Ainslie looks good for gold

SAILING
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The Independent Online
It is crunch time. Britain was exerting big pressure and taking it as the 10 sailing events moved into their finals phase off Savannah yesterday with hopes still alive for five medals and looking strong in two of them.

The windsurfers were due to finish yesterday, shortening the series from 11 to nine races but, after staying ashore all of Saturday because of no wind, they had to wait until late afternoon before being sent out for their eighth with Britain's Penny Wilson lying fourth and knowing there was still a medal chance.

For Wilson a disappointing 20th meant almost certain absence from the Olympic medal roll. But history was made as Lai Shan Lee became, with a race to spare, the first woman from Hong Kong to win sailing gold, and also the last. By 2000 the colony will be part of the People's Republic of China. That leaves the Barcelona gold medallist, New Zealand's Barbara Kendall, to fight it out today for silver and bronze with Jorunn Horgen of Norway and Ke Li of China.

Calling on all their considerable mental strength are John Merricks and Ian Walker. Pre-Games they were expected to be a banker for a medal in the 470 dinghy but a combination of erratic results in wind conditions that have been too much of a lottery to make Savannah worthy of a world status event have been compounded by penalties.

They were disqualified from their first of two races on Saturday after an Estonian protest and were given a yellow flag (card) penalty when coming fourth in a hopes-saving second race. Another yellow flag would mean disqualification from that race. There has been too little silverware for what is a world- class act, too many heroic comebacks. But they were a typically combative second in yesterday's only race, putting them fifth overall, breathing down the neck of America's Morgan Reeser, still capable of pushing into the medals, although the Ukrainian pair of Braslavets and Matviyenko look unassailable for gold.

Also needing to grind it out when her final three races races start tomorrow is Shirley Robertson. The Hampshire-based Scot is nine points behind the bronze medal place in the Europe with the gold and silver out of sight. But she is convinced she can oust Courtney Becker-Dey of the United States, especially if the weather co-operates and the breezes are moderate rather than strong.

Not caring is her male counterpart Ben Ainslie in the Laser. The 19-year- old is sitting pretty in the gold medal slot, also with three races to run, and with a five-point margin over current world champion and great rival Robert Scheidt of Brazil.

Quiet and a little shy ashore, he is fearlessly aggressive on the water, is on a roll, and could, in theory, wrap up the gold with a race to spare when he starts again today after a two-day break. That, however, is not something he wishes to play up. "I'm trying hard not to get too excited," he said. "But I feel much more confident now."

Confident, too, are Andy Beadsworth, Barry Parkin and Adrian Stead in the Soling. They are lying second after eight out of 10 races despite being disqualified from yesterday's only start for being prematurely over the line. The top six to go into the match-race final and the British trio are just one point behind the leader, Jochen Schumann of Germany, one point ahead of America's Jeff Madrigali. Second will earn them a bye direct to the semi-finals if they can hold that place, leaving the other four to race a round robin for the two other slots.

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