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Olympic medals are what it is all about and Ben AINSLIE (GBR) made it quite clear from the outset that nothing less than gold would do. RAILEY was the only sailor in the 10-boat Finn Medal Race who could take the 2008 Olympic Finn gold medal away from the Brit. However, it proved to be a somewhat more arduous task than anyone suspected.
The story of this Medal Race actually started yesterday with three failed attempts to get the final race in. Twice it was postponed in the closing seconds before the start gun, but the third time the fleet got away in 7 knots of breeze which lasted until the last quarter of the first windward leg. Then it started to drop, completely dying by the time the boats reached the leeward mark.
The big question everyone was asking before the race was would RAILEY bear the full brunt of AINSLIE's tactics. The answer was an emphatic 'yes'. RAILEY's biggest danger however was that AINSLIE would take him out of the race, while his rivals sailed away and he would end up out of the medals altogether.
On the first failed start AINSLIE made his intentions quite clear, locking swords with RAILEY at 4 minutes to go. By the time the third start got underway, RAILEY had taken the battle to AINSLIE and managed to escape a number of times before starting in clear air. However thinking he was over the line early, RAILEY went back - as did AINSLIE and this allowed AINSLIE to regain control.
RAILEY stood no chance. Initially tacked on by medal contender FLORENT, RAILEY started to slip back and then AINSLIE took control and herded RAILEY to the far right side of the course. The rest of the fleet rounded the first mark some 4 minutes ahead of AINSLIE, after benefiting from better wind on the left of the course,
AINSLIE's plan was working perfectly, but fortunately for RAILEY his two main rivals for silver, BIRGMARK and FLORENT were having a bad day as well. However at the gate, the leading boats drifted round in very little wind and soon after the race was abandoned. It was all back to square one for AINSLIE.
RAILEY said after coming ashore that he was prepared for the onslaught, "I think that what Ben did given the very shifty conditions was a good play and that was something that I was expecting. I am just trying to get in a good race and Ben is trying to prevent that with the conditions we had today. For tomorrow, I will go out and just try to have a good start and get in a solid race. But for sure the race committee made the correct call because we would not have made it back upwind and back down to the finish with a fair race."
FLORENT stated, "The conditions were not up to an Olympic final. The racing area is already not easy to race but this was impossible. Luckily, the Race Committee took the right decision. It is not fun to do our sport in these conditions and I suppose it is the same for the spectators. I wasn't in good place after the first lap but everyone stopped at the same time. Anything could have happened!"
So, Sunday morning arrived. Round two.
The Finns were second up after the Ynglings in winds of 20 knots. Though the Ynglings got their race in first, the Finns were sent back to shore as the weather and visibility rapidly deteriorated.
The frustration of the sailors was almost palpable as they headed for home with the Medal Race still not completed. Some were asking would it ever be over?
But the weather improved and the AP finally came down again at 15:45 local time for the fifth attempt at a start. This time it got away first time in 15-18 knot winds and the 'O' flag raised for free pumping on downwind legs for the first and only time in this regatta.
AINSLIE waited until the last moment before attacking and slid under RAILEY with about 30 seconds to go. RAILEY tacked off and started in last place, but in clear air. After a few tacks being exchanged out of the start, AINSLIE was clearly keeping RAILEY in his sights, yet a repeat of yesterday's tactics was not necessary as the Brit was soon in the lead. Favouring the right hand side of the course AINSLIE rounded the top mark ahead, with FLORENT rounding in second from the left. Positions at the first mark were: GBR, FRA, DEN, CAN, ESP, SLO, USA, SWE, POL and CRO. RAILEY was still in silver and FLORENT had moved up to bronze.
Perfect Finn sailing conditions enabled the sailors to really strut their stuff downwind. FLORENT and Jonas HOEGH-CHRISTENSEN (DEN) gained slightly on AINSLIE on the downwind, while RAILEY moved up one to sixth, keeping his main opposition BIRGMARK behind him.
Most of the fleet favoured the left hand side of the track on the final leg with AINSLIE extending slightly to lead round the final windward mark of the regatta. There were very few changes on the final leg. RAILEY was still holding into silver while FLORENT was comfortably in the bronze. The only real drama was FLORENT dropping to fourth and BIRGMARK moving up to seventh right at the finish. In terms of points this meant that FLORENT took the bronze medal off BIRGMARK on the result on the Medal Race, both finishing on 58 points.
