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11 August 2008, 01:10 pm
AINSLIE Takes Lead In Finns By Smallest Of Margins
Ben Ainslie of Great Britain
Double gold medallist Ben Ainslie has hit the front in the Finn fleet

2008 Beijing Olympic Games
Qingdao, China

After winning race 5 today on the final downwind to the finish, Athens gold medallist Ben Ainslie took the overall lead in the Finn class from American Zach RAILEY.
Ben AINSLIE (GBR) then placed 10th in race 6 with Zach RAILEY (USA) in eighth to go into the lay day with a one-point advantage. Guillaume FLORENT (FRA) moves up to third after placing fourth and sixth today. Chris COOK(CAN) drops one place to third after finishing 23rd and fifth today.

"It was a good race in the first, but I would have liked to done a lot better in the second so that was pretty disappointing. But still a long way to go, and it's good to be at the right end of the fleet," reflected AINSLIE at the end of the day.

With 14-15 knots of breeze early in the morning, the conditions looked good, but the forecast was for it to drop. When the fleet arrived on course area E it was still at 12 knots, so most of the fleet hoisted their heavier sails. Then once it was too late too change again, the wind started to decrease.

Eduardo COUTO (BRA) only started sailing Finns earlier this year when he won the Brazilian trials, but he is already making an impact on the race course in Qingdao. For the second time this week he led around the top mark, this time from Peng ZHANG (CHN) and Nachhatar JOHAL (IND). All three had favoured the left hand side of the course, while most of the rest went to the right, which looked better and was the forecasted way to go. Overnight leader RAILEY was one of those having problems further back, rounding in 15th, over two minutes behind the first boat.

Ranked a lowly #80 in the ISAF World Sailing Rankings, COUTO, who is one of the youngest and lightest sailors in Qingdao, maintained his lead on the first downwind, rounding just ahead of ZHANG, while Gasper VINCEC (SLO) made the best gains to move from ninth up to third. On the final upwind, COUTO extended his lead to 26 seconds with VINCEC moving up to second, while coming up fast behind him was AINSLIE who improved from ninth to third.

AINSLIE continued his charge on the final downwind to the finish overhauling both VINCEC and then COUTO to take his third race win on the series so far and to move into the overall lead for the first time. Almost a photo finish, the first three boats finished in the space of one second. FLORENT finished fourth in the race to move up to third overall, while RAILEY recovered well to finally finish seventh, but he had dropped to second overall.

Race 6 got underway in a reduced breeze of 7 knots - after everyone had changed back to their lighter Mylar sails - with several new faces at the front. The tough conditions so far have taken their toll on a number of sailors who were predicted to be doing better. At the 2007 Olympic Test Event here last year, Pieter-Jan POSTMA (NED) and Peer MOBERG (NOR) won the silver and bronze medals. This year they are struggling just to get into the top 20, with POSTMA's high scores one of the biggest shocks of the event so far. He said, "A lot of things happened outside the boat with the wind and the current that I did not register on time. I did not get my head out of the boat enough." Meanwhile MOBERG did himself no favours by failing to complete a full two turns for a yellow flag penalty in race two and found himself disqualified.

However they both put this behind them in race six with the two of them vying for the race win. POSTMA led round the first mark just ahead of Tapio NIRKKO (FIN) and COOK. MOBERG, who was the Laser bronze medallist in 1996, rounded in fourth place. By the leeward gate, MOBERG was up to second and stayed there until the final downwind when he sneaked past POSTMA to take the race win by just four seconds. Daniel BIRGMARK (SWE) took third place after remaining in the top seven throughout the race.

NIRKKO was holding on to fourth place when he was yellow flagged coming in to the finish and made a mess of doing his penalty turns to finally finish a very unhappy 22nd. Fourth place finally went to Jonas HOEGH-CHRISTENSEN (DEN), which was only the world #1's second appearance inside the top ten this week.

Some small chink was found in AINSLIE's armour as he could only manage to finish tenth in the race, just two places and two seconds behind his current main rival RAILEY. For him this will be a countable score as he also placed tenth in race 1. RAILEY remains the only sailor so far to score only single digit results.

The separation times between boats are a source of great interest. Sometimes this can increase to five minutes during the space of one leg as boats drop into holes or find extra puffs. Sometimes it can be mere seconds between a whole bunch of boats at the finish. In race 6 today there were just eight seconds between a countable eighth and a discardable 13th. Boat positioning coming into the downwind marks is proving perhaps the most crucial tactical decision of the race.

After winning both Test Events here in Qingdao, and now holding the overall lead in the Finn, AINSLIE is better placed than most to know what makes the difference out on the race course, "It's really just about finding a lane and finding some breeze and you can use your technique," he explained. "If you get stuck in the fleet like I did in that second race then it's hard to make the gains."

"The tide is almost twice as strong as anywhere else we sail in the world, and the breeze is very light, it's very fickle and changing direction subtly, but it's very important to pick up those subtle changes in direction.

"Everyone's a bit up and down and it's a case of when you're not doing so well trying to pull back some places and make the race count."

With race 6 completed the Finns have now completed the minimum number of races to constitute an opening series. This means that none of the reserve days will be used and that the Medal Race will proceed as scheduled on Saturday 16 August.

Dan SLATER (NZL) placed better again today posting a 9 and 7. He said, "With four races left to sail before a Medal Race everyone has a discard now and will be counting all their finishing positions from now on. I'm looking forward [to Wednesday] as I still have nothing to lose and everything to gain and going by today we saw some big scores again from the racing. Really you only have to look at the results to see that the racing is really random and not really how you would like to have a regatta that you have spent four years building up for, but it is what it is and I will keep fighting my way back." SLATER currently lies in 13th place, just four points away from the Medal Race zone.

So, going into the first lay day AINSLIE leads on 17 points, with RAILEY close behind on 18. In third is FLORENT on 26 points with COOK in fourth on 33. The event is effectively only half way over but both AINSLIE and RAILEY have created a useful gap on the rest of the fleet, though in the conditions in Qingdao, no one is taking anything for granted.

Overall Results - click here

Robert Deaves, IFA (As Amended By ISAF)
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