The America’s Cup is getting exciting (who thought I would ever say that)

Dean Barker

OH. MY. GOD. I can’t believe this madness hasn’t ended yet. I was certain Team New Zealand was going to win one of the races yesterday, as the Oracle crew had yet to do better than split decisions on days when two races were sailed. But now Oracle has in fact won four in a row and “only” needs four more.

This is starting to seem almost feasible. And I think Dean Barker is starting to think the same thing. He hasn’t been looking too happy at press conferences lately.

Here’s the video (HIGHLIGHT) for yesterday, in case you haven’t stumbled across it elsewhere:

Both wins were wire-to-wire, but the Kiwis got very close for a while in the first race. Oracle has firmly established that they can foil like bandits upwind when conditions permit and their tactics and crew work continue to improve overall. If day one of the series were today and I were making bets, I’d have to pick them.

Which reminds me… if Oracle repeats with a double win today, that jury decision docking them two races at the start becomes determinative.

That would truly suck.


King Ben

Perhaps it was destiny or perhaps it was just a great story waiting to be told. If it was fiction, then it would have been a little far-fetched. The story of Ben Aisle and Jonas Høgh-Christensen over the past 10 days has enthralled the world’s sailing fans as the two sailors battled it out for the Finn gold medal at the London 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition.

In one corner, one of the best dinghy sailors the world has ever seen. In the other, the Danish pretender, fighting to defend a record held by one of his countrymen for 52 years. There was a lot at stake. One more gold medal for Ainslie would mean he would surpass Paul Elvstrøm’s record of four gold medals between 1948 and 1960. Høgh-Christensen felt it was his destiny to stop that happening.

First blood went to Høgh-Christensen, claiming two race wins on the opening day. Many pundits seemed happy that Ainslie hadn’t made his traditional mess of the first day. He came out with two second places, and that was a good start for him.

The Dane continued to dominate on the second day with Ainslie dropping to third in the overall table. Ainslie came ashore saying he was angry and normally that was enough for him to find some extra inspiration. But it didn’t quite work and Høgh-Christensen notched up two more victories over Ainslie before the mid-competition break.

Høgh-Christensen seemed unstoppable, even coming back in race four to finish in seventh after a huge mistake at the start where he hit the pin end boat and started dead last. Even after this, he still beat Ainslie. In fact Ainslie hadn’t beaten him in all six races so far and the British camp were starting to get worried.

Ainslie began to turn it around in the second half of the week and his inevitable struggle back into contention gradually gathered momentum. Four races later, including two race wins and a few mistakes from Høgh-Christensen, and the scorecard was level. In terms of races it was still 7-3 to the Dane but it was going to end with a winner takes all medal race thriller on the unpredictable Nothe course area.

The only thing stopping an all-out match race was the Dutchman Pieter-Jan Postma. He could still win if the two main protagonists were at the back. And incredibly, that is the way it played out. Ainslie probably overdid the match race tactics, but had little choice. If Høgh-Christensen got ahead, it was game over, so the first job was to keep him behind.

In doing so they ended up right at the back while Postma sailed his own race. In the randomness of the Nothe course area he found a gift of a shift to move into the top three. Luckily for Ainslie, Postma then got greedy and fouled another boat while trying to move into second place just 50 metres from the finish. That foul gave the gold to Ainslie and cost Postma a medal. If Postma hadn’t fouled the other boat, it could have been a very different story. But the gold was Ainslie’s and the history books needed rewriting again.

In the run up to this tortuous week, the only person who seemed to doubt that a fourth consecutive gold medal was on the way was Ainslie himself. The world put him on a pedestal and he could do no wrong. Whatever he did, whatever his results, he would always win through in the end. That was his nature. That was his destiny. And that was what [almost] everyone believed.

Shortly after the event had finished he revealed the pain he had been enduring all week in his back. It was obvious something wasn’t right with Ainslie all through the week and during his live TV interview on the water immediately after the medal race he looked distinctly uncomfortable. The pain killers had taken away his pain, but they had also perhaps taken away his edge. He described it as the hardest two weeks of his life.

