Ainslie's challenge hits the rocks early
Sunday 15 August 2004
The British sailing team were rocked late last night when their gold-medal favourite Ben Ainslie was disqualified from the second race of the Olympic regatta dropping him down the rankings from a nicely-poised fourth after day one to 19th.
Ainslie had had a difficult first race but managed to salvage ninth place from a poor start. Then as the sea breeze kicked in and his mental resolve began visbly to fire, he returned to imperious form in race two to finish second behind the Pole Mateusz Kusznierewicz, his main rival for the gold medal.
But unbeknown to Ainslie, the French sailor Guillaume Florent had filed a protest and Ainslie was dragged back from the British team accommodation to answer it. Florent claimed Ainslie had not given way when required early in the second race and with the onus on Ainslie as the keep-clear boat in a port and starboard situation to prove he had kept clear and with no witnesses to support his claim, the British sailor was disqualified, dropping him from fourth overall overnight to 19th. It will be a long and hard road back to gold for Ainslie from here.
"As far as I'm concerned there wasn't any incident and I wasn't in the wrong," said a devastated Ainslie from the team house. "He tried to make something of it as it was the Olympics and I've got no witnesses and there was no jury [in the vicinity]. I'm frustrated, disappointed and angry and all I can do is get my head down and sail the best I have ever sailed from here."
Off the same start line but on an adjacent course Shirley Robertson, Sarah Webb and Sarah Ayton managed to put a more consistent day together in the Yngling class to finish yesterday in third overall behind France and Holland. The British trio are more comfortable in the more predictable and stronger breezes that are forecast to arrive in the form of the Meltemi wind today and were happy to start both races in good shape and sail both fast enough and conservatively enough to file a fifth and a fourth on a day when top performers in one race were nowhere to be seen the next.
But the real star performers of the day for Britain were Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield who lead the men's 470 class after day one with an immaculate second and third in difficult racing conditions; this was no lucky performance. "We were quite conservative, the main thing is not to throw it away on the first day, we've got another nine races to go and we would have been happy with two results inside the top six," said Rogers afterwards.
The British team are more familiar with the conditions here than any other team at the Games having set up a training base almost as soon as the Sydney medal ceremony was over. Yesterday it paid on the 470 course when the wind flicked around and made racing tactics very difficult. "It's knowing when it's going to flick left and further left or whether it's going to flick right and that's something we have spent a lot of time on," Rogers said. "I think some people were surprised by how the wind behaved today but not us."
Today racing begins for the Laser, Europe and Men's and Women's Mistral classes. A Meltemi is forecast, the strong northerly breeze that blows in this region. After the lottery potential of the first day of racing in Athens, the British team will be happy to have got off relatively unscathed and looking like performing to the pre-regatta form guide.
The big cloud, though, is Ainslie's disqualification, which, as he is the standard-bearer of the team, has soured the opening of an event for a group who have worked tirelessly for four years in an effort to live up to the heavy billing that was signalled by the three golds and two silvers from Sydney in 2000.
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