Sailing: World champion Ainslie

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The Independent Online
ON TOP of the world Down Under, Ben Ainslie won the World Laser Championship in considerable style at Port Phillip Bay yesterday. The 1996 Olympic silver medallist could have afforded to sit out from the last of the 12-race series, leaving the Atlanta Games gold medallist and the man he has beaten four times since then, the Brazilian Robert Scheidt, and Sweden's Karl Sunesson to fight it out for second and third.

But he chose to sail that final race "because the waves were getting quite steep and the wind was picking up, and I thought it would be a bit of a blast. It was good to be out there racing." He capsized a few times and finished a lowly 18th, but it was typical of a man who seemingly has an insatiable appetite for competition.

The 21-year old, now based in Lymington and who celebrates his 22nd birthday on the fifth of next month, needed only fourth place in the 11th race of the series to win on a countback. Third gave him the world title outright. Despite being 15th at the end of the first leg, sailed in a south-westerly gusting over 20 knots, he soon pulled up to the vital fourth place.

Ainslie was working the, short, steep waves to good effect, his fitness programme paying dividends and two months of training in Australia being rewarded. So, for good measure, he overtook the American Mark Mendelblatt on the last leg to finish third behind Scheidt and Sunesson, and he knew the game was his.

It was only in 1995 that Ainslie was winning gold in the World Youth Championship. A year later he was wearing Olympic silver, but in both the 1996 and 1997 Laser World Championships, in Cape Town and Chile respectively, he was third. Last year he won the world single-hander championship, sailed in Lasers, beating Robert Scheidt in Dubai. He went on to win the European Championship in Portugal and was voted the World Sailor of the Year by the sport's governing body, the International Sailing Federation.

He now takes a bit of a rest, but may appear at some regattas in New Zealand, an invitational in Dubai, before looking forward - with perhaps a try at the two-handed Star keelboat along the way - to the pre-Olympic regatta at Sydney in September. But he still has to go through the UK trial system at the beginning of next year to earn his place to represent Britain at the Games. And he is well aware that Britain has strength in depth in the Laser class, Andrew Simpson's fifth place in Melbourne giving them two in the top six.

Taking time out from the adjacent race course to congratulate Ainslie was the Soling skipper, Andy Beadsworth. An 11th in the first race of the day was enough to maintain his sixth position overall. But, with the Australian Cameron Miles scoring two wins, Beadsworth slipped to seventh at the end of the day.

Iain Percy remains fourth overall in the Finn Gold Cup, and Britain's other top single-hander, Shirley Robertson, had a worst-so-far ninth in the opening race in the Europe, but third place in the second race also kept her fourth overall.

Four British crews have made it through to the 25-strong finals of the 49er Skiff World Championship, which starts its 11-race series today. They are Andy and Ian Budgen, Tim Robinson and Ian Walker, Paul Brotherton and Neal McDonald, and the current national champion, Ian Barker, partnered with the Australian Daniel Phillips.

Britain is also the current leader of the competition for the International Olympic Committee Cup, presented by its president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, for the top-scoring nation in the seven Olympic-class World Championships.