Is the pressure of national expectation taking its toll on the British Team?

What has happened to British sailing performance? It maybe too early to draw too many conclusions but it didn’t stop the questions being asked around Weymouth. Were the cycling wobbles being repeated in sailing?

With some of Britain’s best medal prospects going into bat early, their performances were always going to be scrutinised closely. And so they were with Ainslie’s two races where he seemed lacking in boat speed upwind. But to make matters worse, today he seemed unable to make the big gains on the downwind legs.

“I didn’t sail very well and I’m not very happy with it at all,” said a tired and frustrated looking Ainslie as he stepped ashore. “I’m going to have to raise my game for the rest of the week. I’ve just got to go out there and get my act together. It’s not like you wake up one day and you’re a bad sailor, there are good days and bad days and as a sailor you have to accept that.”

If there was a man of the match at the end of Day 2 it was once again the Dane, Jonas Hogh-Christensen who had scored two firsts yesterday. In the first race today he scored a second, making it clear that yesterday was no fluke. But then he appeared to trip up only to produce the most impressive race of his series so far.

In the second race of the day Hogh-Christensen got caught up on the pin end mark at the start and had to perform penalty turns to exonerate himself. Buried deep in the fleet this was surely Ainslie’s opportunity to nail a good result and see the Dane use his discard. But as the race unfolded not only did Hogh-Christensen work his way through the fleet, but overtook Ainslie in the process. The Dane had out-Ainslied Ainslie finishing 7th to Ben’s 12th.

“I think I rounded in 22nd or 23rd at the first mark,” explained Hogh-Christensen. “I was a bit angry with myself it was a stupid mistake and could have been costly. Luckily I had a good race and got back.

“I can get pretty fuelled up when doing badly and I’ve broken a few tiller extensions in the process. But I had to push hard as it didn’t matter whether I finished 22nd or 25th, I had to get back up and pushed as hard as I could.”

The race had been one of plenty of drama as the early leader Tapio Nirkko (FIN) capsized at the leeward gate allowing Rafael Trjillo (ESP) to take the lead. Yet even this was to be short lived as the Spaniard lost his lead after his rudder came off in a tack resulting in a capsize.

In the end it was Swedish sailor Daniel Birgmark who took the win on race four.

But while Ainslie’s opening performance has been surprising, his competitors at least are acutely aware that this is just the kind of pressure and frustration that can lead to a classic explosion of determination. When Ainslie’s angry, he’s often at his best and from the way he looked this evening there is every reason to expect him to turn his performance around. Furthermore his is lying 3rd and clearly still in contention.

Elsewhere in the British camp there was further frustration.

Paul Goodison had a dreadful day scoring a 10th and a 23rd leaving him 17th overall, trailing his main rival Tom Slingsby who is leading after a 1st and a 2nd by 30 points.

“In the first race I had quite a good start but didn’t quite get out of the pack and once you’re in that pack it’s very difficult to sail where you want to go and do what you want to do, so it was pretty tricky,” he said.

Life didn’t get any easier in the second race when he was forced to take a penalty.
“That was just a bit of a misjudgement of the tide, I got the tide wrong, but early on I didn’t get out of the start. I think that’s really what put me in a poor position.”

Of more concern to the team was a muscle problem with Goodison that required investigation and treatment straight after he stepped ashore.

“He had muscular pain after the beginning of the second race of the day. The news is that he has responded well to the physio and should be fine for tomorrow,” said Olympic manager Stephen Park.

The 49ers also had a disappointing start to the series too as Morrison and Rhodes came away with two 12th positions despite putting in some good performances at times, especially in the second race.

“We didn’t seem to find a good rhythm but we think our overall strategy was OK,” said Stevie Morrison. “It’s not how you want to start the regatta but I’m relatively confident that many people [in the fleet] will be counting results like that. It’s not time to panic, we’re happy with our speed. It’s about being patient and being tough.”

In this fleet it was another Danish team that led the overnight rankings as Allan Norregaard and Peter Lang scored a 2nd and a 4th.

In the Laser Radials Irish sailor Annalise Murphy, who comes into her own as the breeze kicks in, nailed two bullets today. This sailor has been on our radar for some time now and with more breeze forecast she will be one to watch out for in the next few days. But so too will Britain’s Alison Young who had a reasonable start to her first ever Games with a 7th and 10th.

But the best news for the British team and its supporters was in the Star class where Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson posted a 3rd and a 2nd to take the lead overall while their main competition, Robert Scheidt and Bruno Prada had a 9th and 6th to push them down to 4th overall. No one is taking anything for granted at this stage as there is still along way to go, but once again, the breezier conditions should work in the Brits favour.

“Iain is fantastic at steering the boat downwind in that stuff and we should be getting more of that on the South course where we are tomorrow,” said his crew Andrew Simpson.

As you can imagine there’s plenty of debate already as to what has happened to the anticipated British performance. There are all kinds of theories and gossip but the one thing we’re not hearing much chatter about is the idea of a home advantage. At present its more of a home disadvantage.

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