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26 August 2006, 01:20 pm
Day 6: A Day For Reflection
Ben AINSLIE takes the best seat in the house for the 470 start
Ben AINSLIE takes the best seat in the house for the 470 start

Qingdao International Regatta 2006
Qingdao, China

Thunderstorms and winds in the teens were predicted in Qingdao for the Olympic Test Event today, but the calm never became the storm.
A light afternoon breeze saw racing get underway on the outer Courses C and D, with Ben AINSLIE (GBR) adding another emphatic bullet to his scorecard. This morning the weather forecast was so severe that the race management team had to consider delaying the start in the face of thunderstorm warnings. However the fleets left on time and were out on the water ready to start as scheduled at 1300, but the predicted twelve knot breeze was replaced by a light and very shifty breeze which at occasions rose up above five knots, but for the most part hovered between one and four and left the postponement flag flying across the race courses.

After about two hours and with no sign of breeze, the Laser Radials on the inner Course Area A went back to the harbour, but as the committee boats on Courses C and D were preparing to fly the AP over H flag (racing abandoned), the offshore breeze picked up to around six knots and the Race Committee swiftly had windward-leeward and trapezoid courses set up.

It did not sustain itself on the the courses closest to the harbour, and racing was abandoned for the day on Course Area A for the Laser Radial and 49er and Course Area B for the Men's RS:X and Women's RS:X .

Korean Victory

The Men's 470 fleet were the first to get away, with the pin end favoured. The wind dropped off through the race, leaving a small leading pack ahead of the main fleet. Asian Sailing Champions and three-time Olympians Daeyoung KIM and Sungahn JUNG (KOR) used all their experience to navigate through the Korean pair up to second place overall. Overall leaders going into the race Stuart MCNAY and Graham BIEHL (USA) got caught up in an almighty pile up at the downwind gate, as the weak breeze and strong current combined to compress the fleet into one mass on the starboard buoy. Already behind the leaders, MCNAY and BIEHL emerged well down the fleet, and although their ultimate 17th finish instantly became their discard, they still lose their top spot on the leaderboard and fall to fourth overall.

Taking over at the top are another of the British comeback success stories, Athens Olympic silver medallists Nick ROGERS and Joe GLANFIELD (GBR). The pair made an injury delayed return to the Olympic Classes in Qingdao, but like team mate AINSLIE have seemingly lost nothing in the interim. Fourth place today puts them top of the leaderboard by 15 points as they discard a black flag result from race three. 'We might be a bit rusty with some of our boat handling but we're just really enjoying racing again,' GLANFIELD explained. 'We've done so little racing, whilst I think for a few of the people here, there have been light winds, it's been a bit difficult so they're not enjoying it as much as we are.'

Behind the Brits the top of the leaderboard is tightly bunched, with French pair Nicolas CHARBONNIER and Olivier BAUSSET just one point behind the Koreans and one ahead of the Americans.

AINSLIE Awesome

Ben AINSLIE (GBR) secured his fourth bullet in five races today, with another dominant display over the star filled Finn fleet in Qingdao. Right from the gun AINSLIE was off and ahead down the middle of the course and when he rounded the top mark with a 20 second lead over World Champion Jonas HOEGH-CHRISTENSEN (DEN) there was only ever going to be one winner.

Responding to why he is sailing so well here, AINSLIE remained modest, 'I don't know. I would like to say it's practice and preparation. But it's not really in this case. I think it's experience in racing. But the conditions so far are being good to me.'

However, the world number eight in the Finn, Gasper VINCEC (SLO) who sits in seventh overall remains hopeful that AINSLIE can be caught, commenting, 'He is nothing special. We have the confidence. Nothing is impossible!'

Behind AINSLIE, HOEGH-CHRISTENSEN won the battle for second ahead of Emilios PAPATHANASIOU (GRE), with the pair moving into a tie for second place overall, eleven points off the top spot after the discard came into play today. Without doubt the conditions in Qingdao have made AINSLIE's return to the class easier, with the lighter frame required by his America's Cup employers Emirate Team New Zealand a definite advantage in the shifty breezes seen in Qingdao so far. Even still, such a quick return to winning form sends an ominous message for those looking to dethrone the Olympic Champion in Qingdao in two years' time.

AINSLIE himself explained that sometimes a spell out of the boat can have its rewards. 'It's funny - when you spend a lot of time away from the boat, quite often you come back and you learn something a little bit new. That's sort of been the case for me here. I think maybe when you're sailing all the time you get into kind of a mindset or a way of sailing and it's very hard to change that, and if you take a bit of time away then you have a more open mind I guess.'

Sailing further away from the harbour on Course Area D, the Tornado and Yngling fleets also benefited from a slight afternoon breeze but it died shortly after the start, and the Yngling race got underway but was abandoned on the water, whilst the Tornados failed to finish within the time limit.

The abandonment was a stroke of very good fortune for overall leaders Roman HAGARA and Hans Peter STEINACHER (AUT), who had only tabled a mid-fleet finish, whilst their nearest rivals Xavier REVIL and Christophe ESPAGNON (FRA) had crossed the line first.

XU Faces A New Set Of Challenges

With the majority of the fleet heading back to shore early on, there was plenty of time to reflect on the racing so far, and on the other pressures that surround the first Olympic Test Event. Whilst the Chinese team has had a great regatta to date, one disappointment has come in the Laser Radial, where newly crowned World Champion Lijia XU (CHN) has been plagued by inconsistency and lies 42 points behind fleet leader Paige RAILEY (USA) in tenth place overall.

'We just had eight months of training in the Laser Radial, which is not nearly enough,' explained the 18 year old star. 'I am not doing well when the wind is light, though I'm okay with moderate wind speed.'

XU has already had a taste of the increased media focus that comes with the Olympic Games, being a centre of attention for the Chinese journalists, photographers and television crews right from the start of the regatta. 'Though I did know and was prepared that we would have to learn to face the media, because there will be much more media from around the world in 2008, I did not expect that there would be is so much media focus on me this time,' she said of the attentions she has received over the past week. 'Now I can do nothing but to learn to adjust. Since it is our aim to learn about other sailors, get used to the course and collect detailed information, I don't feel much pressure now. As far as the focus of the media goes, I am just concentrating on sailing. There are a lot of things I need to learn and I have a long way to go.'

Schedule for Sunday 27 August

  • Course Area A - Men's RS:X and Women's RS:X
  • Course Area B - Laser and Laser Radial
  • Course Area C - Men's 470 and Women's 470
  • Course Area D - Finn and Tornado

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