The vast majority of his fans and supporters around the world could not conceive of any other alternative outcome than a fifth Olympic medal and a fourth consecutive gold, and, in the end, they were not disappointed, even though they were put through the mill on the way. Despite a lot of support for Høgh-Christensen, there was always the nagging feeling that this result was Ainslie’s destiny. It had been 16 years in the making, starting with that crucial Laser silver medal in 1996. Now it had come full circle. The boy was now the master.

Sailing Anarchy

Big Ben vs The Great Dane – the race to watch on Sunday as well

From the torygraph …

Ben Ainslie, the man who has been described – and not always tongue in cheek – as Britain’s greatest sailor since Lord Nelson, will become the most successful sailor in Olympic history if he can beat Jonas Hogh-Christensen in tomorrow’s Finn medal race. It is that simple.

Both of them must keep a watchful eye on Dutchman Pieter-Jan Postma who could still claim an unlikely victory should the Dane and the Briton try to sail each other too far down the fleet – Ainslie must finish at least seventh in the 10-boat fleet if Postma wins – but essentially this is a straightforward match race.

Ainslie, whose reputation as a ruthless and ultra-aggressive match racer was forged in Sydney all those years ago, when he sailed the great Brazilian Robert Scheidt down the fleet to claim his first Olympic gold, must be considered favourite. But only just.

Hogh-Christensen has come out on top in seven of their 10 races so far this week.

But Ainslie has momentum. He regained the initiative yesterday, after the sparks which have flown this week, the six successive races in which Hogh-Christensen beat him and Thursday’s controversy when he accused the Dane and Postma of “ganging up” to earn him a penalty.

Starting the day three points behind his rival, the 35 year-old unexpectedly dropped a further point in

the first race of the day, in which he could only finish sixth to the Dane’s fifth. But he stormed back in the second race of the day, establishing a commanding lead as the Dane struggled.

It looked as if it would be enough to give Ainslie a useful advantage heading into Sunday but when Hogh-Christensen battled back to second Ainslie thought about taking matters into his own hands. From 100metres in front he sat up in his boat, looked behind him, and considered his options.

He thought about turning back to upset the Dane’s race, then rejected that idea as too risky. Then he positioned himself directly upwind of his rival in an effort to take the wind from his rival’s sails.

In the end Postma did the job for him, passing Hogh-Christensen for third place and hanging on through to the finish.

“It was important that he did get past because it evens things up going into the medal race,” said Ainslie who now lies just two points behind his rival, with double points on Sunday. “After where I was after six races [10 points back] it is fantastic to be here now.

“It is going to be a fantastic race on Sunday. PJ [Postma] is great sailor and Jonas and I cannot just sail each other to the back of the fleet. But I feel confident.”

Ainslie firing up after his bad performance in olympics


Ben Ainslie Finn for Great Britain

Ainslie fired up to redeem “terrible day”

Ben Ainslie hopes what he described as a “terrible” day on day two of the Olympic Regatta at Weymouth and Portland will fire him up for the rest of the week.
The three-time Olympic champion sits third overall in the Finn  class after four races, 11 points behind overall leader Jonas Hogh-Christensen (DEN), after posting scores of six and 12 from his two races today.
He said: “It was a difficult day. For whatever reason, I wasn’t finding the wind or reading the wind very well. I don’t think I went the right way once all day so that was pretty frustrating. That’s a challenge to overcome and hopefully I can get my act together for the rest of the week. I’m not very happy with that at all. I had a terrible day. I really didn’t perform and hopefully it will fire me up for the rest of the week.”
Ainslie, who picked up two seconds yesterday, enjoyed a clean start in race one and managed to once again capitalise on good pace downwind to punch his way clear of the pack, working his way through to fourth at the halfway point. But with Dane Hogh-Christensen once again revelling in the shifting conditions, Ainslie lost ground upwind, rounding the fifth mark in sixth then crossing the line in the same position.
The Brit was handed a massive boost at the start of race two when Hogh-Christensen got stuck on the pin end boat, forcing him to do two penalty turns.
However, the delay to his start actually ended up playing into the Dane’s hands as he was able to get a clear view of which side of the course was paying off and headed straight in that direction. When Ainslie, who had gone out to the left-hand side, saw his rival head right he immediately changed direction to temper Hogh-Christensen’s progress.
But although the move initially helped the 35-year-old Brit, he couldn’t find an answer to the Dane’s exceptional turn of pace throughout the rest of the race and trailed across the line in 12th, while Hogh-Christensen consolidated his overall lead with a seventh. Jonathan Lobert (FRA) sits second overall after a fourth and second today.
Ainslie had been keen to play down hype before the regatta that the gold was simply his to lose and he makes no bones that he will up his game if he is to claim his record-breaking fourth Olympic crown.
He added: “Hopefully it will begin to get a lot better. It goes without saying it will have to go a lot better otherwise I’ll be a very unhappy man. I certainly have to sail a lot better than that for the rest of the week. It’s a number of very small things; there is a very fine line between success and failure at this level so I will certainly have to raise my game for the coming races.”
The Finn class is scheduled to resume at 12pm tomorrow (Tuesday 31 July) with both of their races (race five and six) scheduled to take place on the Weymouth Bay South.
The Olympic Sailing Regatta runs from Sunday 29 July – Saturday 11 August. The Finn medal race is scheduled for Sunday 5 August (2pm).

