by Bob Fisher
There is a degree of inevitability surrounding any major regatta of the Finn class these days. Ben Ainslie will win. The Olympic champion hasn’t been beaten in a Finn regatta since Athens. Betting against him is not a profitable business and with a 12-point lead going into the medal race and the third boat 23 points in arrears, it leaves him with a minor matter to settle his third gold medal.
Qingdao Olympic Regatta 2008 - Ben Ainslie
Facing the media after his eighth race, in which he finished second after leading for a round, he appeared relaxed and confident, fending off the less well-informed of the task facing him on the morrow. 'It’s a job half done,' he admitted, 'I just hope for some good breeze for the medal race.'
'Yes, it’s nice to have a buffer between me and the American. I have to stay near him and get in front if I can.'
He knows that the pressure is not on him as it was at the European championship when he had to overcome an eight-point deficit. Guillame Florent of France, who had dubiously protested Ainslie in the first race in Athens, held the advantage but Ainslie adopted aggressive match racing tactics in the pre-start and left his rival wallowing while he went off to win the race.
Florent never recovered and was eighth, losing even the silver medal.
But the 31-year old Ainslie, already the most be-medalled Briton in Olympic sailing history, is aiming to level the score with Valentin Mankin (RUS) and Jochen Schumann (GER), who both have three gold medals and a silver.
If he succeeds in this, he will have to wait until after the 2012 Olympic regatta at Weymouth to become the ultimate medallist, topping Paul Elvstrom’s tally of four gold with the additional silver.
That is all well in the future and Ainslie has his feet firmly on the ground: 'It’s a loose cover situation,' he declared, 'rather than a match racing one.' Yet he is aware that the match racing tactics that he learned while with Emirates Team New Zealand in the America’s Cup could help. 'There’s only one boat out there,' he said, 'and I know what I have to do.' And that is either beat Zach Railey or finish within five places of the American.
Zach Railey knew what he had to do in the last race. Ninth at the start of the second round, Railey was aware that his discard was an eighth and if he counted that he might be able to extend his lead over the third placed skipper, who just happened to be Ainslie’s bête noir, Florent.
He covered the Frenchman hard and drove him to the wrong places, finishing 19th, two places ahead of Florent, who was forced to count an earlier 20th in his score.
It left the American with an 11-point lead over third placed Daniel Birgmark of Sweden with Florent six further points away.
Bring on the medal race and prepare to greet the successful defending Olympic champion.