Big winds as British chase down Qingdao medals at Qingdao International Regatta 30/8/06

Another good day for Britain’s sailors at the 2006 Qingdao International Regatta on Tuesday (29 August) sees them poised for five gold medals heading into Wednesday’s final medal races on the 2008 Olympic waters.

With a second and a first from Tuesday’s two races, Ben Ainslie has stretched his lead in the Finn class to 20 points, so must now just finish the medal race cleanly to clinch gold from his first Olympic classes regatta in a year, while Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield are 16 points clear at the top of the 470 men’s leaderboard heading into the final showdown.

49er World Champions Chris Draper and Simon Hiscocks, Laser European Champion Paul Goodison and world Star bronze medallists Iain Percy and Steve Mitchell are also in gold medal positions for Skandia Team GBR, while Penny Clark is assured of at least a bronze in the Laser Radial class, and Yngling trio Helena Lucas, Annie Lush and Lucy Macgregor are currently in silver medal position.

There was a marked change of pace at the 2006 Qingdao International Regatta on Tuesday, with the ultra-light winds of recent days replaced by wind speeds of up to 20 knots and huge swell in Fushan Bay.

The 49er sailors suffered as a result of the turn in conditions, with many sailors capsizing on the racecourse as they struggled with the stronger wind against the tide. The boats had almost managed to complete one race before racing for the fleet was abandoned for the day.

Draper and Hiscocks head into today’s medal race in pole position, just three points ahead of France’s Dyen and Rocherieux in second, but assured of at least a silver as 29 points separate the second and third places. European Champions Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes have a shot at bronze today – they’re currently in seventh, but a good medal race could boost them onto the podium.

Dominant all week in the light conditions, Ben Ainslie proved his worth in the stronger stuff as well yesterday, with a 2,1 from the fleet’s two races. In the first race, Ainslie hit the windward mark last after taking penalty turns at the race start after an infringement on Swede Johan Tillander – but managed to pick his way back through the fleet to finish the race in second, just one wave behind race winner and World Champion Jonas Hoegh-Christensen of Denmark.

“It was markedly different to all the other days – 15-20 knots, big waves and some really good sailing actually. It was really good fun!” Ainslie said afterwards.

“At the start of the first race, I guess I misjudged the tacking angles a bit and managed to tack into a guy who was sailing along nicely on starboard tack so I had to take a penalty for that and it put me right at the back of the fleet at the beginning of the race. But I managed to claw my way back into it which was pleasing in those breezes.

“I made a gybe out on the first run to try and counter the current and really went for it on the pumping so pulled a few boats back on that one,” Ainslie continued, describing his comeback. “That got me up to sixth or seventh, and then I just took a few more through the race.

“I’m pretty knackered now! I couldn’t go and do another race [today] – it was right on the limit for me and there were times I think where I was struggling a little bit, but I managed to keep going.”

Ed Wright earned the chance to race again in the medal race today, posting a 9,3 yesterday to see him into 10th place overall.

In the 470 men’s class Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield remain in gold medal position with a 3,6 from their efforts yesterday, while Nic Asher and Elliot Willis also had a great day, moving up to fourth – just three points from third – with a 2,5 from their two races.

Iain Percy and Steve Mitchell nudged just one point ahead in the overall Star standing, with a second from their only race today, while both of Skandia Team GBR’s Yngling crews continue to push for honours. Helena Lucas, Annie Lush and Lucy Macgregor remain in second overall with two thirds from their races yesterday, while Sarah Ayton’s team of Sarah Webb and Katherine Hopson had a better day in the breeze with a 2,1 to see them up to fourth and within touching distance of the podium.

Rob Wilson and Mark Bulkeley will feature in the Tornado medal race, finishing the preliminary series in seventh with 10,4 from yesterday’s races, while European Champion Nick Dempsey showed great form in the stronger winds today with a second and a first in the RS:X men’s races to boost him into the medal race.

With 14 boats contesting today’s finals – and seven of those in podium positions heading into the last race – Skandia Team GBR will be looking to show they can master the myriad of conditions the 2008 Olympic waters have to offer when the medal races get underway.

Skandia Team GBR medal race contenders

Finn: Ben Ainslie; Ed Wright

Laser: Paul Goodison; Nick Thompson

Laser Radial: Penny Clark

Yngling: Helena Lucas-Annie Lush-Lucy Macgregor; Sarah Ayton-Sarah Webb-Katherine Hopson

470M: Nick Rogers-Joe Glanfield; Nic Asher-Elliot Willis

RS:X M: Nick Dempsey

Tornado: Rob Wilson-Mark Bulkeley

Star: Iain Percy-Steve Mitchell

49er: Chris Draper-Simon Hiscocks; Stevie Morrison-Ben Rhodes