London Olympics 2012 - Its all on
by Mark Chisnell on 3 Aug 2012
The Finns and the Stars have sailed eight of eleven races and all of a sudden the end is not just a light at the end of a tunnel, but a train rushing towards us.
Finn fleet - London 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition Thom Touw © http://www.thomtouw.com
It's easy to talk of it being a day of destiny for Ben Ainslie, ten points down against Denmark's Jonas Hogh-Christensen this morning and his historic fourth gold medal hanging in the balance. But Ben's been here before, those earlier medals were almost invariably won after he had backed himself into an impossible position - it's the moment when all is apparently lost that he seems to find the extra gear. It doesn't make it any easier to watch for his supporters.
The pin, or left-hand end (looking upwind) has generally been favoured. It benefits from a little more of the ebb tide flowing to the south-west, and from a little more breeze flowing around the Isle of Portland. At the start gun it was Ainslie right on the pin with pace, and he converted his first really good start into a lead at the top mark.
Jonas Hogh-Christensen was not in particularly good shape off the line, but the familiar blistering upwind speed got him out of trouble and he was fifth at the top as they turned onto the reach. It was a big day, with 15-20 knots from the south-west and some great waves and once they got going downwind Hogh-Christensen gave it the big one - and promptly rolled it in.
When this is over, we might all say that this was the moment when Jonas Hogh-Christensen blinked. It certainly made a huge difference on the points table. Ainslie took the win, while Hogh-Christensen was struggling, tenth at the end of the run after he'd got it back upright, sixth by the top mark, but then dropping to eighth on what looked like a less than fluid second run. And suddenly, Ben Ainslie was just four points behind on the overall scoreboard.
The second race lined up in similar conditions, the tide was still ebbing and the wind was still blowing. This time Hogh-Christensen got a good start at the pin, but Spain's Rafa Trujillo was launched and he blitzed the first beat, leading around the top mark with Hogh-Christensen not far behind him.
In contrast, Ben Ainslie was struggling for a decent lane upwind, but despite having to take a hitch away from the favoured left-hand side, still managed to round at the top in fifth. Ainslie went low on the reach, found his own wind and waves and was up to fourth by the turning mark.
The top four compressed on the run though and by the leeward gate, Trujillo's lead was just a couple of lengths from Hogh-Christensen, with Ainslie on his tail, and Postma attacking the inside overlap for room at the mark. Ben Ainslie had to defend hard and in doing so he got very close to the mark, and Postma and Hogh-Christensen told him to do the turn for hitting it.
Ben Ainslie did a 360, lost about 35m and set off in pursuit - to say that he wasn't happy would be an understatement, but his speciality is not just getting mad, but getting even. He dug in up the beat and rounded the top mark 40m off the back of the top three.
One good wave could get you ten, 20 or 30 metres and it was Postma that made the first gain, surfing past Hogh-Christensen to take second. It seemed to rattle the Dane, and moments later Ainslie was up his chuff, with a couple of hundred metres to the mark. One more wave and he was through, overlapped on the inside and up to third and another precious point closer to the Dane overall.
There was a frank exchange of views at the finish, with Ainslie making it clear that he didn't hit the mark - you can read about it here: http://www.sailing.org/olympics/london2012/news/31958.php.
I'm sure this one will rattle around the boat parks for a while - but while anger may have been the spur, the point is that Ainslie beat Hogh-Christensen twice today, and passed him downwind to do it. It puts a very different complexion on the rest of the regatta.
I can't wait for tomorrow.