by Bob Fisher
'That age is best, which is the first, when youth and blood run warmer.' Robert Herrick - To the Virgins to Make Much of Time.
Finn - London 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition
The Finn class is not for wimps; it never has been, but the pressure to perform on today's Olympians has developed a superhuman group of sailors. Where once the leaders in the class were over-fed lumps of lard, holding their boats upright when sailing to windward simply by sitting on the weather gunwale, they are now as fit, or fitter, than athletes in any sport. Paul Elvstrom led the way, but no one took a great deal of notice - just what triggered the current wave is not difficult to discern.
When younger, lighter, and considerably fitter sailors came into the class from the Laser, they already appreciated that physical dynamics produced extra boat speed. The good Finn sailor is considerably taller that his predecessor - Zach Railey, the Qingdao silver medallist, suggests that the ideal height should be around 1.9 metres (6ft 3 - 6ft 4), a height once thought impossible to get below the low boom during a tack. He also added that they should be under 30-years of age.
That would, of course, put Ben Ainslie out of contention - at 35 and only 1.83 metres (6ft), there are only four older and no one is shorter among his 23 competitors. You would, however, find few to bet against him. In the practice races Ainslie showed why he is the master. One felt tired to watch him. He took Rita (the name of all his Finns) by the scruff of her neck and 'rowed' her downwind. It wasn't something that the coaches of young sailors would encourage - it would be body-destroying - but it is highly effective.
Standing up in the boat, straddling the centreboard case, Ben rocks the boat from side to side, striking the mainsheet (as a single part) as the boat rolls from heeling to leeward (gunwale almost under) to way past the upright, developing the maximum power from the rig, and at the same time choosing the right part of the wave to develop this dynamism to the maximum. It was tiring to watch as, in a small, way, one found oneself emulating the sailor who was both impressing his ability on his rivals and at the same time enjoying himself.
Fit? He has to be to overcome his supposed shortcomings of age and height, but so too was Paul Elvstrom to win three consecutive gold medals in this class (and he was a mere stripling of 30 for his last one in 1960), and no one will be keener to recognise his equal than Paul, should Ben pull off what the majority expect. But will the others wave him on? Not a chance. This will be even tougher than the battle for gold with Robert Scheidt in Sydney - the final race there is still firmly imprinted on Ben's memory.
London 2012 Olympics website