Ainslie claims third gold and targets 2012 glory
Monday 18 August 2008
An historic third consecutive gold medal for Ben Ainslie and a double for the golden girls Sarah Ayton and Sarah Webb, with new crew Pippa Wilson, had flags flying and hardy supporters cheering on the shore of a wet and windy Yellow Sea yesterday.
Ainslie was majestic as he destroyed the opposition to lead the 10 Finn singlehanders through the finish line. After having the gold in his grasp before what would have been the clinching race on Saturday was aborted, he was in his element as the wind blew at its strongest in the regatta so far. He needed only loose control of his nearest challenger, Zach Railey of the United States, and led at every mark.
In Germany, home of his girlfriend Annette Fiedler, Ainslie has been dubbed the James Bond of world sailing. Among the judges and umpires who run the game around the world he is known simply as "the governor". In the boat park he is simply the best dinghy sailor in the world.
Yesterday Ben, like a star Brazilian footballer instantly recognised everywhere by the single name, consolidated his status as a living legend when he became Britain's greatest-ever Olympic sailor, eclipsing the two golds and a silver of Rodney Pattisson from 1968 to 1976.
Ainslie had come close to a fourth gold at his first try when, at 19 in 1996 in the Laser dinghy, he first made people sit up but was suckered into silver by a mistake that gave the Brazilian Robert Scheidt the gold. He had his revenge four years later, in Sydney, when he blocked and bullied Scheidt out of all gold medal hope in their final race. The watching band of media grizzlies have never forgotten it. This was a champion at his most destructive.
Since then he has matured and matured. He is as much in tune with his boat, the wind and the waves as any musician with an instrument or mathematician with numbers.
Endless hours have been spent by rivals analysing his technique. What they cannot analyse is his natural feel for what to do next. By the time they realise there is a decision to be made, Ben has already made it.
At that Sydney regatta he saw an old friend and rival, Iain Percy, similarly bemuse his rivals in the heavier Finn singlehanded dinghy and take gold. When Percy moved on to the Star two-man keelboat Ainslie stepped up with authority.
Now Ainslie, who is also skipper of a British challenge for the America's Cup, can also look forward to a fifth Olympic campaign. This one will be made more special because it will be contested in Britain on waters he knows well, off Weymouth as part of London 2012. "It would be amazing to be racing in home waters in 2012," he said. "It would be a dream come true." He already has both an MBE and an OBE. What next? Must he wait until another victory at home before he hears "Arise, Sir Ben"?
Ayton, Webb and Wilson – the "three blondes in a boat" – pulverised the only team that could beat them, the Dutch trio of Mandy Mulder, Annemeike Bes and Merel Witteveen.
"We can't describe what we have been through these last four years and two for Pippa," Ayton said. "Winning a second Olympic gold medal is absolutely awesome and we're all overwhelmed, to be honest." After being helped from their boat by British team members, the first to come and congratulate them were the Dutch silver medallists.
Barely had the Sarahs won their first gold with Shirley Robertson in 2004 than they decided to put their own campaign together. That led to Robertson retaliating with a new crew. But the immensely talented Ayton swept her old skipper aside. Relations remain strained, but, with the addition of Wilson, they have gone on to do the same to the rest of the world.
Yesterday the British team had complete composure after their race, scheduled for 24 hours earlier, had been delayed by light winds. Their coach, Paul Brotherton, helped pick the right sail combination, and they established control of the Dutch on the first leg.
Today sees the medal shoot-out for the 470 dinghies, already sewn up by Australia's Nathan Wilmot and Malcolm Page, but Britain's Nick Rogers are in a shout against the Dutch and the French for a medal. Christina Bassadone and Saskia Clark are in the top 10.
Paul Goodison is back at the top of the Lasers with his medal race due tomorrow. His woman counterpart, Penny Clark, is eighth.
Ayton's fiancé, Nick Dempsey, slipped to fourth after a poor 17th yesterday in the windsurfing, but the top four are tight and he can still equal his Athens bronze in Wednesday's medal race. Britain's woman windsurfer, Bryony Shaw, is sixth.
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