Sailing: Ainslie on brink of completing his renaissance

Six days after being plunged into the depths of despair with his disqualification from the second race of the Olympic regatta, Ben Ainslie is poised to complete a remarkable comeback and claim Britain's second sailing gold medal of the Games today.

The 27-year-old Finn sailor's performances since the Frenchman Guillaume Florent successfully claimed, to Ainslie's disgust, that the Briton had illegally blocked his path, have been awesome. Ainslie, who was placed 19th in the 25-strong field after the first day (he had finished only ninth in the first race), has subsequently posted four victories, two second places, a third and a fourth. In today's final race he needs only to finish in the top 15 to add a Finn gold to the silver and gold he won in the Laser class in Atlanta and Sydney respectively.

With Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield also assured of at least silver today in the 470 class - they can take the gold if they finish four places ahead of the Americans Paul Foerster and Kevin Burnham in their final race - and others still in contention or yet to start their campaigns, Athens is already developing into another major success story for British sailing as the team build on the Yngling gold won by Shirley Robertson's crew on Thursday.

While Britain has traditionally enjoyed sailing success in the Olympics, having won more golds than any other nation, the last two Games have taken on a new dimension. Even the Sydney haul of three golds and two silvers could be bettered here.

Lottery funding, which provides an annual grant of £1.3m, has been a key factor, but the experience of some less successful British teams here has shown that the way the money is spent is what counts. Indeed Stephen Park, Britain's Olympic sailing manager, is quick to counter any suggestion that his team, who have a £2m annual budget, have bought their way to the top.

"We're certainly within the top six in terms of funding, but most of the other big nations have similar budgets," Park said. "They're all within 10 per cent of each other. At this level it's all about maximising the money that you've got available. It's something that we do particularly well and I think we do better than some of the other teams here.

"We're really conscious that all the money that comes from the Lottery is public money, from out of the public's back pockets. Every time we spend some money, before we do anything we ask: 'Is it going to make a medal-winning difference?'

"At any time, if any member of the public came and asked me about a specific issue then I would be able to give them a specific reply and explain why we felt it was a way of helping us get closer to the medals."

Britain were the first nation to set up base here, sharing facilities with the Eona Yacht Club, situated just one kilometre from the Olympic marina. They have also rented a house for three years, enabling the British crews to train regularly in the waters of the Saronic Gulf. "We try to provide one or two creature comforts, even if it's just a question of a good stock of Tetley teabags," Park added.

Twenty thousand bottles of sports drinks were shipped out from London, a British chef prepares the team's food and a BBC feed enables Eastenders addicts not to feel homsesick.

British meteorologists, meanwhile, have been working on the project for four years, and have spent an increasing amount of time in Athens as the Games approached.

"We've been looking at Met Office data over a 10-year period, trying to help us understand what's going on with the wind and to recognise the patterns," Park said. "It's a very difficult task, but as with anywhere, the more time you spend working on it the better you understand the conditions. And at the end of the day, the race conditions so far have been exactly as we expected them."

If the flow of success does eventually slow down, it will not be for want or attention to detail that puts some of Britain's other sports to shame. "We've already started working on our preparations for Beijing in 2008," Park said. "We realise we've got to start work earlier and get ahead of the game and ahead of the rivals. We'll certainly change things around next time and make further refinements. We'll hope to raise the bar again."

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