It was perfect day for Jonas Høgh-Christensen (DEN) as he won both races in the Finns on the opening day of the London 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition, leading both from start to finish. Ben Ainslie (GBR) was second in both races and Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic (CRO) was third in both races, but each of them had to fight hard for every plac
The Finns opened the sailing at the 2012 Games with a tricky and tough race on the Nothe course area, with a grandstand of 4,500 people cheering from the grassy bank beside the Nothe Fort. The 24 Finns, decked out in their Olympic coloured banners on the sails and hulls made for a very pretty picture against the stern backdrop of the Portland harbour wall and the Nothe Fort.
In race one Jonas Høgh-Christensen (DEN) won the pin with Florian Raudaschl (AUT) just above him. Ben Ainslie (GBR) started mid line and then seemed to favour the right side of the course. With the wind gradually increasing from 11-12 knots up to around 16-17 knots and gusting a bit more, the 2012 Games had opened with tough hike-out upwind followed by a physically testing free pumping downwind leg. Given the often shifty nature of the wind on the Nothe course it was interesting to see that the fleet was almost evenly split across the course area going upwind.
Høgh-Christensen judged the first beat perfectly to lead round from Raudaschl and Ioannis Mitakis (GRE), who are both sailing in their first Olympics. He sped away downwind and was never really threatened to win the race by a margin of around 20 seconds. Raudaschl sailed well to stay near the front, though he finally slipped to sixth on the final downwind while Mitakis hung on for fourth.
Ainslie rounded in tenth but pulled up to third at the first gate with some superb downwind sailing. He went right on the second beat and again lost places back to sixth. He pulled back up to third on the next downwind, but Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic (CRO) had found a way into second. Ainslie finally went left on the final beat and maintained his place, and then moved into second on the final downwind with Kljakovic Gaspic crossing in third.
Brendan Casey (AUS) had the misfortune to capsize while trying to recover from a bad first beat, and in climbing back into his boat caused the hull to separate from his deck and create a large leak into the inner compartments. He retired from the race. He said, “We are lucky it is this length of an event and I am confident I can come back from this result.”
The second race, sailed out in Weymouth Bay in slightly less wind, though still with Oscar flag up for free pumping, followed a similar format with Høgh-Christensen winning the pin again and sailing away from the fleet. He rounded the top mark with a 30 second lead over Ainslie in second. Casey rounded in third, but his makeshift repairs were not holding well and he slowed up and dropped to seventh as seawater found its way into his boat. Kljakovic Gaspic worked his way up to third on the second beat, but couldn't catch the two leaders with Høgh-Christensen holding on to a 19 second lead from Ainslie who was nearly a minute ahead of Kljakovic Gaspic at the finish. Ainslie had made inroads into Høgh-Christensen's lead but just couldn't quite catch him.
While there has been a lot of talk about Ainslie's chance to become the greatest sailing Olympian of all time - if he wins gold this week he will break the record held by Paul Elvstrøm - today people also started talking about Høgh-Christensen protecting that record for Denmark. Both have gone on record to say that such records are not their most immediate concerns. Høgh-Christensen said today. “That was not my main focus. Paul Elvstrøm was the greatest sailor of all time. If I get a chance to protect that legacy that's what I will do. I hope I can protect that legacy.”
Of course it is worth remembering that the four time Olympic medalist Ainslie has just sailed his best opening day ever - by a long way – at an Olympic Games. At previous Games he has always picked upp high scores or had some misfortune.
Ainslie said, “It wasn't the greatest of races in the beginning, but that spurred me on. I have been better, but it is where you finish.” The crowd on the Nothe provided encouragement. “I could hear it clearly and it really spurred me on.” On Høgh-Christensen's performance he said, "I think he is doing the best he can for himself right now.” It was also reported that Ainslie headed to the physio after racing to have a look at his knee.
Høgh-Christensen added, “It was a good day. I got the shifts right on the Nothe course. Great crowd, great experience. I felt like a football player walking into a stadium. Hearing the crowd was an excellent high. We did a lot of good preparation and I felt good and confident going into the regatta.” And for tomorrow? “Keep cool. Take it one day at a time and keep focused.”
Kljakovic Gaspic said, “It was a good day. I didn't have perfect starts but I was pushing hard and it paid off in the end. Two third places makes me happy and relaxed for following days. Jonas sailed a great day, with clear starts and great speed and that made him unbeatable on the water today.”
The 2008 Silver medalist Zach Railey (USA) didn’t have the opening day that he had hoped for with a 10th and a 15th to sit in 15th overall. “We are fine as far as boat speed is concerned, but I made an error on the first beat in the second race and was pretty far behind with no real chances to get back to front group. But we will be ready for tomorrow. There's still a long way to go.”
Races three and four are scheduled for Monday, both on Weymouth Bay courses.
Full results are mark roundings can be found here: http://www.sailing.org/olympics/london2012/results_centre.php
Photos on this page by Francois Richard