by Lindsey Bell
The countdown clock has reached zero days to go, and the 2008 Olympic Games gets underway with the Opening Ceremony at 2008hrs in Beijing tonight.
For Team GB’s sailors competing out in Qingdao, this marks the culmination of their months and years of effort and determination – the boats are prepped and polished and the 18 sailors across the 11 events are ready to race.
The Finn (heavyweight dinghy) and Yngling (women’s keelboat) classes are the first to get underway when the Olympic regatta kicks off on Saturday 9 August, with arguably Britain’s strongest sailing gold medal prospects featuring on this opening day.
Triple Olympic medallist Ben Ainslie, whose return to Qingdao has been hailed in the local Chinese press as ‘The Return of the King’, will be aiming for his third straight gold to overtake Rodney Pattison and cement his position as the best British Olympic sailor of all time.
The 31-year-old admits that the build-up to this 2008 Olympic regatta has been different.
'When I look back to 1996 when I was only 19 and pretty wide-eyed, it was an amazing experience and a big learning experience. I was the junior member of the team then and took a lot from the other guys in the team,' Ainslie recalled.
'Now, being one of the older members of the team and having more experience I suppose it’s easier in terms of knowing what to expect from the Olympics and the racing, and perhaps not feeling the pressure quite so much – although there’s different types of pressure now.
'There’s more pressure from outside, from people back home, sponsors, the media, to perform. When I think about my own personal expectations they’re not really that different,' Ainslie continued.
But the five-time Finn Gold Cup-winner admits that, in spite of being unbeaten in the Finn since the Athens Games, it hasn’t all been plain sailing when it comes to Olympic regattas.
'I look back on all the Olympics and I had bad first days at every single one of them – I don’t know if that’s just coincidence or something I’ve been doing wrong. Maybe I’ve been a little bit nervous going in to the event, a little bit uptight and not sailing my normal style – I don’t really know.
'I’ve tried with this event to be as relaxed as possible about the conditions – I think you need to be for sailing here because you have so many ups and downs you’ve got to try and keep a level keel.
'I certainly would like to start off this event in better fashion that I have done in the past!'
The trio of Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb and Pippa Wilson will also be in action on day one of the Olympic regatta and head into the 15-boat Yngling event as the double World, European and Pre-Olympic Test Event Champions. They’re raring to get their regatta underway.
'I can’t wait,' said Ayton. 'It is going to be a tricky event but we really suit the conditions there so we’re all looking forward to getting on the water and getting started.
Webb, who along with Ayton and Shirley Robertson, won gold in the Yngling in Athens, is adamant that the trio’s strong teamwork is, and will be, the key to their Olympic success this time round.
'I don’t think we could be better as a team to be honest, we complement each other in everything we do and we’re so completely supportive of each other.
'We’re all completely different but I think that’s what makes a really successful team. We’ve all got the common goal [of Olympic gold] but we go about achieving it in very different ways which means we’re bringing out the best in each other.'
For Olympic first-timer Wilson, 22, it’s all about staying grounded and treating the Games just like any other event.
'I’ve never been involved in an Olympics before but we’ve been to China three or four times now and it’s less of a culture shock.
'The event will obviously be an amazing experience and that’s what keeps us going every day, and every day we have trained as if we are sailing in the Olympics so hopefully it won’t be too much of a difference. It’s really exciting!'
Racing will get underway at 13:00 Qingdao time on Saturday 9 August.
Team GBR - The names and the faces - http://www.sail-world.com/UK/Team-GBR---The-names-and-the-faces/47353
Qingdao-Racing-Schedule - http://www.sail-world.com/UK/Qingdao-Racing-Schedule/47381