Poor wind halts Ainslie's procession

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The Independent Online

The medal ceremony rehearsal was underway, the glint of the medal was almost visible ashore, but the glory was snatched away by a fickle wind as Ben Ainslie was on track for his third consecutive Olympic gold, his fourth, when adding silver in 1996, and the undisputed title of Britain's most successful Olympic sailor in history.

The Yngling trio of Sarah Webb, Sarah Ayton and Pippa Wilson never even saw the start line of their attempt at consecutive golds for Britain in the Yngling keelboat.

In spectacular fashion, the Qingdao race track, as had been predicted by so many, had failed to deliver on the big occasion. The first ever top 10 shoot-out to decide the medal winners ended not in a Chinese firecracker bang but a whimper of frustration from the thousands, including a good sprinkling of those waving union flags, watching from the harbour wall.

Ainslie had been in the sort of ruthless form that makes him the most feared man in the boat park. He knew the only man who could possibly beat him on points was the American Zach Railey. The Ainslie answer was to go for the knockout.

American race officer Peter Reggio, known as Luigi and one of the world's best, waited for an hour with the postponement flag fluttering, went for a start and aborted, went for another and aborted, went for a third and succeeded.

In all of them, Ainslie hunted Railey down prior to the start and, when they started racing, sat on him unmercifully until the man from Clearwater, Florida was last. There was no way, from there, that the American could ever put six boats between himself and Ainslie and so score few enough points in the double-scoring race to deny Ben the gold. After less than one lap it became academic. There was not enough puff to power the boats against the tide.

Had Ainslie's tactics been too harsh? "I think it was the right strategy for those conditions," said Ainslie unapologetically. Was the American unhappy? "I wasn't upset at what Ben had done," said Railey. "But I didn't want to get involved in a match race with Ben. I just wanted to sail around the course and protect my silver."

Today there is a forecast for a lot more wind as the medal races are re-run. The Ynglings will be off first, with the British trio just one point ahead of the Dutch. That, too, will be a tight head-to-head tussle.

They are followed by the Finns and then joined by the high performance 49er skiffs. Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes will appear in that but not only will they not win the gold that was predicted, they will win no medal at all. They are too far adrift in ninth. 11 August will be writ painfully in their hearts when they scored a 14th and two 15th to wipe out the dream.

In contrast, there is no need for a medal race to decide the gold medal winner in the 470 dinghy, where the Australian pair of Nathan Wilmot and Malcolm Page cannot be beaten. But they have to turn up tomorrow (Monday) as Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield bid to snatch a second silver from their current fourth place with the Dutch and the French ahead of them.

In the women's division, where the Australians are set up to do the double, Christina Bassadone and Saskia Clark have worked out they can still aim for bronze, but it will take a win by them and some disastrous results for those ahead of them for that to happen.

Also in fourth, with four fleet races to go, is Paul Goodison in the Laser. Points for first to fifth are 24, 25, 26, 27, and 28. The Rotherham man, who was fourth in Athens, needs to dig deep.