Sailing: Ainslie's fightback makes up for Percy and Mitchell bronze

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The Independent Online

Britain's sailors were bubbling yesterday as in event after event they delivered performances which had the Olympic team-manager, Stephen Park, talking about an "excitement which can lift the whole team down here".

As Park was speaking, the first medal winners were also up on the podium. Iain Percy, the Finn gold medal winner in Sydney in 2000, with his crew Steve Mitchell took bronze in the Star keelboat.

However, it was not what they had planned, meaning they had lost the world title they won in Los Angeles last year. The gold medal went to Xavier Rohart and Pascal Rambeau, of France, but it still allowed the British Olympic Association to confirm the pair's selection for Athens.

Percy is a plain-speaking man and he was disappointed with an overall performance which slipped badly in the last two races of a series shortened by one to 10. But the strain of a late August pre-Olympics in Athens and a European Championship in Portugal ahead of the competition here had just been too demanding.

Equally self-critical, Ben Ainslie, defending his world title in the Finn class which Percy had dominated before him, had reached the halfway stage in second place. Nevertheless he was dissatisfied, saying he thought it was "time to go away and think about it" because he was experiencing "a bad patch".

Yesterday, he put in a typically powerful display to win the first race and a combative display in the second as he slugged it out for the runners-up spot with the 1996 Olympic gold medallist, Mateusz Kusnierewicz, of Poland.

It was settled in Ainslie's favour by an umpire yellow-flagging the Pole into taking penalty turns 20 yards from the line.

That, with three races to go, put Ainslie in the lead overall. In second place is his great rival Andrew Simpson, a sign of the British strength which had Park adding: "Other sailors having good performances raises everybody's game."

Those other competitors include Leigh McMillan and Mark Bulkeley, who lead the Tornado catamarans, and Chris Draper and the Sydney silver medallist Simon Hiscocks, who go into the second and final section of the 49er dinghy similarly in command.

Improving throughout the season, Christina Bassadone and Katherine Hopson are lying second overall in the 470 dinghy, while seventh overall in the three-woman Yngling keelboat was also enough for Simon Clegg, the chief executive of the BOA, to confirm the team's selection for Athens.