Jonas Høgh-Christensen (DEN) has led the Finn class at the London 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition from the very first mark. He will go into the medal race on Sunday with a two point lead over defending Olympic champion Ben Ainslie (GBR). After the best showing on Friday, Pieter-Jan Postma (NED) moves up to the bronze medal position. The gold medal will come from one of these three.
In practice this means that whoever out of Høgh-Christensen and Ainslie finish ahead of the other wins the gold medal providing they are in the top seven boats. Postma can mathematically win gold but needs to put at least six boats between himself and both the others. Realistically that is unlikely to happen, so the gold is really down to the Dane and the Brit.
With tempers and egos bubbling over, the Finn fleet set out for the final opening series day. Høgh-Christensen (DEN) held a scant three point lead over defending Olympic champion Ainslie. After a difference of opinion between them yesterday everyone expected fireworks on the water, but it didn't quite turn out that way.
Of the two of them, the Dane made the best of the start of race nine and, with the fleet heading to the left yet again, the pin end was bunched up. Høgh-Christensen did well on the left, forcing Ainslie to tack off, with Pieter-Jan Postma (NED) doing well on the right. As they approached the top mark Ainslie had trouble finding a clean lane and trailed round in ninth. Ioannis Mitakis (GRE) led round from Postma, Brendan Casey (AUS) and then Høgh-Christensen.
By the gate, Postma had worked out a 50 metre lead and he comfortably extended away to win his first race of the series. Behind him there was a tense battle with bronze medal positioned Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic (CRO) making a huge gain on the downwind to move from 19th to fifth at the gate. Jonathan Lobert (FRA) also gained to second with Vasilij Zbogar (SLO) close behind in third.
On the final beat Postma pulled further away while Zbogar found his way into second. Nothing much else changed in the closing stages except Kljakovic Gaspic moved into fourth from Christensen while Ainslie took three places on the final downwind to finish one place behind the Dane.
The net result of this was the Høgh-Christensen had extended his lead by one crucial point on Ainslie. Kljakovic Gaspic was still in the bronze medal position but the points were now really tight. The last opening series race was going to be crucial for all of them. There was also the not so small matter of making the cut for the medal race and some sailors were looking rather precarious.
For the final opening series race Postma and Ainslie started well by the pin while Høgh-Christensen was forced to tack away. Postma went furthest left and came back just above Ainslie, while Høgh-Christensen was struggling out to the right. As they approached the top mark it was clear that the left was still paying and Postma rounded first from Ainslie, Greg Douglas (CAN), Mitakis, Rafa Trujillo (ESP), and Høgh-Christensen.
While Ainslie soon passed Postma and just sailed away from the fleet, Høgh-Christensen put on a surge to pass four boats and round the gate in second, but nearly a minute behind Ainslie. On the second beat, Ainslie slowed up for a while and looked to be waiting for the Dane. He would have liked to have one boat between then to make life easier in the medal race. But Postma found a way past and Ainslie carried on. Ainslie rounded the top mark with a 90 metre lead and led down to the finish.
Postma was not about to make the same mistake twice and held onto his second place, while Trujillo briefly threatened Høgh-Christensen on the final run. The single point was just as important to Postma as it was to Høgh-Christensen.
At the finish Ainslie led by a considerable margin while Postma held on to second. Høgh-Christensen had to settle for third with Trujillo fourth. Casey sailed his best race of the series with a fifth but it was too late to make the medal race. However Trujillo’s fourth place was enough to make the cut, relegating Deniss Karpak to 11th.
Trujillo must be the unluckiest person in Weymouth. Over the course of the week he has suffered numerous random gear failings. His mainsheet, halyard, rudder and kicking strap have all failed at key moments causing him to lose all hope of a second medal to add to the silver won in 2004 in Athens. “Making the medal race is not really any consolation for all that has happened this week after all the work we have done in the past years. But three top tens in three consecutive Games is not a bad result. We have checked everything 100 times before the Games. I have never lost a rudder upwind before.”
“But if it's not meant to be then it's not meant to be. I would say that this is the best venue we have ever had for an Olympic Games. Also the level of the class is higher than ever. And the medal race is going to be a really interesting. There will be a battle for the gold, for the bronze and for seventh as no one will want to be the last. I will try my hardest and try to end the week on a high point, despite what has happened to me.”
Lobert said, “I think a lot can happen in the medal race. It's pretty tight actually just five points, so I can do it. And the other good point is that all the guys in the medal race can win it. So everybody will try to play their games. I think I have an advantage on the short course. Usually I am pretty good in the medal race. I kind of like them. It's very intense and short, so well see. I think Ben will try to put the pressure on Jonas but he has to take care as well with PJ. So Ben has to put Jonas behind him but he also has to do a good race. That's why it's pretty open I think. It's going to be very exciting.”
“I have had a good week so tomorrow I will relax, enjoy the Games and watch the other competitions so that I am in good shape for Sunday.”
After closing the gap to the leader to just two points, Ainslie said, “I was pretty frustrated yesterday, but when you get out there you have to put it behind you and sail smart. It's taken me all week to find the turbo button and get out in front. It's good to get some more points up and even things up. The overall points were very close so it was important for me that the Dutch sailor overtook the Dane, and finally he got past. The last two days have been huge, to draw back those points.”
Høgh-Christensen added, “It was a tough day today but I thought I did quite well. I didn't have the best downwind in the first race but I managed a to get a fifth. I had a good pin end start and after a couple of minutes I could tack up and tack on Ben and send him out the right when he wanted to go left. I managed to pack Ben down the fleet into the teens. But we rounded the top mark in no pressure and they rounded in lots of pressure right behind us and he caught up to finish sixth.”
“In the second race I didn't get a great start but managed to fight my way back to second, but unfortunately I lost PJ on the second beat. But that's what happens. PJ is sailing fast.”
On the tactical move by Ainslie on the final beat. “Ben stopped for a bit but didn't do anything. I think he was thinking about doing something but it was probably too big a risk for him to try and put boats in between us. It was too close. He would have to had come so close that when we rounded the windward mark I would have an opportunity to pass him down the run. So I think he bailed on his plan. He got a little lucky that PJ got in front of me so now it's who beats who in the medal race.”
So, into the medal race on Sunday Høgh-Christensen will lead Ainslie by two points while Ainslie leads Postma by 14 points. Crucially, they have a 21 point and 19 point lead over Lobert and Kljakovic Gaspic, which means they are all but assured a medal, just the colour needs to be decided.
Postma meanwhile has a five point lead over Lobert and Kljakovic Gaspic with Zbogar just two points behind. The medals will all come from these six sailors.
The medal race will be sailed in front of the Nothe spectator area on Sunday at 14.00.
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