Inevitable a lesson in sailing from Ainslie on the Finn

With all the inevitability of night following day, so double Finn Olympic Champion Ben Ainslie took the Olympic Test Event in Weymouth with a day to spare and then wrapped it up in perfect style by winning the medal race as well to end the week with a 31 point winning margin on the rest of the fleet. Jonathan Lobert of France went home with the silver medal with Pieter Jan Postma of The Netherlands took the bronze.

It was clear from the very first race that Ainslie was sailing to win. Doing penalty turns on the start line in race one was not the best start, but he climbed through the fleet to cross in second, before emphatically winning the second race. He also had problems on day two with several mid-fleet mark roundings but always managed to pull off something special at the end to record a fifth and sixth.

Then he started getting dangerous. A third in race five was as bad as it got before winning five out of the next six races, including the moral boosting medal race on the ‘spectator friendly’ course under the Nothe headland.

Day five was the clincher. In the lighter winds, he won the first race of the day with ease. For the final race only one boat remained a threat, and unfortunately for him that was Postma. Never more dangerous than when he is under threat, Ainslie match raced his opponent out of the start, and crossed the start line 30 seconds after the fleet with Postma another 30 second behind after doing penalty turns.

While Postma never really caught up, Ainslie had other plans and gradually sailed through the fleet mark by mark, eventually overhauling long time race leader Rafa Trujillo from Spain in the final few hundred metres to take his second race win of the day.

If any proof was needed of Ainslie’s complete dominance of this class, then this was it. It was a brilliant masterclass of Finn sailing by one of the best Finn sailors of all time. Though he says it is never easy, he makes it look easy, too easy, running circles round his nearest rivals and making them believe he is unbeatable. And based on his recent form, this is probably not far from the truth.

Good Old Ben is selected again – I feel a 3rd Olympic Gold coming up


So Ben Ainslie has done it again. Having dominated the Skandia Sail for Gold event at the Weymouth & Portland Sailing Academy, the venue for the sailing events of the London 2012 Olympic Games, he has been selected to represent Great Britain at the 2011 Weymouth and Portland International Regatta – the official test event for the Olympic sailing competition. Who is betting against him getting selected for the Olympics next year and winning a fourth gold medal? Answer: not many.

But spare a though for the others. In a sport where only one sailor per nation is allowed in each class, it is tough on anyone who deserves to be there on ability and performance, but cannot be there on nationality grounds. One such sailor is Giles Scott. Having come second to Ainslie in Weymouth this week, he can only contemplate his missed chances and plan for the future. Another might be Ed Wright, the current world champion, who placed fourth in Weymouth, though even he admitted he didn’t have the best week. These three sailors are among the best Finn sailors in the world at the current time, yet only one can get the ticket to Weymouth in 2012. It will be really tough on two of them. All are capable of taking home an Olympic gold medal.

Ainslie is skipping next month’s Finn Europeans in Helsinki as he knows a good result at the test event – and for him that can only mean one thing – is crucial to his selection for the Olympics themselves. He only has one purpose in mind and is only doing what he needs to do to achieve that.

