Lighter winds on the final qualification day at the Skandia Sail for Gold regatta brought race wins in the Finn class for both Ben Ainslie (GBR) and Giles Scott (GBR), the only two sailors who can now win the regatta, while third placed Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic (CRO) has a useful gap below him but is within striking distance of Scott.
The forecast for 5-8 knots on Friday morning from the south-west, building into the afternoon was spot on. However there were several postponements for race nine as the line was reset several times waiting for the wind settled down.
Jonathan Lobert (FRA) took the early lead from team mate Thomas Le Breton (FRA) and Zach Railey (USA). For the first time since Monday there was no Oscar flag up for free pumping so finding pressure and playing the smaller waves was even more important. A big shift on the second beat shuffled places a bit and by the finish Ben Ainslie (GBR) had take the lead to win his fifth race of the week, this time from Dan Slater (NZL) and Ed Wright (GBR). Scott finished in eighth place and was then 20 points behind Ainslie going into the final race. With third placed Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic (CRO) too far back to threaten Ainslie, the Olympic champion had the option to try and take Scott out of the race and make sure of the gold before the medal race. But he didn't.
For the final race the wind had increased to over 10 knots, allowing Oscar flag to be raised for free pumping. The fleet got away first time and first round the top mark was Mark Andrews (GBR), followed by Kljakovic Gaspic and then Rafa Trujillo (ESP). By the leeward mark, Scott had made his way up to first, while Ainslie was down in sixth, after doing penalty turns for hitting the first windward mark. Andrews briefly retook the lead on the second beat but Scott led down to the finish to win his first race of the week from Lobert and Andrews. With Ainslie crossing in fifth, Scott had done enough to give himself the smallest possible chance going into Saturday's medal race. He has to finish eight places ahead of Ainslie to take gold.
Third placed Kljakovic Gaspic said of the day, “The racing today was very tricky with lots of shifts and gusts. In the first race on the second beat a big lefty came and I lost around 15 places. It was frustrating to see this going on, but on the whole I am happy with my week - it has been perfect training for the Olympic venue.”
A 7, 9 on the final day was just enough to lift 2008 Olympic Silver medalist Railey into the medal race, “I had a really hard day yesterday - the worst results I have had in a long time. My goal was to bounce back today and make the medal race and I was able to make that happen, which was nice. I have reached my goal of leading the USA trials, but am looking forward to making improvements on what we identified this week as weaknesses.”
A good week for Dan Slater (NZL) leaves him in fifth place and with a chance at the bronze. He commented, “I started the regatta pretty strong but I have struggled in the heavier winds towards the end of the week. I need to work on my fitness and bulk up if I am going to be competitive here come the Olympics. The Brits, Ben Ainslie and Giles Scott are both really strong and fit guys – in a year’s time I am looking at being at that level of fitness. There were not really many issues today as everyone is really shattered and although the first race had a big shift at the front it only effected five of the top ten, but it was in the forecast for the day.”
Meanwhile Lobert has shown exceptional skill and pace over the last few days to be challenging the front almost every race, and would have been much higher but for lost opportunities. He said, “In the first race I was leading at the downwind mark but on the second upwind I choose to protect the right side because of the current but suddenly the wind was coming in from the left with more pressure and angle so I lost 10 boats. In the second race I really wanted to win the race to clean this mess. After a very big fight on the last downwind with Giles I managed to get the overlap on the last mark but I didn't pull my vang hard enough and he managed to pass me again just before the finishing line. It was really good fun to be pushing like this.”
Ainslie goes into the medal race with a 16 point lead over Scott. Scott still has a chance though, albeit very slim. He said, “The first race was tricky and shifty and didn’t go well. The second race I wasn’t sure if Ben was going to have a go at sailing me down the fleet, which I think he could have done but fortunately he didn’t. I was able to get a good start on the right side of the course and eventually win the race. That result brings the margin to 16 points, it leaves a lot of hard work to do tomorrow, it’s heavily in his favour but anything can happen in medal races so I will be working hard to make sure anything does happen."
Ainslie summed up his day, “It was another difficult day but I ended up having a better day than my rivals so that’s the main thing. In the first race the wind was hard to read and shifty but luckily I pulled out a good result. In hindsight, I could have done something different in the second race but I have ended up with a decent lead going into the medal race. I just have to keep my eye on Giles and beat him or finish close to him. The conditions are very important tomorrow and will dictate my tactics, it should make for an interesting medal race.”
So the medal race line up looks like this
Ben Ainslie (GBR) – Five times world champion, four times European champion, twice Olympic Champion. Has only lost two regattas since 2004, one of which was here last year to second placed Giles Scott, though he was far below campaign fitness at the time.
Giles Scott (GBR) – Winner here last year and also at the Rolex Miami OCR this year. Doesn’t have a great record in medal races, but is emerging as the main challenger to Ainslie in the GBR Olympic selection trials. Won the last race to set up a slim challenge on Ainslie.
Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic (CRO) – After some time off earlier this year, he placed second in the Delta Lloyd Regatta and won Skandia Sail for Gold two years ago. Seems to be performing better in the breeze than his previous form would suggest. Current European Champion and always one of the toughest competitors on the water
Ed Wright (GBR) – Current World Champion and has a great record in medal races, though this week hasn’t gone exactly to plan for him in conditions he is normally unbeatable in, and is now too far behind to catch up the leaders, though bronze is still in reach
Jonas Høgh-Christensen (DEN) – Double world champion and sixth in the last Olympics. Has only sailed a handful of regattas since winning his second world title two years ago and seems to be almost back on form with a great string of results this week.
Dan Slater (NZL) – Opened the week with two race wins and is going faster than ever. Best result was second at the 2008 World Championship (to Ainslie) and performed poorly for his standards at the Olympics in 2008. Needs first or second to stand a chance at taking the bronze.
Jonathan Lobert (FRA) – Runner up here last year and had a great string of results so far this week. Could have been higher up but for gear failure on Thursday, but this will give him a significant boost in the French Olympic selection trials against his training partner Thomas Le Breton.
Daniel Birgmark (SWE) - Third at the 2010 Europeans and fourth at the 2008 Olympics, Birgmark is in the middle of a trials process and is keen to do well here. Has a knack of doing well in medal races by staying out of trouble and sailing his own race.
Andrew Mills (GBR) - the fourth member of the Skandia Team GBR in the Finn medal race. Has won high pressure medal races in the past and is always a tough competitor, especially in the breeze.
Zach Railey (USA) - 2008 Silver medalist and runner up at 2009 World Championship. A string of good and average results left him fighting to get back into the medal race, but he just managed to do it on the last race, though is too far adrift to make much of an impact.
The medal race for the Finn is scheduled for 14.00 and will be tracked live through the event website.
Results after ten races:
2 GBR 41 Giles SCOTT 38
3 CRO 524 Ivan KLJAKOVIC GASPIC 49
4 GBR 11 Ed WRIGHT 61
5 DEN 2 Jonas HOGH-CHRISTENSEN 62
6 NZL 1 Dan SLATER 65
7 FRA 112 Jonathan LOBERT 68
8 SWE 11 Daniel BIRGMARK 86
9 GBR 85 Andrew MILLS 87
10 USA 4 Zach RAILEY 99
Event website: www.skandiasailforgoldregatta.co.uk