Milestones in sailing don't come along every day, but yesterday in Rio de Janeiro, there was a very special milestone. Winning the Finn Gold Cup for the third time in a row, Ben Ainslie (GBR) has equaled Jorg Bruder's record set between 1970 and 72.
Overcoming challenging conditions and a very deep field of talent, Ainslie has now won all five major championships since he entered the class in 2001. With the Olympic Games in Athens just 6 months away, is there anyone who can stop this man?
The Finn Festival in Rio is over and the Rio Carnival is just starting. Rio de Janeiro has certainly put on a show to be proud of over the past 7 days and the Finn Gold Cup was just one of many preparatory events for the 2007 Pan-American Games. Most sailors here would agree that this regatta has been a great success and can't deny the beauty and attractions of Rio.
However, before all the congratulations could start some sailing had to be done. The courses, which were again windward leeward loops, were set inside the harbour today to ensure that two races could be sailed.
Ben AINSLIE (GBR) takes up the story. While he admits to being very nervous before the start - especially when waiting onshore earlier in the day for the wind to pick up - as soon as the racing started he settled down. He relates, "It was essential to be at the committee boat at the start and head off right out of the tide. I got a good start and went right right before coming back towards the middle. I was watching for both Mateusz and David and they went too far in and lost the wind a bit. When they came out they were behind me and it was looking good. After that I just played the fleet up the middle, but it was pretty nerve racking at times."
Up at the front Jorge Zarif (BRA) was battling with Tapio NIRKKO (FIN), Michael FELLMANN (GER) and Soren HOLM (DEN). Zarif was Brazil's Olympic representative at the 1984 Olympic Games in Long Beach, USA. He is a veteran Finn sailor and today he led from the front to record an impressive victory. A large hole in the wind to the right of the course caused quite a few problems for some sailors, but Zarif led the way round. Ainslie rounded the top mark about 14th and managed to climb up to 9th at the finish, but that didn't matter. He had beaten both his nearest rivals and now couldn't be touched for the title. However the race was still very much on for the other medals with 5 to 6 sailors in with a chance.
At the start of race nine, several top boats were found to be having trouble trying to negotiate the strong tidal stream around the committee boat and having to tack out and come round for another go. Several attempts to start the race ended in general recalls as the tidal set was pushing boats over and the biased line was causing bunching at the committee boat. At one false start Sebastian Godefroid (BEL) was seen inching his way along the leeward side committee boat on port tack where he was pinned by the tide and facing a number of starboard tack boats shouting at him. His response was, "This is my only way out of here. Sorry"
One of those shouting at him was Mateusz KUSZNIEREWICZ. Fate would then have it that less than a minute later Mateusz was doing the same trick. Luckily a general recall was sounded soon after.
When the fleet finally got away, again the majority tacked and headed to the right, although for a while both sides looked good. Then a shift to the right brought those who had gone far right to the front and Rafael Trujillo VILLAR (ESP) led round the first mark followed by Gasper VINCEC (SLO), Karlo KURET (CRO), Babicky ROMAN (CZE) and Michael MAIER (CZE). With the wind picking up to around 12 knots, Rafa held his lead throughout the race. Chris COOK (CAN) pulled through on the downwind leg and ended up third at the finish just behind Kuret.
Richard CLARKE (CAN), 10 points adrift of a medal going into the day, scored a 5th, which put together with his 6th in the morning catapulted him into the silver medal position. Mateusz KUSZNIEREWICZ couldn't quite find the form he had in the early races and dropped to fourth overall. Third overnight, David BURROWS (IRL) had a scrappy day but two 15th places were just enough to keep him in the bronze medal position, which he was pretty pleased about.
His bronze medal here this week is David's first Finn World Championship medal. He commented. "This is an amazing place. I've never been anywhere quite like it. After the pre-regatta training several of us went up to Buzios, north of Rio for a break. It was a stunning place, 20 knots winds every day and some gorgeous scenery. I have really enjoyed it here although the racing has been tough."
Buzios is also the location where the Brazilians will have their Olympic selection trials in a week's time.
Joao SIGNORINI (BRA), the leading sailor from Brazil concurred, " It has been a really great event. There has been a very high level of racing with the leaderboard changing many times during the week. Rio has showed that it is a place which can be very tricky. You have to stay calm to race well here and be consistent. Some guys have results all over the place, even on the same day. However it has been a hard event with some great racing. I think the organisers have done a great job in bringing it all together and I hope that all the sailors have enjoyed their time in Rio."
The Finn Junior World Championship had a reduced entry this year, perhaps due to the costs of getting here, but the IFA are delighted that the Brazilian Olympic Committee has presented the class with 'The Jorg Bruder Silver Cup', a perpetual trophy to be presented to the winner of the junior event, as a memorial to the late great Finn sailor from Brazil. The leading junior here is Tapio NIRKKO (FIN), who finished in 40th place in this Gold Cup just four places ahead of Brazil's Henry Raul BOENING. Nirkko did himself a favour in this morning's race with a 5th, as he was black-flagged in the second race as a premature starter, but still maintained a big enough points difference on the Brazilian.
Talking about the championship after the race, Ben Ainslie put his success here down to consistency, and agreed the conditions have been difficult. He commented, "This gives me a good confidence boost for Athens, but it is still six months away and there is a lot that can happen and a lot of hard work to do in that time."
Ben said, "I am really elated about this win. It's really special for me to win the Gold Cup a third time and to do it in Brazil as well is really good. It was a very tough regatta and I really am chuffed to bits to come out on top. It's always special to win a big championship like this but to win this for the third time in Brazil",
Jorg Bruder's home country - the only sailor before today to win three consecutive Finn Gold Cups, "makes it very nice for me. It makes all the time and effort training worthwhile."
And after Athens. "Well I am probably getting involved in the America's Cup again, but nothing has been firmed up yet."
And what about going for a fourth title in Moscow? "Well I'm not saying I'm never sailing a Finn again after Athens, so I'm not ruling out going to Moscow next year..."
An enormous number of people contributed to the success of the event including the ever present Nuno CAMINADA, Kadu (Richardo BAGGIO) - Sailing Manager of the Iate Clube do Rio de Janeiro, Marco Aurelio sa RIBEIRO and the Brazilian Finn Association as well as the hard working PRO, Pedro Paulo PETERSEN. Marco AURELIO commented, "I think it has been a very successful event. Although the conditions were tricky, I think the sailors who did the right thing on the water were the winners. It was a fair championship and we are very pleased with the organisation."
Full results are available on the event website at the address below.