Ainslie on course for 2012 with win
It seem nothing will stand in the way of Ben Ainslie and a fourth Olympic title after battling his way past a determined Giles Scott to claim gold at the Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta.
With a 16-point lead over second-placed Scott heading into Saturday’s medal race, all 34-year-old Ainslie needed to do was keep his young rival at bay.
And Ainslie did just that, sailing Scott out of the race so he finished ninth, and despite finishing last in tenth place, Britain’s most decorated sailor had done enough for the title.
Defending champion Scott was forced to settle for silver while an all-British podium was missed as Ed Wright, winner of the final race, couldn’t leapfrog Croatian Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic into third.
And with just one London 2012 Finn spot up for grabs, Ainslie admitted he breathed a huge sigh of relief that he managed to hold off his young pretender.
“It was a close medal race with Giles Scott, battling it out for the overall victory so it ended up being a match race and my match racing skills helped me out but Giles is a fantastic sailor, he's very tough to beat and I'm relieved to have come out on top,” Ainslie said.
“I certainly wasn't underestimating the challenge, and there is always some kind of pressure in the race especially when there is so much at stake so it was interesting.
“The start went well and I was in control and I managed to put it away from there but I'm pretty tired now and I'm looking forward to a week off because this was one of the hardest regattas I have ever done.
“Then it all starts again here in six weeks time for the Olympic test event so there is still plenty more to do as I need to put on another good performance there.”
Meanwhile, Paul Goodison might have claimed Laser bronze and pipped Nick Thompson as top Brit during Sail for Gold, but he insists it is only just the beginning.
The 33-year-old Olympic champion was guaranteed third heading into the medal race but was unable to climb higher as he finished ninth, allowing Australian Tom Slingsby and Kiwi Andrew Murdoch to hold on to gold and silver respectively.
But despite doing what he needed to in Weymouth, stealing a march on Thompson for that sole London 2012 spot, Goodison was already turning his attentions to a return to the Olympic waters in August.
“Finishing as top Brit is first half of a job done,” Goodison said. “Nick's done a fantastic job earlier in the week, came out of the blocks firing and really strong.
“It took me a little bit of a while to get in to my stride and catch up and go past so it has been tough, it has been quite stressful, but I'm pretty relieved that's all done with and hopefully I'll be going to the test event.
“I've got a little bit of a break next week, I'm off to Sardinia for the Audi Cup so I'm quite excited about that and then it's back to normal, back to Weymouth and training and getting ready for the Pre-Olympics, where hopefully we can do a bit better than this week.”
Britain won nine medals in total with windsurfer Nick Dempsey and Sonar team John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas joining Ainslie on the top step of the podium.
Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes put their foot in the London 2012 door with a bronze in the 49er, while Akexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell won Skud 18 silver, the same colour as Saskia Clark and Hannah Mills’ medal in the women’s 470 class.
And having only joined forces in February after the retirement of double Olympic champion Sarah Ayton, Mills and Clark were relieved to have finally proven their own Olympic credentials.
“It was a big race in terms of getting a medal and showing that we can put the other teams under pressure so we are really excited about the next 13 months,” Mills said, who lost out on gold to New Zealand duo Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie.
“We've got the advantage that we both live in Weymouth and we can train here more than anyone else and hopefully use that to our advantage in the coming competitions,” added Clark.