After two days of calms, light airs and the threat of thunderstorms, the wind returned to Qingdao with enough strength on Friday afternoon to allow a shortened race programme, leaving Britain’s Olympic sailors as favourites to take the first golds in the opening medal contests on Saturday.
The formidable Ben Ainslie, already the most successful Olympic sailor in British history with two golds and a silver, has so dominated the Finn dinghy since returning to the class – he came second on Friday behind Spain’s Rafa Trujillo – that he is 12 points clear of second-placed Zach Railey of the US and is certain to earn at least a silver medal.
Ainslie’s match-racing experience in the America’s Cup and elsewhere will stand him in good stead in the medal race, a format new to the Olympics designed to increase the thrill of the final race; medal races score double and the result cannot be discarded.
“I just hope we have some good breeze and it’s a fair race,” he said on the eve of the contest. “It’s really only between myself and the American . . . The key tomorrow will be trying to keep a cool head and trying not to make any serious mistakes.”
Railey finished a dismal 19th but said afterwards that he had made a tactical decision halfway through the race, when he was lying about eighth, to cover and push back his French rival Guillaume Florent to give himself a better shot at a podium place on Saturday.
Railey’s lowest place other than Saturday’s discarded 19th was an eighth. Florent, on the other hand, was still left with a 20th position after discarding Saturday’s 21st. Such are the brutal tactics of regattas.
“It was what I wanted to do given where I was at,” said Railey. “I was five points ahead of third. Now I’m 11 points ahead of third.”
The British Yngling keelboat trio of Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb and Pippa Wilson finished a sluggish fifth on Friday after they rashly chose the small jib, and now lie only one point ahead of Saturday’s winners, Mandy Mulder, Annemieke Bes and Merel Witteveen of the Netherlands.
But, like Ainslie, the British three are so far ahead of the rest that they are guaranteed at least a silver.
The well-financed, well-trained British have established themselves since the Sydney games eight years ago as the team to beat in Olympic sailing, and although the official target this time is for three or four medals, they could match the five they won both
in Sydney and in Athens or increase their share of golds.
After a race win on Friday in the 43-strong Laser single-handed dinghy fleet, Paul Goodison leads the field, closely followed by Sweden’s Rasmus Myrgren. Another Briton, Nick Dempsey, is lying third in the RS:X windsurfer class, while Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield are still in contention in the men’s 470 dinghy racing, albeit far behind Australian leaders Nathan Wilmot and Malcolm Page.
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