Ainslie prepares to land third gold as rivals fade
Saturday 16 August 2008
Two silver medals are guaranteed and two golds are beckoning, to wake up Britain today with yet more fanfares for one of its most successful Olympic teams of this century, the sailors. They bagged five medals in 2000 and five more in 2004.
Ben Ainslie's closest rival, the American Zach Railey, gave up the chase yesterday to concentrate on pushing further down the pack his own rival for the silver medal in the Finn singlehander, Guillaume Florent of France.
Ainslie is the reigning gold medallist from Athens and is on track for a third Olympic gold in a row after winning silver at his first attempt, when he was a 19-year old, on the Savannah track of the Atlanta games in 1996.
Railey paid tribute, saying: "Ben is one of the best dinghy sailors ever." The situation is much tighter for the Yngling trio of Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb and Pippa Wilson, who have a single point lead over the only other crew which can beat them for gold, Mandy Mulder, Annemeike Bes and Merel Witteveen of The Netherlands.
Ainslie was in ice cold mood in the heat of the dockside at the £250m new sailing centre yesterday. "That's half a job," he said about having made sure of silver. "It's going to be a tough race tomorrow and even though I have a 12-point margin, you can never have enough.
"I think a top 10 medal race, which scores double points, notches up the pressure a bit more than for a world championship or a European championship," he added.
Wilson, at 22 the youngest member of the Team GBR sailing squad, had all the composure of a veteran as she said of the gold medal decider today: "We're prepared for it to be a close race, and it's not like we haven't been in this position before. Tomorrow we have one thing to do and we know we can do it.
"There may be a few butterflies beforehand, but I think that's healthy. We
want gold and will do everything to win gold."
Ayton's fiancé Nick Dempsey also had a smile on his face as he won his windsurfer race, the only one possible on a muggy day in which the wind was at best fitful, swinging in direction and blowing anything from two to 14 knots. That pushed the Athens bronze medallist up to third overall after five races. "I prefer a tactical contest to a fitness contest," he commented.
The women's boardsailor, Bryony Shaw, was disqualified for jumping the gun at the start, but this did not affect her fifth overall position. Having a happier time was the Laser sailor Paul Goodison, the Rotherham man going joint top with Rasmus Myrgren of Sweden after winning his fourth race, but, in the Laser radial, a 22nd for Penny Clark sent her down to 10th out of 28.
The 2004 silver medallists in the 470 dinghy, Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield, had "a shocker of a day", their 20th pushing them down a place to fourth overall. But their counterparts in the women's division, Christina Bassadone and Sakia Clark scored an eighth and a third to lift themselves into the top ten at eighth with two more fleet races to go before the medal shoot-out. They are 18 points off the bronze medal position.
Taking to the water for the first time were the Star keelboats and the Tornado catamarans. All eyes at the Tornado start were focussed on the American boat on which Johnny Lovell and Charlie Ogletree were the only ones out of the 15 to opt for much bigger upwind sail that has to double as a downwind spinnaker. It pulled them rapidly off the start line but then sent them crashing backwards in winds that were too strong for it to deliver real advantage. They finished 14th as Britain's Leigh McMillan and Will Howden posted a sixth.
In the Stars, where there are six former world champions among the 16 entries, 2000 Finn gold medallist Iain Percy, who is one of the six, with crew Andrew Simpson, were seventh after losing valuable places - they were third at the last turning mark - on the final run. "We will be in serious mode all week," said Percy. "But we feel pretty confident going in."
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