It wasn’t quite the ending or the result that most people expected, but the 2011 Finn Gold Cup in Perth, Australia was certainly one of the more memorable ones, even if perhaps for sometimes the wrong reasons. At times it was controversial, and the fall-out may even effect the way future events are covered by the media, but it was still an exceptional display by exceptionally gifted athletes racing in one of the toughest events in sailing.
Apart from the odd hiccup, the championship had been on course for a thrilling finale with the five time champion Ben Ainslie amassing an eight point lead to take into the medal race. However, following the circumstances at the end of race nine that was not to be. In a momentary flash of anger it was all gone. Barring a disaster, Ainslie’s lead would have been hard for any of the other sailors to chip into. But two non-discardable disqualifications ended his championship hopes and set up a new endgame, one which was arguably much closer and maybe even more thrilling than an Ainslie whitewash. (Naw… – ed.)
Of course, Ainslie’s dismissal shouldn’t, and didn’t, detract from the Herculean battle of the medal race as Giles Scott, already beaten by Ainslie to the GBR Olympic slot, aimed to add the Finn world title to the European title he won in Helsinki in July.
With Ainslie gone, Scott had a three point lead over the Netherlands Pieter Jan Postma. Defending world champion Ed Wright was further back and needed a front row collapse to take home the coveted Gold Cup for a second year. That was unlikely to happen.
At the start of the medal race, while Wright was over early and headed back, Postma headed towards the grandstand, gave a quick wave to the cheering crowd and then sailed away to win his fifth race of the week. Double world champion Jonas Hoegh Christensen from Denmark occupied second place for the majority of the race, with Scott nipping at his heels and trying to find a way through. He had to wait until half way down the final run when he caught a couple of good waves and turned a two boatlength deficit into a five boatlength lead as if by magic. And it was magic to watch.
Rather than defending his second place Scott then began to attack Postma, but he was soon running out of race track and wind as the race ended just 20 metres off the beach in Bathers Bay. Postma needed one boat between them to take the title and for most of the race he had just that. But a last minute surge was enough to give Giles Scott the Finn Gold Cup for the first time. Afterwards he was almost too emotional to talk. The reality that he was European and World Champion but not going to the Olympics was almost too much to bear. Postma was, as ever, a gracious silver medalist while Wright seemed pretty happy with the bronze. (We love the prizegiving photo above. Be great if the winner had his choice of trophies! – ed.)
Though much of the world’s media has reported many of the facts surrounding what has become the ‘Ben Ainslie incident’ incorrectly, and sensationalism has replaced solid journalism, Ainslie himself has subsequently been portrayed as both hero and villain in blogs and forums across the world for his actions last Saturday. Though he admits to ‘overreacting’ to the media boat’s rude intrusion, the underlying reasons will hopefully lead to better understanding and communication between sailors, event organisers and media boats in the future. – Robert Deaves.