by Lindsey Bell
Qingdao Olympic Regatta 2008. Golden Girls, Team GBR Yngling. Pippa Wilson, Sarah Webb, Sarah Ayton.
It has been an historic day for Great Britain’s sailors as Ben Ainslie sealed Finn class gold and Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb and Pippa Wilson swept to Yngling victory at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Regatta in Qingdao.
Five-time Finn World Champion Ainslie successfully defended the title he won at Athens 2004 to become Britain’s most decorated Olympic sailor of all time, surpassing Rodney Pattison’s previous record of two golds and one silver, a feat Ainslie had matched thanks to his Laser silver (Atlanta 1996), Laser gold (Sydney 2000) and Finn gold (Athens 2004).
Meanwhile, Sarah Ayton and Sarah Webb become only the second British female athletes in history to win gold medals at consecutive Olympics, matching the achievement of their former helm Shirley Robertson with whom they won Yngling gold at Athens 2004, courtesy of their success with Wilson in China.
Both medal races had been rolled over to today after light winds put paid to any chance of deciding the silverware yesterday, but in often monsoon conditions on the Yellow Sea today Ayton’s crew and Ainslie retained their crowns in emphatic style romping to race wins to seal gold.
Having seen his first shot on gold thwarted yesterday when the first attempt at the Finn medal race was abandoned midway through with Ainslie in gold medal position, the 31-year-old from Lymington knew that he had to finish no more than five boats behind nearest rival Zach Railey (USA) in today’s race to seal his historic third gold.
And after nailing the perfect start, forcing Railey to tack just 30 seconds before the gun crippling Railey at the back of the fleet, Ainslie sailed a textbook race to romp to medal race victory and claim the biggest prize of them all by 22 points overall from the American, 23 to 45.
Victory in Qingdao has seen Ainslie match Germany’s Jochen Schumann and Russian Valentin Mankin’s three golds, one silver Olympic sailing haul leaving only Dane Paul Elvstrøm, winner of four consecutive golds between 1948 and 1960, with more Olympic sailing gold. Brazilian legend Torben Grael has won five Olympic sailing medals – two gold, one silver and two bronze.
Ben Anslie (GBR) Gold Medal holding the British flag after winning the Finn Gold medal at the 2008 Olympics.
Ainslie said: 'It felt like it would never come but there was great breeze and to win the race as well, I am a happy man. Conditions have been really tough, the light winds have been a real strength of will but today was a complete turnaround. I approached the race a bit differently to yesterday, as because the breeze was so light yesterday I couldn’t let Zach get away from me but today I was confident that with my boat speed and fitness I could get away and it all came good.
'You take each Games as it comes. Each one has been tough and we’ll see what happens in the future but I’ve enjoyed every minute of my Olympic sailing career, I’ve been very lucky. The draw of 2012 and racing on your home waters is huge. It's a long way away but if I've got a chance to be there and do well, I'd love to do it.'
Having topped the leaderboard going into the medal race by the narrowest of one point margins, the British Yngling trio knew whatever the placings they simply had to finish ahead of the Dutch team of Mandy Mulder, Annemieke Bes and Merel Witteveen.
Like Ainslie, Ayton got off to a flying start but with the Dutch tracking them all the way to the top mark. However, once the Brits had rounded the mark ahead there was no stopping them and with the Dutch trailing home in medal race fifth, gold was Ayton, Webb and Wilson’s, 24 points to 33 overall.
Ayton said: 'It has been brilliant and highlights what this campaign has always been about; pure perfection and we’re just an awesome team. We’ve been looking at starting as something we had to address, and we executed it perfectly today.
'I’m lost for words, it is such a relief, our experience was everything. We’ve had so many supporters who have made such a difference along the way and we just want to thank everyone,' Webb added, paying special tribute to their coach Paul Brotherton.
Olympic debutant Wilson said: 'This has been the dream and it hasn’t really sunk in yet, it’s pretty awesome. We’ve known since day one that you can expect anything out there. That’s our strength really, that we’re happy to come out in anything.'
Stephen Park, RYA Olympic Manager, said: 'It’s fantastic to get two the first two events over with and to win two gold medals and begin our medal count for 2008.
'We still have a number of medals up for grabs and hope to be able to win medals in at least two of those to meet our target of four medals.'
On the Yngling girls’ gold, Park commented: 'The girls performed brilliantly today. They were confident and clinical in every move and every decision. All their hard work has really come to the fore this week.'
Park was also full of praise for Ainslie’s dominant display. 'Following yesterday’s abandoned race, Ben did well at the start to sail Zach Railey into a position well down the fleet, and once he’d done that found another gear to sail through the fleet to gain a 200 metre lead.
'None had an answer for Ben Ainslie on the Finn track this week.'
Rod Carr, RYA Chief Executive added his congratulations: 'For me, Ben’s gold medal proves that he is the greatest dinghy sailor in the world at the moment. His record is only bettered by Paul Elvstrom. In many ways Paul and Ben are similar characters; slightly shy and retiring onshore but supremely determined and talented in a boat. His attitude and talent are an inspiration to thousands of young Brits who aspire to follow in his wake.'
Of the Yngling success Carr added: 'The ability to perform under intense pressure is the mark of true champions. This crew dug deep and did the business when it counted. What a race, what a result!'
Meanwhile in a thrilling 49er medal race, Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes finished their disappointing Olympic campaign in ninth overall, having finished third in today’s race, as Danish duo Jonas Warrer and Martin Kirketerp Ibsen seemed to clinch gold despite having had to borrow the Croatian boat after their mast broke before the pre-start, but were subsequently protested by the race committee for using the wrong gear.
The medals for the skiff class are on hold awaiting the outcome of the protest, with Spaniards Iker Martinez and Xavier Fernandez poised to take their second consecutive Olympic gold if the Danes are unsuccessful.
Elsewhere on the race tracks, Paul Goodison lies in first overall in the Laser class clinching seventh in their sole race of the day while Penny Clark is eighth after scoring a 17th today. Scores of 7, (17) for Nick Dempsey put him fourth overall in the RS:Xm and Bryony Shaw’s 5,6 puts her sixth in the women’s event.
The Stars and the Tornados only managed one race apiece, Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson lying eighth courtesy of their Star fifth today while Leigh McMillan and Will Howden are 11th having scored Tornado eighth.
The highlight of tomorrow’s racing will be the medal races for the 470 men’s and women’s events, with Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield seeking silver – the gold has already been secured by Australia – and Christina Bassadone and Saskia Clark aiming for a final flourish in the women’s event.
Schedule of racing – Monday 18 August (times are UK)
Course A: 06:00 hrs – 470 men’s medal race
Course A: 06:00 hrs – 470 women’s medal race
Course B: 04:00hrs – RS:X men and women (3 races each)
Course C: 04:00hrs – Laser and Laser Radial (3 races each)
Course E: 04:00hrs – Star and Tornado (3 races each)