Gold Beckons For GB Sailors
Triple Olympic medallist Ben Ainslie is guaranteed at least a Finn silver medal after the only race for the class on a difficult day in Qingdao (Friday 15 August).
The Yngling trio of Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb and Pippa Wilson have also ensured a medal for Team GB – a minimum of silver as long as they finish their medal race without incident – with a nail-biting showdown for gold on the cards with the Dutch trio of Mandy Mulder, Annemieke Bes and Merel Witteveen in the women’s keelboat event.
Nick Dempsey picked up his first bullet of the regatta in the men’s RS:X windsurfing event. The Athens bronze medallist has now moved up to the bronze medal position, one point adrift from silver, while Britain’s Star and Tornado crews finally got their regatta underway with one race apiece on Friday. Leigh McMillan and Will Howden posted a sixth in the catamaran event, while Sydney gold medallist Iain Percy and crew Andrew Simpson finished seventh in their opening race of the men’s keelboat class.
The day started in frustrating fashion for Team GB’s sailors, with a delay of almost four hours before racing could finally get underway.
With a cut off time of 1600 to get the Finn and Yngling classes started, there was plenty of tension on course E for those sailors on the brink of the medal race places.
Ainslie saw a good start to what turned out to the only race of the day, leading for most of the race and eventually crossing in second place. A 19th place for his nearest rival Zach Railey (USA), means the triple Olympic medallist Ainslie goes into tomorrow’s double points-scoring medal with a 12-point advantage over the American.
However, with 23 points separating Ainslie in first and Sweden’s Daniel Birgmark in third, it means the Brit cannot finish lower than second overall, and to win gold, Ainslie can afford to finish five boats behind Railey to still keep hold of his Olympic crown.
Asked about his tactics heading into tomorrow’s medal race, Ainslie replied: “Stick to [Zach] like glue I would have thought, especially with this venue!
“I just hope we get some decent breeze – I hope it’s not too light and fluky. But certainly I’ll be keeping a very keen eye on Zach and try not to get too far away from him."
Railey got a bad start in the race today, and cut his losses in trying to make up places through the fleet, opting instead to sail out his nearest rival, Frenchman Guillaume Florent,
Ainslie praised his rival’s tactical nous: “Zach, who’s had a very consistent series, realised that he was never going to into a good enough position to make it count for him so he was better off stopping and waiting for the French guy and just make sure that he had a bad race. It was pretty good tactics really by Zach, and good for me because it gave me a little bit more breathing space!
“But It’s not over yet by a long way, so I’m looking forward to getting out there and sailing a good race tomorrow," Ainslie concluded.
Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb and Pippa Wilson are also guaranteed a medal in the Yngling class going into their medal race with the narrowest of one-point margins over the second-placed Dutch boat.
Ayton’s crew scored a fifth place in their only race of today but with the Dutch crew of Mulder, Bes and Witteveen winning the race, the Brits’ five-point advantage going in the race had been reduced to one by the end of it, teeing up a riveting medal race showdown tomorrow.
Gold will be guaranteed if the Brits finish ahead of the Dutch while it will be silver if they finish behind their rivals. Only a disqualification or failure to finish the race, with the Greek team winning the medal race, would see the Brits finishing with anything less than silver.
On their race result today, Wilson revealed: “We made a slight error on our sail selection and so were a little bit compromised for speed – we overestimated the wind a bit. So it was a tough race but we hung in there tactically and as a team."
While the Yngling girls would not be drawn on their approach to tomorrow’s showdown with the Dutch team, they’re certainly relishing the challenge. “It’s a great position to be in, going into the medal race – it’s just us and the Dutch, who beats who for gold and silver.
“We put enough pressure on ourselves to win gold every day that we sail," Wilson continued. “It’s great to be in this position, but we want gold so we’ll do everything we can to make that happen.
“It’s always been about coming home with a gold medal for us, for Great Britain, for everyone that’s supported us – that’s always what our programme’s been about."
Elsewhere among Team GB’s sailors, European Champion Paul Goodison has found himself at the top of the Laser class leaderboard, thank to a race win in the only race of the day for the single-handed class.
“We finally got to do some hiking – some real sailing almost – and things went well and I seemed to pull away quite nicely so I’m pretty happy with how I sailed today.
“I’m a little bit surprised to be leading after those four races, but it’s a great position to be in," Goodison continued. “It’s going to be one of those events where one day you can slip down the leaderboard, the next you can jump right back up.
“You’ve got to just keep plugging away, keep the results coming, and hopefully be on top at the end of the week."
Penny Clark saw a 22 in the sole race for the Laser Radial class today, but should improve on her overall position of 10th once she can drop her worst result after the fifth race for the fleet tomorrow, while windsurfer Bryony Shaw was also frustrated to have been called up for a premature start in the RS:X women’s only race on Friday. She’s in fifth place overall.
In the 470 men’s event, Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield have slipped just outside of the medal zone with a 20th in their sole race of the day – they’re poised in fourth place, just a point behind the third-placed Portuguese pairing of Alvaro Marinho and Miguel Nunes – while 8,3 for Christina Bassadone and Saskia Clark has seen them break back into the top ten in eighth place overall, and 18 points off the podium spots.
The frustration was palpable for Britain’s 49er crew of Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes – the skiff class was the only one to see no action at all on Friday – with Morrison and Rhodes eager to get racing to boost their position and make amends for some high scores earlier in the week. They’re in eighth place overall.
Schedule of racing – Saturday 16 August (times are local)
Course A: 1300 hrs – Finn medal race
Course A: 1400 hrs – Yngling medal race
Course B: 1200hrs – 49er class (3 races)
Course B: 1400hrs – RS:X men and women (3 races each)
Course C: 1200hrs – Laser and Laser Radial (3 races each)
Course D: 1300hrs – 470 men and 470 women (3 races each)
Course E: 1200hrs – Star and Tornado (3 races each)
You can follow the racing online at www.rya.org.uk/beijing2008, where you will get updates from the dinghy park and the results as they come in, as well as the news from the Team GB camp. You can also leave messages of support for the team and your comments on the racing and Team GB’s prospects.