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Page last updated at 13:49 GMT, Thursday, 14 August 2008 14:49 UK

Golden prospects

By Richard Simmonds
BBC sailing commentator

Ben Ainslie
Ainslie leads American Zach Railey by six points after seven races
Ben Ainslie and the Yngling girls will go for gold in their final medal race on the Yellow Sea off Qingdao on Saturday morning.

The way things are shaping up, Ainslie looks set to win the Finn class for his third Olympic gold.

And British team-mates Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb and Pippa Wilson - the three blondes in a boat mark II - are also leading their keelboat class and should end up on top of the podium.

But nothing is in the bag yet.

At a venue that has seen Olympic and world champions struggle, it may be that the races that take place before Saturday's final will determine how solid the two British golds are looking.

Here's why:

After seven races in the Finn class, Ainslie has a six-point lead over Zach Railey from America and an 11-point lead over third place Guillaume Florent from France.

If the separation stays like that, to win gold Ainslie would need to ensure that the American does not finish two places ahead of him and that the French sailor does not finish six places ahead of him in Saturday's medal race.

Railey has twice beaten Ainslie by two places in the first seven races, while Florent has yet to beat Ainslie by six places.

Ben Ainslie
Ainslie is going for a third straight Olympic gold medal in Beijing

So providing Ainslie keeps delivering the sort of results he has managed over the first seven races - his average place discarding his worst performance is a little higher than third (3.1) - then gold is looking solid.

If the points separation remains close with the American going into the final race, I'm supremely confident that Ainslie would win a straight head-to-head.

A dogfight is something that Ainslie is brutally good at. He reduced the final race in Sydney in 2000 to a match race with Brazilian nemesis Robert Scheidt, the Olympic champion, and came out on top.

He is clinical in his execution and the mere prospect of that sort of encounter could win him the mind games before it starts, especially as the American will, I'm sure, be delighted with silver.

The risk for Ainslie is if there are two sailors breathing down his neck.

He will not be able to play a tactical game of keeping them both behind him as they will be able to sail up different sides of the race course. Not even Ainslie can be in two places at the same time.

His plan then will just be to sail the best race he can and finish as high up the fleet as possible. Almost anywhere else in the world, I would feel sure that Ainslie would still win gold.

But out here, where winds have been light and so unpredictable - Ainslie slipped from first to 10th when he was becalmed in the first race of his competition - there is always a risk.

Britain's Yngling team: Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb and Pippa Wilson
Britain's Yngling team: Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb and Pippa Wilson

Ayton, Webb and Wilson are playing a very similar game.

Time after time, they have had a difficult start and then sliced through the fleet. Their average place over the first seven races is a little better than third (2.8) and they lead the Dutch team by five points. They have speed and are able to switch into a gear which most teams in this class do not possess.

But they also appear to have something really special between the three of them and their coach Paul Brotherton, who has played a massive role in this campaign and who Ayton rates as the most influential person in her sailing career.

If ever there was an example of a team being even stronger than the sum of its parts, then this is it. Individual talent, for sure, but welded into an outfit not to be messed with.

They may, though, have a tougher job than Ainslie. Their nearest rivals from Holland are looking very fast indeed and have won two races so far. The British team have not yet won a race.

If it comes down to a match race with the Dutch, the Britons would probably prefer a little more of a cushion going into it, but they would be confident of gold.

606

But any errors could let the Americans, currently third, into the frame. And then the same dangers of a three-way fight would come into play.

There are, though, some other encouraging factors for the British. The weather forecast indicates much stronger and more consistent winds are heading towards Qingdao, which would favour the British teams.

Then there is track record.

Ainslie won Olympic silver as a 19-year-old in 1996, has won two golds since and is the five-time Finn world champion. He is described as a sailing phenomenon even by those competing against him here and has the "Steve Redgrave" factor.

In the Yngling, Ayton and Webb won gold in 2004 with Shirley Robertson, they are the two-time World Champions, and they won the Olympic test event in Qingdao last year, as did Ainslie.

So Britain's prospects look good, but nothing is guaranteed in sailing, especially in Qingdao.


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Sunday, 24 August 2008 10:17 UK
Rank Country Gold Silver Bronze TOTAL
1 also show each event results forGreat Britain 4 1 1 6
470 - Men's Two Person Dinghy 0 1 0
Finn - Heavyweight Dinghy 1 0 0
Laser - Men's One Person Dingh 1 0 0
RS:X - Women's Windsurfer 0 0 1
Star - Men's Keelboat 1 0 0
Yngling - Women's Keelboat 1 0 0
2 also show each event results forAustralia 2 1 0 3
470 - Men's Two Person Dinghy 1 0 0
470 - Women's Two Person Dingh 1 0 0
Tornado - Multihull 0 1 0
3 also show each event results forSpain 1 1 0 2
49er - Skiff 0 1 0
Tornado - Multihull 1 0 0
4 also show each event results forUSA 1 1 0 2
Finn - Heavyweight Dinghy 0 1 0
Laser Radial - Women's One Per 1 0 0
5 also show each event results forChina 1 0 1 2
Laser Radial - Women's One Per 0 0 1
RS:X - Women's Windsurfer 1 0 0
6 also show each event results forDenmark 1 0 0 1
49er - Skiff 1 0 0
7 also show each event results forNew Zealand 1 0 0 1
RS:X - Men's Windsurfer 1 0 0
8 also show each event results forNetherlands 0 2 0 2
470 - Women's Two Person Dingh 0 1 0
Yngling - Women's Keelboat 0 1 0
9 also show each event results forFrance 0 1 2 3
470 - Men's Two Person Dinghy 0 0 1
Finn - Heavyweight Dinghy 0 0 1
RS:X - Men's Windsurfer 0 1 0
10 also show each event results forBrazil 0 1 1 2
470 - Women's Two Person Dingh 0 0 1
Star - Men's Keelboat 0 1 0
11 also show each event results forItaly 0 1 1 2
Laser - Men's One Person Dingh 0 0 1
RS:X - Women's Windsurfer 0 1 0
12 also show each event results forLithuania 0 1 0 1
Laser Radial - Women's One Per 0 1 0
13 also show each event results forSlovenia 0 1 0 1
Laser - Men's One Person Dingh 0 1 0
14 also show each event results forArgentina 0 0 1 1
Tornado - Multihull 0 0 1
15 also show each event results forGermany 0 0 1 1
49er - Skiff 0 0 1
16 also show each event results forGreece 0 0 1 1
Yngling - Women's Keelboat 0 0 1
17 also show each event results forIsrael 0 0 1 1
RS:X - Men's Windsurfer 0 0 1
18 also show each event results forSweden 0 0 1 1
Star - Men's Keelboat 0 0 1

see also
Sailors thwarted by lack of wind
14 Aug 08 |  Sailing
GB sailors impress on second day
10 Aug 08 |  Sailing
Mixed day for Britain's sailors
11 Aug 08 |  Sailing
GB sailors move into medal place
13 Aug 08 |  Sailing
Olympics blog
07 Aug 08 |  Olympics
Beijing 2008
14 Feb 08 |  Olympics


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