Britain has a new World Champion. Twenty one year old Olympic silver medallist, Ben Ainslie, from Lymington in Hampshire, capped off a remarkable season that has seen wins at Kiel Week, the UK nationals and the European Championships this year alone, with a resounding win at the 1999 Laser world championships in Melbourne, Australia this afternoon.
For the past three seasons’ first place on the podium at the Laser class world championship has belonged to Brazilian Gold medallist Robert Scheidt.
Scheidt reigned supreme at a windy worlds in Cape Town in 1996 whilst Ainslie was third. The tussle continued a few months later at the Savannah Olympic’s when Schiedt pipped Ainslie to the Gold medal in a final race show down whilst the world championship order was repeated in a windless Chile in 1997. Then, in Dubai last March, Ainslie capped his enviable list of achievements with the title of ISAF Single Handed World Sailing Champion, which was contested in the Laser class. He had beaten Scheidt at world level, but not at the world championships.
Today he made it official. 1996 Savannah Olympic Silver medallist, 1998 Laser European Champion, now 1999 Laser World Champion too.
In what was openly regarded as one of the hardest world championships in recent years due to the difficult mix of weather, which ranged to 25 knot winds to fickle breezes, plus only one discard was on offer which meant the slightest mistake would result in tragedy.
Ainslie bowed to the challenge and recorded six race wins in the twelve race series to show the fleet the way home, with a race to spare.
He established a narrow lead on day two, which he held onto over the next six days and started this morning’s race with a fourteen-point lead of Scheidt, who was in second place.
After steeping ashore and receiving a champagne dousing from his father Roddy, Ben said: “It’s been a dream for quite a while to win the Laser worlds. It’s been a hard battle with Michael (Blackburn), Robert (Scheidt) and Karl (Sunesson) but it’s been a good event”.
Ainslie’s “knew what he had to do” if he was to take the opportunity to win the title with a race to spare. He had to finish three places in front of Sheidt in the penultimate race, however, with the wind at 15 knots by the time the fleet left the shore and constantly building, it wasn’t going to be easy.
“I could see Robert near the front after the start and Karl was also up there so I knew I had some catching up to do”.
His seventeenth at the first mark left him with a lot to do, he explained; “It was quite windy by that stage but because there was a windshift on the third beat, some of the people up there weren’t heavy air specialists and I had better speed which allowed to me get up to third by the finish”.
After being asked why he sailed the final race, he commented: “It looked good fun. It was getting pretty windy by then and the waves were quite big so I though it would be quite a blast. It was good to be out there racing that’s what it’s all about really”.
An equally pleased John Derbyshire, Olympic Manager for the RYA commented: “Simply brilliant. It was a faultless performance by a true champion”.
Ainslie has won Britain’s first world championship in an Olympic class since Stuart Childerly and crew won the Soling World match racing Championship in 1995. He will now concentrate on the wining the Laser European championship in Helsinki later this year for the third time in four years.
Meanwhile, for the third Laser worlds in a row, Britain also occupied the fifth place overall, with Hampshire’s Andrew Simpson sailing the regatta of his life, chalking up a race victory in the process and qualifying himself for elite funding the UK’s Sports Council’s World Class Performance Scheme. “It was hard work but great” remarked an extremely pleased Simpson.
AUSTRALIA: Melbourne. 99 World Sailing Championships (after day seven) Laser world championships Gold fleet fina