Although the 2004 silver medalist Rafa Trujillo (ESP) won today's only race, a second place for Ben Ainslie (GBR) extended his lead at the top to 12 points and he is guaranteed at least the silver medal going into tomorrow's medal race.
While Thursday came and went with little more than a ripple, Friday arrived looking hopeful with three races scheduled to wrap up the qualification series before Saturday's medal race. But hopeful was perhaps a bit optimistic. 'Super Friday', as many had called it, was put on hold for a while as the wind came and went and the sailors waited anxiously out on the water as precious time slipped by. In the end only one race was held before the time limit expired.
After nearly a four hour wait for the wind to co-operate, race eight got underway in 5 knots from a direction of 20°, gradually increasing up to a maximum of 9 knots on the first upwind leg. It was situation normal in Qingdao.
Regatta leader Ben Ainslie (GBR) lead round the first mark for the first time in the series and extended his lead to 30 seconds by the leeward gate. Second round, and needing a good result to stand a chance of winning a medal was Chris Cook (CAN) with Dan Slater (NZL) sailing his best first leg of the series to round third. Rafa Trujillo (ESP) rounded in fourth.
Slater and Trujillo traded positions on the downwind and then on the final upwind leg, Trujillo made his move on Ainslie, taking advantage of a large right hand shift and overhauling the Brit. This large shift caused lots of position changes further down the fleet with Peng Zhang (CHN) moving from 21st to ninth, and Ainslie's greatest threats at the moment, Zach Railey (USA), dropping from ninth to 19th and Guillaume Florent (FRA), fading away from 11th to 21st.
Ainslie attacked back down the final leg to the finish, but Trujillo had done enough and led across the finish to take his first race win by just 8 seconds, which moved him up to tenth overall.
Ainslie commented later, 'I was a little bit disappointed because I had a good start and a pretty good lead at one point. It was a bit reminiscent of the first race of the series when I let a big lead slip but fortunately second was still a good result and it put some more boats between myself and Zach which will be very important going into the medal race.'
With no more races possible, Trujillo had moved up to tenth overall to take the final place in tomorrow's medal race on countback from Giorgio Poggi (ITA). Both of them were on 74 points. Trujillo knew he had to perform today just to make the medal race, so a win was a great way to do it. However, with only one race being sailed today, his chances of a medal are now gone. Meanwhile a seventh for Slater wasn't enough to make the cut and an OCS for Eduardo Couto (BRA) dropped him from the tenth spot to 13th overall.
Third place in the race went to Cook. Lying in third place overall until race five, and now going into the medal race in fifth place, just seven points off a medal position, Cook, who has previously not had a great record in medal races, said, 'The conditions here are very difficult. The fleet is so close together at the finish making every missed wave or bad tack very costly. I have had to concentrate very hard to stay focused and calm. But I always enjoy racing Finns, and this regatta is special because it is all the best sailors from each country, which makes it very hard to do well, but very rewarding when you do.'
Zach Railey blotted his copybook for the first time in the series, and on the second beat to dropped from ninth to 19th at the finish. However he can comfortably discard this and has actually extended his gap on third place to 11 points. Railey was back with Florent and made sure that the Frenchman stayed behind him
Railey's coach had this to say, 'Zach is feeling very good going into tomorrow's race. Today when he saw his placing at the top mark he decided to use this race to play it tactically for tomorrow's medal race.'
Ainslie noted, 'They both had a pretty poor first leg. Zach, who's had a very consistent series, realised that he was never going to into a good enough position to make it count for him so he was better off stopping and waiting for the French guy and just make sure that he had a bad race. It was pretty good tactics really by Zach, and good for me because it gave me a little bit more breathing space!'
Daniel Birgmark (SWE) moved into the bronze medal position on 44 points after placing fifth while third placed overnight Florent dropped to fourth overall on 50 points.
Going into tomorrow's medal race, Ainslie is guaranteed at least the silver medal. But he is unlikely to be happy to settle for that. The only man who can take it from him is Zach Railey. For tomorrow, some are already forecasting an Ainslie's style match-race showdown between Ainslie and Railey.
Asked about his tactics for the medal race Ainslie stated, 'Stick to him [Railey] like glue I would have thought, especially with this venue! I just hope we get some decent breeze – I hope it's not too light and fluky. But certainly I'll be keeping a very keen eye on Zach and try not to get too far away from him.'
It is also interesting to note at this stage that if Ainslie had not lost those nine places in the closing stages of the opening race, he would be going into the medal race with a guaranteed gold medal.
Railey himself has almost secured a medal, and is 11 points clear of Birgmark in third and 17 points clear of Florent in fourth, and 18 clear of Cook in fifth.
In the bronze medal position is Daniel Birgmark (SWE). He is just six points clear of fourth and it is here that the greatest interest perhaps lies. The chasing group of Florent, Cook, Gasper Vincec (SLO) and Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic (CRO) are all in with a chance of the bronze. A late protest against Birgmark, which would have changed things considerably, was unsuccessful. However at the current time one protest was still pending which, if upheld, could change the sailors in top ten. Keep an eye on the ISAF website for further developments.
Ainslie summed up the situation, 'It's not over yet by a long way, so I'm looking forward to getting out there and sailing a good race.'