His element is air, not water. The wind, not the sea. But in order to seal his status as the most decorated sailor in Olympic history, as he did with a fourth gold here yesterday, Ben Ainslie, right, needed fire. After all, he prised the laurels from Jonas Hogh-Christensen only on a medal race tie-break – and might never have done so, but for being provoked from his torpor by his Danish rival.
On Thursday, Ainslie was infuriated when Hogh-Christensen and the Dutchman, Pieter-Jan Postma, accused him of touching a marker. Obliged to take a penalty turn, he came back seething. "They've made me angry," he said. "You don't want to do that."
Sure enough, Ainslie then harnessed the winds and closed the gap to leave things on a knife-edge yesterday. So long as they did not let Postma get too far ahead, whichever of the rivals finished first would win gold. In a failing, fitful wind, however, Ainslie and heeded the old axiom: "Don't get mad, get even." The 35-year-old beat only one of the other nine boats. But it was the only one that mattered. "Today was a strategy race," he said. "It was about making right decisions." Actually, as much as anything, gold ultimately proved contingent on sheer luck. In playing cat-and-mouse with the series leader, Ainslie took a chance on Postma – and, in a fateful twist, could well have paid the price but for the Dutchman getting tangled with Dan Slater in a desperate late dash, and being obliged to take a penalty turn himself. Ainslie made a much quicker start than Hogh-Christensen and was never going to let him by thereafter. Following the turbulence of midweek, on and off the water, this was more like to chess on an invisible board of gusts. It might have suited the crowd, sprawled on a sunny hill, but the less exposed course made for a nuanced, stressful business. At the end Ainslie, confessed: "That was the most nerve-racking experience of my life. It was a really tough week. Expectations were so high, and Jonas sailed one of the best series I've ever seen. I don't want to go through anything like that again in my life."
It seems unlikely that he will do so in Rio. "You never say never," he said. "But it's all but impossible to expect anything as good as this."
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