by Bob Fisher
As if the older members of the Fourth Estate need hair-greying experiences like those the Finn class racing caused today in the London Olympic Sailing Competition. Those with any left were tearing them out as Ben Ainslie played a tactical game - one for which he is well renowned - in the tenth race of the series in order that he could realistically leave his final effort for his fourth gold medal to the double-points scoring and tie-breaking medal race on Sunday.
Ben Ainslie (GBR) just after finishing Race 9 in the Finn class and dropping a vital point to overall leader Hogh-Christensen (DEN)
'Ben is an animal,' declared his great friend, the British Star crew, Andrew Simpson, two days earlier when asked what he thought of his chances of winning the Finn class, 'He will dispose of his opponents.' Ben is leaving it late, but he was working out the maths as he sailed the tenth race. Earlier he had finished one place behind Jonas Hogh-Christensen of Denmark in the morning race and that had extended the Dane's overall lead to four points - a figure that Ben realised might be beyond his control in the Medal race. It led to a marvellous strategic battle in the afternoon.
And what a battle it was! It was Ben at his very best - those who saw him destroy Robert Scheidt's gold medal chances in Sydney will remember just how ruthless the British single-handed sailor can be. But sailing Scheidt down into the twenties in the Laser fleet was kids' stuff compared to this. Ben rounded the first mark hard on the stern of the leader, Pieter-Jan Postma of Holland and passed him on the short reach to begin the run, Hogh-Christensen had been sixth, but he too flew down the reach, gaining two places and was second, a minute behind the leader at the end of the run.
That's when Ben took charge of the race. He slowed so that he could affect the wind on the Danish sailor's rig. He did so to allow Postma to get between them, but he had to do it more than once. It was nail-biting as well as hair-tearing for those who watched, more so for those who understood what it was all about (reducing the Dane's overall lead to two points). At the weather mark the second time the Dutchman was a mere five seconds ahead of the Dane, but Postma didn't seem keen to allow his immediate rival the opportunity to pass him - after all there was just sixteen points between them.
While that may sound a big margin, but with the aid of double points, P-J knows the form the medal race will take - Ben will hunt Jonas from the off and if they finish in eighth and ninth the gold medal would go to the Dutchman. Ben knows it too, but his aim will be to finish seventh or better and ahead of Jonas. Seats on the slopes of the Nothe gardens will be at a premium on Sunday for the culmination of the Finn racing and it will be every bit as exciting as the last two races.
Some of the writers are seeking the aid of the tonsorial artists - either those who can restore the darker tints or even the trans planters.
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