Great Britain's Ben AINSLIE took a step closer to a third consecutive Olympic gold medal as he extended his overall lead with a second place finish in today's solitary Finn race.
For the first time on the Finn course, there was initially a significant delay in getting the first race underway because of too little wind, and then a cancellation of the second race as conditions deteriorated even further.
Even though the 470s and 49ers were able to start their races almost on time on the inshore courses, further out on course area E, the racing was postponed for nearly two and a half hours before finally being able to get underway. Ivan KLJAKOVIC GASPIC
(CRO) dominated the race, but Ben AINSLIE
(GBR) placed second to extend his lead at the top.
With just three races of the Opening Series now remaining, to be followed by the double-points Medal Race for the top ten competitors of Saturday, the pressure at the top of the Finn fleet is starting to have an impact.
"Since the score is so close, it's becoming very difficult to sail tactically,"
said AINSLIE. "I keep my eye on the opponent and suddenly, at the back of my head, a voice calls out to say, 'watch your position'. Those split-moment judgments are making my day even harder."
Hoping for a break in the tough conditions at some point, the sailors today had to cope with even lighter winds, increased humidity and pretty low visibility. Race 7 finally got underway at 15:20 in just 5-6 knots of wind from a new direction of 140°, gradually shifting round to 160°.
After an individual recall at the start, Nachhatar JOHAL
(IND) thought he was over and went back. Unfortunately it was for the 2004 silver medallist Rafa TRUJILLO
(ESP), who did not go back and was scored OCS.
Having only once placed inside the top 10 so far in this regatta, the 2007 European Champion, Eduard SKORNYAKOV
(RUS) made the best of the first upwind to lead round the top mark followed by KLJAKOVIC GASPIC and Emilios PAPATHANASIOU
SKORNYAKOV's lead was short lived as KLJAKOVIC GASPIC took the lead at the bottom of the downwind with regatta leader AINSLIE again making a big jump downwind to improve from seventh at the top mark to second at the gate.
However KLJAKOVIC GASPIC now had the bit between his teeth. He rounded clear of other boats and was the only one to get clear air. He extended his lead to just under a minute on the second upwind and then to just over two minutes by the finish to take the race win. AINSLIE held on to second, just ahead of Daniel BIRGMARK
(SWE), who again sailed a very consistent race inside the top five. By the end of the race, the wind had decreased to 4 knots.
Second overall going into race 7 was Zach RAILEY
(USA). Not having the best of races, he slipped to 12th at one point before recovering to seventh by the finish. Third placed overnight Guillaume FLORENT
(FRA) recovered from 14th at the first mark to fourth at the finish, mainly taking places downwind, to maintain his third place overall, while Jonas HOEGH-CHRISTENSEN
(DEN) kept his slim medal chances alive with a fifth place. Chris COOK
(CAN) dropped from fourth to seventh overall after a disappointing 15th.
Race 8 was postponed until tomorrow. This means that two races will be sailed tomorrow, with the tenth now rescheduled for Friday.
Although the tough conditions continue to make competition extremely testing, Eduardo COUTO
(BRA), who dropped from ninth to 10th after placing 14th today, is still pretty happy. He commented, "The conditions are very difficult, and the positions change a lot. When you are in front it is difficult to cover the fleet, and sometimes from behind you can have big gains too, so I think everybody is having a hard time this week. But I am really happy with my performance, I think I have good speed in light winds and have sailed pretty good in some races, so I am enjoying the sailing here in Qingdao.
"It is easy to have bad races, so I think you have to sail very conservatively and not take too many risks. Right now, being in the top 10 it is really good for me. I am just disappointed to have that second yellow flag in race 3, where I was doing very good, but it is part of the game. I just have to be careful now, and pray for the light winds for the next few days."
(AUS) commented on the weed, "There is more weed here than any other sailing venue, but none compared to how it was. I've cleared the rudder a few times, but the weed seems to break up at the bow and is too fragile to hitch a ride."
One of the pre-regatta favourites is gradually improving. Pieter-Jan POSTMA
(NED) won the silver medal at the Test Event in Qingdao last year, but so far this year has only had one top 10 position before today. He said, "At first he sailed too much in his own boat, meaning he did not look enough outside the boat. Then he changed the balance and looked more outside the boat at the bigger picture on wind and current, but he was not able to read the wind properly and he didn't get a grip on it. For that reason he changed his strategy to not take the initiative, but follow what happens on the water with the fleet. He has always sailed races while taking the initiative himself so it is hard to adjust to that but yesterday's second place felt like a confirmation that he is still able to pull it off."
Today POSTMA placed 10th and moved up to 14th, just 15 points short of the Medal Race zone.
(NZL) is another pre-regatta favourite finally getting closer to the top 10, moving up to 12th after placing 13th today. He said, "I had a great start and headed out towards the left hand side of the course and really just got too greedy trying to do something special and went round the first mark mid-fleet. Down the first run I sailed really bad downwind but up the second beat I came back into the race and crossed the finish in 13th. This puts me in 12th overall and looking to make The Medal Race with three races to go, so I will have to pull my out finger tomorrow."
After seven races, AINSLIE leads on 19 points, with RAILEY in second on 25 and FLORENT still in third on 30. Although the gap behind the leading three boats has increased to nine points there are still four or five boats within easy striking distance, and there is still a long way to go in this series.
Overall Results - click here