Jonas Høgh-Christensen (DEN) has again extended on the Finn fleet with a first and second on day three at the London 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition. Ben Ainslie (GBR) moves up to second after a better day, but has still be beat the Great Dane after six races. Jonathan Lobert (FRA) drops one place to third. The second race of the day was won by Deniss Karpak (EST).
Tuesday was crunch day for the Finns. Going into the half way stage of the regatta, Ben Ainslie (GBR) needed to make some points back before the lay day on Wednesday, while regatta leader Jonas Høgh-Christensen (DEN) was looking to consolidate his points lead and not do anything silly.
Race five was dominated by the Høgh-Christensen from start to finish. Starting in the pack, but away from the pin-end boat he hit yesterday he soon pulled ahead of the fleet and with Postma suffering gear failure on the far left, the Dane steered a confident course up the favoured left side of the course to round the top mark with a small lead over Rafa Trujillo (ESP), Ben Ainslie (GBR) and Zach Railey (USA), while several boats overstood in the strong tide. Ainslie had started in the middle and was soon in difficulty having to tack away to clear his air.
After a screaming reach towards the wing mark as the wind piped up, there was a fascinating dual between the leading bunch on the run, though Høgh-Christensen was starting to pull away from the fleet. Railey, the 2008 Silver medalist has not had a great regatta so far so was also looking for improvements today. He had moved up to second at the gate, sailing past the normally faster Ainslie. Ainslie rounded behind and had to tack away to find a lane further to the right. Høgh-Christensen seemed confident on the left and held his course before coming back with a nice lead into the second top mark.
The wind faded on the final offwind legs but Høgh-Christensen extended his lead, while Railey maintained second from Trujillo. Nirkko and Ainslie passed Trujillo and Ainslie looked to be closing on Nirkko but ran out of track. At the finish it was Høgh-Christensen, Railey, Nirkko and Ainslie, with Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic (CRO) staging an amazing recovery from 19th at the first mark to cross fifth.
Ainslie was now firmly on the backfoot and needed something special in race six. He started well, winning the pin after Postma returned and controlled the lane to the favoured left side of the course and looked to be coming into the top mark well placed. Meanwhile Høgh-Christensen was forced to tack off to find clear air and trailed on the right. However many boats overstood the top mark and first round was Trujillo from Ioannis Mitakis (GRE), Nirkko and Høgh-Christensen. Ainslie rounded in seventh.
Trujillo led down the run with Deniss Karpak (EST) moving up to second from Nirkko and Ainslie, but by the gate Karpak had made big gains to round in first from Nirkko, Ainslie and Høgh-Christensen. The Dane was forced to tack away again after he had been passed by Ainslie for the first time this week. However it was all change on the final upwind with Høgh-Christensen splitting from the fleet and making places all the way up to second to round behind Karpak. Trujillo rounded third from Vasilij Zbogar (SLO) while Ainslie slipped to fifth.
Karpak extended down the run to lead into the finish and win by nearly a minute. Høgh-Christensen rounded in second but Ainslie had caught up for a thrilling spray filled chase to the line, but the Dane held on for second with Ainslie third, Trujillo fourth and Zbogar fifth.
Despite dropping one place to third, Lobert said, “I am pretty happy so far. Third overall after three days means I am still in the game. We still have four races to go and so I will take it day by day, race by race like I have done since the beginning. And I always try my hardest to catch up the most boats I can when I am behind. Today I was 15th and 17th at the first mark which is not so good.” Lobert recovered to place 6th and 7th today.
“The racing is very tight. The wind today was a bit strange, very up and down and sometimes there was some oil on the water. On the first upwinds I didn't know exactly what to do. I was just looking around and missed most of the shifts. Then slowly, slowly I came back during the race and so I am pretty happy with that.”
“I want to improve my first upwind. If I can be top six round the first mark I have good chance to win the race, like I almost did yesterday. I maybe have to take more risks on the start line. In the first race today the Greek was just above me and he was OCS. I thought we were pretty high but I held back. But I also need to improve my tactics. I need to have a better plan for the first upwind, as most of the time I don't have a plan and not sure what to do. I just try for the start and then react to where I am, which is not so good.”
Postma described his unfortunate gear failure. “The wind was left and you had to be left and win the pin end. I was going a bit low, going for speed and I wanted to tighten the outhaul a bit more so I pulled it with some force and broke it. I took down the sail, fixed it but then the fleet was gone.”
“I was calm at the time. These things happen. Then I felt a bit disappointed, then a bit angry. Now I just feel focussed. We have a rest day to gain all the energy back and am looking forward to getting on with the racing.”
The 2008 Silver medalist Railey had his best day so far with a 2, 8 to rise to 12th overall. He said, “Today was better. I did nothing different but just had the shifts go the way I thought. It been a hard to get the wind correct but I am still fighting hard. I just need to have good races. I am in quite a hole from the first few races but I will not quit. Looking forward to a day off watch some other races on TV and recover my legs.”
Høgh-Christensen said, "In both races I wanted to go left. So starting close to the pin was the plan but with a bit less risk. Both starts were good, but I thought I was over in the second race and went back. The reason being that I was on line with PJ and he went back. Apparently non of us were over. I came back fast and managed to hit some good shifts to get back to fourth. Then I gained a couple more and I am super content with that. Another good day."
"You have got to take your breaks when you can. I am an old man in the fleet and I definitely need a rest, a big steak and ready up for Thursday.”
Ainslie commented on his performance, “It's tough. Sometimes these things work out, but unfortunately for me, this week it hasn't. I was really frustrated yesterday but it has been better today.”
“He [Høgh-Christensen] is sailing really well. He is a good sailor and a big guy. He is having the regatta of his life. He likes upwind and for whatever reason he is nailing it every time. If I keep pushing hard he might slip up. It's a difficult place to sail here, but he keeps nailing it. He is sailing well and at some point the tables have to turn. He's on fire.”
The Finns now have a rest day - and a day to think about how they will approach the final four opening series races on Thursday and Friday. While one man will be trying to relax and keep his head clear, another will be evaluating what has gone so wrong. Ainslie may be in the silver medal position but he has openly admitted anything but gold would be a disaster. And after six races he sits ten points behind the Dane with a little bomb on his scorecard waiting to be ignited if he has another bad day.
Høgh-Christensen is producing the type of performance that everyone expected Ainslie to produce. Some great race wins, all round speed dominance and some incredible comebacks.
What does Ainslie now have to do to turn this around? And does he know the answer himself? How do you respond to someone sailing the way Høgh-Christensen has done? This is an unsual situation for Ainslie as normally it is the rest of the fleet working out how to respond to Ainslie's dominance. It will be fascinating to watch it play out.
After the rest day for the Finns on Wednesday, races seven and eight are scheduled for 12.00 Thursday, on Weymouth Bay South course.
Photos by Francois Richard
More photo galleries here: http://www.finnclass.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=475:image-gallery-2012-olympics&catid=43:olympics&Itemid=266
Full results are mark roundings can be found here: http://www.sailing.org/olympics/london2012/results_centre.php