by Rob Kothe
Sunshine and breeze for the start of the 2008 Finn Gold Cup sailed in front of Black Rock Sailing Club on Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay - a perfect day, except for New Zealand’s Dan Slater who in ten terrible seconds struggled and failed to get to the front row of the ten boat Medal Race startline.
Slater had led from the beginning of the regatta but lost the lead yesterday when four times Finn World Champion Ben Ainslie surfed across the line to win by half a hull. Just a point separated the two sailors and with double points in the Medal Race whoever crossed the line first would be the 2008 World Champion.
Slater was buried behind Ainslie who was just below his British compatriot Ed Wright who was fast off the line. Ainslie found a clear lane while Slater had no choice to tack on to port. His title tilt was over, now he had to defend second place.
There was a lumpy little seaway building as the fleet worked towards the top mark. Wright was first around the mark, just a length ahead of Ainslie, then Sweden’s Johan Tillander with Dutchman Pieter Jan Postma, third. He had been adjudged OCS and had not returned. Unexpectedly race officials did not signal him off the course.
This could have caused grief for Denmark’s Jonas Christensen who was fighting him for a podium place. Further back Slater was sixth.
Down the run in 12 knots Wright held out Ainslie and round the bottom marks Wright went right and Ainslie left trying to get separation. The Swede held onto third place and out on the left; Dan Slater moved up a place to fifth.
At the top mark for the second time Wright was still a boat length ahead of Ainslie, Tillander, Christensen, and then Slater.
Down the last run, the wind had risen to 20 knots; the fleet was surfing down to the finish. Ainslie was pushing, pushing, throwing all his energy at his team mate but Wright finished a wave ahead of Ainslie.
Ben Ainslie had won his fifth World title. Johan Tillander finished third today and came fifth overall, Jonas Christensen finished fourth and came third overall. Dan Slater fifth. came second overall.
Dutch sailor Pieter Jan Postma was OCS, but came fourth overall.
Ed Wright won the Medal race; it was a bitter sweet win. Dockside he commented. ‘I was disappointed with the week, it was pretty hard sailing, quite shifty and people were getting some big scores. However it was nice to win the Medal race today so I can go forward with that.
'The fact is that Ben has earned his Olympic selection and I hope he will win Gold for us.'
The 2008 World Champion Ben Ainslie commented, ‘It was always going to be the close race, with Dan and the Dutch and Danish guys.
‘I had a nice start.. where I wanted. The race went really well for me. 'Tough for Ed; he has had two brilliant seasons, and in any other country, he’d be the man and he’d be a good medal chance.'
Kiwi Dan Slater had lost the shoot-out, but there was still a smile. ‘The start was the race. I had a poor start, after that I was spat out and I had to stick with Pieter Jan Postma and Jonas Christensen to cement a medal. I kept concentrating, hoping for a miracle. I tried to get wide on the last run in case there was a shift, but that was a distant dream.
'Still it was my best ever Finn fleet result. It was disappointing, leading the regatta the whole way through, fighting and fighting for every last point. However I am very pleased to have gone so well especially in the light conditions which have been my focus leading up to Qingdao.
'I did not come here expecting to do as well as I have done, so I am well on track in my Olympic preparation. I hope I meet Ben in another Gold Medal Race and I will be working hard over the next six months, so there can be a different result next time.'
Finn - Final leading positions
1 GBR3 Ben Ainslie 39
2 NZL1 Dan Slater 46
3 DEN2 Jonas Christensen 53
4 NED842 Pieter Jan Postma 65
5 SWE736 Johan Tillander 78
6 CAN41 Chris Cook 80
7 GBR111 Edward Wright 86
8 GRE7 Aimilios Papathanasiou 92
9 NOR1 Peer Moberg 102
10 CRO524 Ivan Kljakovic 103
11 FIN218 Tapio Nirkko 120
12 AUS221 Anthony Nossiter 122
13 ESP100 Rafael Trujillo 123
14 GBR41 Giles Scott 131
15 SLO5 Gasper Vincec 137
16 POL7 Rafal Szukiel 151
17 SWE11 Daniel Birgmark 153
18 GBR625 Ed Greig 155
19 ITA117 Giorgio Poggi 169
20 IRL5 Timothy Goodbody 171
21 FRA73 Guillaume Florent 174
22 POL12 Waclaw Szukiel 175
23 CRO25 Marin Misura 191
24 ITA101 Riccardo Cordovani 197
25 RUS9 Eduard Skornyakov 206