Robert Deaves brings you what might be story of the Olympics (besides the likelihood of the USA not winning a single medal)…
The British are starting to panic. The sure-fire absolute favourite for the Finn class gold medal has had an unexpectedly lacklustre start to the London 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition. No one knows what has gone so wrong.
Ben Ainslie’s counting scoreline of 2-2-6-4-3 doesn’t seem too bad on the face of it at the half way stage, but the Danish entry Jonas Høgh-Christensen has out-sailed the Olympic Champion in each and every race so far to hold a 10 point margin as the fleet hit the mid-regatta rest day.
The pattern began to emerge in race one when Ainslie rounded the top mark deep. He made his characteristic downwind comeback to round the gate right behind the Dane, but that’s where it ended. He lost ground on most of the upwind legs that followed allowing Høgh-Christensen to sail away to two race wins. Ainslie could only manage second in each race. A good start, most thought, considering he normally has an awful first day at the Olympics.
So onto day two. Surely Ainslie would find his form and start to produce the performance that everyone expected? In fact he had his worst day’s racing in memory with a sixth and a 12th, while Høgh-Christensen placed second in the first race and recovered to seventh in the second after trailing Ainslie for much of the race. Ainslie was angry with his performance, and when he is angry he normally comes back out and sails better.
Which is exactly what he did on Tuesday. But the Dane sailed better still and bettered Ainslie’s 4-3 with a 1-2 to take a 10 point lead into the lay day. Even when he once started at the back of the fleet Høgh-Christensen came through with apparent ease and this is what has most stunned the fleet here. He is producing the kind of performance that Ainslie was expected to produce.
The talk here is what will Ainslie do on Thursday when racing resumes. Unless he can start beating Høgh-Christensen as well as putting boats between them, the gold is gone. If Ainslie takes the fight to the Dane he has to be careful as he is currently discarding a 12th and cannot afford to pick up another high score. In addition, Jonathan Lobert of France is just five points back from Ainslie, while Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic of Croatia and Vasilij Zbogar from Slovenia are within striking distance.
The press core are scratching their heads, having all the headlines already planned for a fourth consecutive gold for Ainslie. There is no need for them to panic just yet. Ainslie has turned round bigger points deficits in a single race. His problem here is that Høgh-Christensen appears to be sailing faster and smarter. But of course, the British are not the only ones who need to hold their nerve over the next few days. Høgh-Christensen is also entering uncharted territory, leading Ainslie into the closing stages of a regatta. He can expect a monumental fight.
Thursday will be a big day. Friday might be even bigger. Moderate to strong winds are forecast and this could favour the Dane so the journalists could still yet have to rewrite their headlines.