Ainslie leaves rivals in his wake
Tuesday 17 August 2004
Brilliant Ben Ainslie stormed back into the lead of his event yesterday, giving Britain two class leads at the half-way point. The trio of Shirley Robertson, Sarah Webb and Sarah Ayton are nine points ahead in their class, and though kept ashore because of strong winds, Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield continue to give the sailing team a grip on three gold medal positions.
Ainslie again revelled in the 25-knot Meltemi conditions in the bay south of Athens, producing a performance that any athlete in this gathering of the world's élite would be proud of, battling over two days from a daunting 19th to a dominant first.
Saturday had looked like a nightmare after Ainslie was disqualified from coming second in his second race. On Sunday the dream answer was two firsts as he let the world know there would be no surrender by one of the brightest hopes Britain had, pre-Games, of a gold medal to add to the one he won four years ago in Sydney and the silver he had to be content with at the tender age of 19 at the Atlanta Games.
Yesterday, the steel bit harder. Ainslie wants his rivals to know who is boss and the way he powered his Finn dinghy past some of the best sailors in the world downwind drew applause afloat. And ashore there was nothing but admiration. The 1984 gold medallist and three-times America's Cup winner Russell Coutts shook his head and whistled "He is pretty impressive", adding a few Kiwi adjectives. "He has a big edge downwind."
To ease the pressure a little more, the man who previously led the 25-boat fleet, the 1996 gold medallist Mateusz Kusnierewicz, of Poland, was also disqualified, for a premature start in the second race of the day. That left Ainslie, fourth in the first race, first in the second, with a one-point lead over second-placed Rafael Trujillo, of Spain, whose very consistent performance now becomes the main threat.
Kusnierewicz slips to third place, a further eight points adrift. He was lucky not to be further behind but the international jury, which administers protests, has been given video evidence that Ainslie was innocent of the accusation made against him by France's Guillaume Florent, leading to the disqualification. They will decide whether to reopen the case tonight.
That would have put the fear of all the Greek gods up the rest of his competitors. But, in the meantime, Ainslie remains locked away from the media circus, focusing on nothing else but winning, although he did admit that he was "pretty knackered" and that after six hard races "my body feels a bit of a wreck".
For Robertson, the golden day was the first when, in the Yngling, she banked a fourth and fifth in less favourable light airs. Since then, her strong, confident crew have come into their own, scoring two firsts, plus a third and a fourth yesterday. A bubbling Sarah Webb said: "We are pretty pleased with the day."
Those strong winds, gusting even higher the further south they went, were way above the limits which the race management team had set themselves as being reasonable. Broken boats, and possibly broken people, were just too much of a risk for the central command centre at the Agios Kosmas marina complex. No other classes, windsurfers, Europe and Laser singlehanders, 49ers and 470s were released from the boat park, so everything else has been delayed for a day and the two 470 classes, men and women, will try to catch up today, instead of being given a day off.
Both the Finn fleets and the Yngling women are given a breather before launching into the final five races of the series.
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