After what he has described as the hardest week of his life, Ben Ainslie (GBR) took the overall lead in the Finn class for the first time today to take the gold medal in the London 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition. The leader all week, Jonas Høgh-Christensen (DEN) trailed Ainslie at every mark to lose his stranglehold on the gold. The bronze finally went to Jonathan Lobert (FRA) after winning the medal race.
The whole sailing world was on the edge of its seat for 30 agonising minutes as the Finn fleet duked it out for the medals and left everyone waiting right until the thrilling ending. None of the medals were decided until the final stages of the thrilling last leg
Høgh-Christensen had the advantage over Ainslie out of the start forcing the Brit to tack off to the right, the normally unfavoured side. The left has been favoured all week, but Ainslie through luck or judgement found a shift back to be ahead of the Dane at the top mark, though both were deep in the fleet. Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic (CRO) led from Jonathan Lobert FRA) at the top mark.
The puffy condition enabled Ainslie to fly down the first downwind to round in second behind Lobert. As the wind went lighter Høgh-Christensen tacked off to the right and Ainslie followed. It was nearly his undoing. The two dropped back to ninth and tenth in the race. As Lobert extended away from the fleet, on the final beat, the left side came in big and Pieter-Jan Postma (NED), the only other man who could take gold, made a spectacular recovery to round in third. He was one place from taking gold as the fleet approached the final downwind mark before the short reach to the finish. Unfortunately he pushed too hard, picked up a penalty and after doing his turns was back in fifth and out of the medals.
Ainslie had stuck to Høgh-Christensen. Being so far back in the fleet all he could do was make sure he stayed in front. He stayed there to the finish to claim the gold medal to the deafening roars of the local crowd.
It had been a suspense filled race, made even worse by the unstable puffy winds, with sailors moving up and down the fleet, and they all kept us guessing to the very end. It was a made for TV thriller.
Ainslie said, “It was really nerve racking. It was a really tense race. There was a lot at stake in really difficult conditions. I was just really glad to come through it. PJ sailed really well after a great series. Jonas as well . They both sailed so well, especially Jonas who had one of the best series I've ever seen, so to come back was big relief.”
“The plan today was just to try and attack Jonas a bit in the start and he did a good job defending that. Then we had a split up the first beat. I'd done a bit of tuning and I thought the right was good and thankfully t worked out for me but it was very tight.”
“It's just an amazing feeling and big thanks to everything who has supported me over the years. From being a kid down in Cornwall, to my time in the Finn class, I have really enjoyed every minutes of it. It's fantastic.”
A disappointed Høgh-Christensen was upbeat about his performance. “I did what I wanted to do but just didn't go my way. I got the start I wanted and got in the perfect position and squeezed him off the to the right. I totally followed my plan.”
“Unfortunately the right paid for the first time this week. Ben put a cover on me then, probably too tight. At one point PJ had the gold.”
“I am pretty happy with silver. I have lost by the smallest margin possible. Of course that's good fun and great for the sport. But its just a shame as I did what I wanted to do. Looking back at the week there's a couple of races where you can gain same pints, like the capsize, of course. I had the gold in for hands and just couldn’t materialise it.”
“I'ts a great achievement to win a medal. I think we've prepared really well for this Olympics and we have a pretty good game plan and followed it all week. And its seemed to work out.”
Lobert commented, “It was a crazy race and a very difficult one. I said I would do my own race and and I would try to win it if I could and try not to make any mistakes and I did that. I dinn't see what happened to PJ because I was already on the last reach. I heard shouting behind.”
“When I started the second lap I was already in a medal position. P J was far behind but got this magic shift on the left and came back, so I decided to make sure I won the medal race and then this happens.”
“I think this is good for the sport because we are always sailing long races so far out and as you see in this type of racing a lot can happen. I think it's something we should look at more for the future. It's a new game. Today for me it was good, sometimes it not so good but anything can happen. So I think its much more exciting for TV.”
“Jonas sailed amazingly this week. I was really surprised that he was so good. And I was also a little bit surprised than Ben was not so good. But in the end they are the two best guys on the water and I am happy to share the podium with them as I had no chance to be any better this week.”
“Now I will take a small break then I would be really pleased to join an AC team. We tried with GreenCom but that died. So I'd like to join a proper team and try something new and learn and that would be very interesting. The slowly I will come back in the Finn for Rio.”
In winning gold Ainslie becomes the most decorate Olympic sailor of all time. It was watched by thousands in the sunshine invent Nothe. Thousands more were in the public access areas around it on on the live beach site And millions around the world also watched it. It probably had the largest TV audience of any sailing race in history. And if suspense and tension make good TV then this race had it all in bucket loads.
Great Britain has taken the Finn class gold medal for the fourth time running and with ample talented sailors to take up Ainslie's mantle this run isn't over yet.
Høgh-Christensen is the first Dane to take a Finn medal since Henning Wind in 1964, following of course Elvstrøm's three Finn golds
France wins the bronze again after Guillaume Florent won it in Qingdao, Lobert also repeating the feat in Weymouth by snatching it in the final race.
At the medal ceremony tonight the medals were presented by HRH The Princess Royal and the flowers were presented by HM King Constantine.
Photos by François 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