While AINSLIE took the gold medal in the best possible way with a race win, a sixth place for RAILEY was enough for him to retain the silver medal position with ease. AINSLIE was in fact using the same hull that won him gold in Athens four years ago, while FLORENT was using his six year old boat and mast.
If anyone needs a master class in how to demoralise the opposition, then AINSLIE is the perfect tutor, having won the gold medal by an incredible 22 points. In four out of the nine races sailed, he turned a middle or low top ten result into a race winning position on the downwind legs. In the first race he was unlucky, dropping from first to 10th in the closing stages, but his scoreline of four race wins, two seconds, a fourth and a 10th is a graphic indication of why he was the favourite to take the gold medal again.
What is perhaps more remarkable about this regatta than AINSLIE winning his third consecutive gold medal is the number of pre-regatta favourites who didn't figure at all in the racing. Some of them didn't even make the medal race including the silver medallist at the Test Event here last year Pieter-Jan POSTMA (NED) who never really found any form, Emilios PAPATHANASIOU (GRE), always a light wind threat and Dan SLATER (NZL), silver medallist at the Worlds this year. Meanwhile world #1 HOEGH-CHRISTENSEN and the 2004 Athens silver medallist and 2007 World Champion Rafa TRUJILLO (ESP) went into the Medal Race having lost all chances of winning a medal.
Both the medallists behind AINSLIE were given outside chances of winning a medal before the event, but it is still quite a surprise to see them there at the end of what has been a very trying and testing week.
In winning his third consecutive Olympic gold medal, AINSLIE is now the joint second most decorated sailor at the Olympics - ever. He has also earned himself a place in British Olympic history as the most decorated of all British Olympic sailors, an honour that has sat with Rodney PATTISSON's two gold and a silver medal in 1968, 1972 and 1976 for over 30 years.
What is daunting about this piece of trivia is that AINSLIE is currently at the peak of his career. Aged just 31, he has many more Olympiads to go and has indicated every intention of being at Weymouth in four years time.
His medal here is also the third consecutive Finn gold medal for Great Britain, a country, that until Iain PERCY's (GBR) gold medal in 2000 broke the 48 year gap from Charles CURREY's silver in 1952, had struggled to produce any sort of form at the Olympic Games in this class.
AINSLIE said, "Today we had a nice little rain with wind up to 20 knots. It's a lot like sailing at home in Britain. I tried to keep my eye on the American during the start of the race. After a little while, I just went on and tried to sail my own race. I made some big gains during the second half of the first leg. The last downwind was a little scary. I kept telling myself, 'don't capsize, don't capsize'. All in all, this is my best last race in all of the four Olympics that I've participated in."
"This feeling is truly amazing, and it's a massive relief. I could open the Champagne right now and rightfully so."
RAILEY's silver medal is the first Finn medal for the United States for 16 years, following in the wake of a long line of silver medals - Peter BARRETT (USA) in 1964, John BERTRAND (USA) in 1984 and Brian LEDBETTER (USA) in 1992.
RAILEY said later, "I was late at the start. Ben was trying to force me to the back of the fleet, which cost me about 30 seconds. Other than that, I sailed very well today."
On winning the silver, he said, "It's a big relief. I am proud of myself. I had a little chat with Ben. I told him that I know that he wants to secure his gold medal, and I just wanted to secure my silver."
RAILEY looked ahead to the next four years, "I will continue my training step by step, and goal by goal. I will definitely go for the gold. It's just one more place to go. It has always been my dream to stand on the Olympic podium. The fact that it's silver and not gold is not important to me."
FLORENT's medal is only the second Finn medal for France, the other one being a gold medal to Serge MAURY in Kiel in 1972. His plan today was to try and keep two boats between himself and BIRGMARK, a plan that was ultimately to prove successful. On his bronze medal he said, "I didn't think this would be possible before coming here. This is my first regatta in Qingdao!"
"Everyone needs some luck sometimes, and today I had it. Today was my day. I made my gain at the second upwind. I didn't care about the position, I just needed to put two boats between Sweden and myself and I did."
Overall Results - click here