Third place in Weymouth went to the current European champion Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic, from Croatia. He has played second fiddle to Ainslie on a number of occasions and will for sure be looking to turn the tables sometime soon. Probably the most focussed sailor on the circuit after Ainslie, he sails his best when the chips are down and won’t be phased by Ainslie’s domination this season. Dan Slater from New Zealand also took two bullets in Weymouth, which maybe a sign of things to come. It was Slater who almost beat Ainslie at the world championship in 2008, having led most of the regatta, but Ainslie came through right at the end to deny his old rival victory.

And then there is returning double world champion Jonas Hogh-Christensen from Denmark, who surprised everyone with a fifth place finish in Weymouth after three years off the regular circuit. The French team of Jonathan Lobert and Thomas Le Breton are also getting closer, with Lobert in particular putting in some brilliant performances in the last year. And Zach Railey from the USA is also always there or thereabouts, though a few ‘off’ days in Weymouth cost him the chance of a medal. There are, of course, many sailors also other putting together a strong challenge. One thing you can count on is that the next year will be tough for all of them.

However, with just over a year to go to the big show, the excitement of finding out who will make the grade and get their tickets will pale into insignificance if Ainslie continues his current path. If he succeeds it will be THE story of the sailing events at the London 2012 Olympic Games, and one of the great stories of the Games.

Skandia Sail for Gold – pre olympic Finn racing

Tougher competition than the Olympics was Ben Ainslie‘s summary of Skandia Sail for Gold 2011. It was medal race day and the tension could be felt throughout the boat park as the elite of each Olympic discipline prepared to be tested

There was so much on the line – possible Olympic selection, ISAF World Cup points, the regatta result and of course a hefty dose of pride. Five hours later and spectators had been treated to some stunning racing, topped off when Ainslie clinically dispatched another rival to take gold. Ainslie’s win sealed Britain’s place as the top nation sailing nation at the 2012 Olympic venue. Australia was the only country that could match the home team’s gold medal tally across 13 Olympic and Paralympic classes.

No one was expecting the Finn medal race – the last of the day – to be an anti-climax. And no one was disappointed. Only one man, Giles Scott (GBR) could take the gold medal from triple Olympic Champion, Ben Ainslie – who also happens to be the reigning World Match Racing Champion. There was always going to be fireworks and they started early, with the pair battling way behind the line as the others jostled to start. Ainslie came out in front and kept his foot on his younger rival’s throat all the way up the first leg, the pair still trailing the fleet, which was all that Ainslie really required with a 16 point overall lead. But then the unexpected happened… Scott blasted past Ainslie on the run.

The Olympic legend reversed the tables on the next windward leg to lead again at the final turning mark, only for Scott to do the same thing on the final run – despite some aggressive defending from Ainslie. But that one place was vital to Scott, who needed ninth to secure his silver medal from Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic (CRO) by a single point. A tremendous physical display of no-limits pumping saw Scott safely home for silver, with Kljakovic Gaspic taking bronze from medal race winner, and reigning World Champion, Ed Wright (GBR).

The final medal race had been everything that spectators had hoped for, and as the athletes sailed home and the medal tallies were counted, any locals that had ever doubted Skandia Team GBR’s strength on their home turf could relax. The nine medal total at the end of this regatta brings home the strength in depth of the performance, particularly when you note that those nine medals didn’t include anything from three classes in which the team medalled in 2008 in Beijing – the Star, RS:X Women and 470 Men.

Quotes of the Day

Ben Ainslie (GBR) – Finn Winner

We’ve got huge quality in the Finn fleet here, especially in the British team with Giles (Scott) and Ed Wright in particular sailing very well. It’s been a really tough week physically with strong winds so I’m really pleased to have come out on top. It was hard work, I won’t hide from that fact. It was one of the toughest events I think I’ve ever done physically.

Sometimes that’s the way it goes (re. the match race in the final). Giles was the only one who could beat me and in terms of our Pre-Olympic selection trials. I sealed the regatta win and it worked out OK. It’s always quite tense with those match races, it’s never easy and Giles sailed very well and put up a good fight. It’s a tough situation that we only have one spot per class.

Finn After Medal Race
1. GBR 3- AINSLIE Ben (42pts)
2. GBR 41- SCOTT Giles (56pts)
3. CRO 524- KLJAKOVIC GASPIC Ivan (57pts)