Sailing: Ainslie sinks in his 'worst race ever'

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That sinking feeling was not just in Ben Ainslie's stomach as he plummeted from first to 14th in yesterday's painfully slow race for the Finn class in the Athens pre-Olympic regatta. His boat was sinking, too, and the double Olympic medallist could only use a sponge to bail out the Aegean sea pouring in through the two gaping holes in the hull while his main opponents sailed away.

The problem had been caused hours earlier in the day when the first attempt to run the race was abandoned due to wind gyrations. Back ashore Ainslie hosed out the boat and opened the two vents, called self-bailers, which allow water to escape. But he forget to close them again when, anxious to be back on the course quickly, the boat was relaunched from its trailer. The bailers were jammed open and could not be shut again.

That would not have mattered as long as there was enough wind to keep the boat moving fast enough to prevent water coming in. But, at the end of the race, the wind had dropped and the boat started sinking on the penultimate leg. "It was the worst race I have ever sailed," said Ainslie.

But, such was his command of the regatta in the first six races, this seventh result can be discarded and Ainslie retains a 14-point lead over his nearest rival, Sebastien Godefroid of Belgium, with the 1996 gold medallist Mateusz Kusinerewicz of Poland third, a further two points behind.