to imagine that Ben and his team have picked the wrong combo for the event given how sharp they are on the local weather and the forecasts. Yet Ben’s apparent lack of pace, particularly upwind, appears to have dogged him all throughout the last three days.
Hogh-Christensen also had a few things to say about rigs today, but his comments appeared to be a bit of a dig against Ainslie, did he know something we didn’t?
“We started the development of my equipment more than a year ago and to come to the mast I have today we went through five, six, seven masts probably. But if you ask Ben how many masts he’s had it’s probably fifty. We have one way of doing it, we don’t have the same budget but I think we manage quite well and we try to outsmart the Brits.”
Technology always plays a big part in top level Finn racing but so too can a battle of words. Most will caution against rattling Ben, but Jonas is in a buoyant mood, has freely admitted to getting quite cross and is clearly up for a fight.
But to get back to battle both will have to wait until Thursday when racing for the Finns (and Stars) resumes.
ELSEWHERE IN THE BAY
Star – Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson continued to hold their lead in the Star class, winning the first race and coming second to Robert Scheidt and Bruno Prada in the following race. The upshot on points was to keep the score between these two the same as the night before, the Brits holding a slim 4 point lead over their main rivals.
After the race Percy was keen to stress that the day had been ‘great fun’ but was clearly aware that there was still a long way to go.
49er – Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen had an impressive day and moved themselves into first overall with Kiwis Peter Burling and Blair Tuke 9 points behind in second. In a fleet that has more races (and quick-fire ones at that) than any other class bar the match racing, Outteridge says that to maintain in medal contention you need to be averaging an 8th position or better. Despite capsizing on the second race they still managed a 4th – with that kind of performance its easy to see why this pair remain the favourites.
Marina Alabau leads the overnight tables with a 2nd and 1st in the opening races. She was in familiar company at the top of the table with Israel’s Lee-Ei Korsiz in second and Poland’s Zofia Noceti-Klepacka in third. All three have been familiar names on the podium at Weymouth’s Sail for Gold. Britain’s Bryony Shaw scored a 7th and 6th to take 6th overall.
Holland’s Dorian van Russelberge, who you may not recognise given that he’s shaved his head for the event, scored two bullets today while Poland’s Przemslaw Miarczynski scored a similarly symmetrical score line with a pair of seconds as did Germany’s Toni Wilhelm with his two thirds. Britain’s Nick Dempsey finished the day in fourth with a 5th and 7th.
Tom Slingsby continues to leads this class, albeit with a slip in the second race. His day’s results a 2nd and a 6th. The Cypriot sailor Pavlos Kontides is in second by just four points with the Swedish sailor Rasmus Myrgren currently lies in third.
In the round robin so far, Australia and Russia share the lead, Spain and France share third and there is a four way split between Finland, Britain, Netherlands and New Zealand for fifth.