Ainslie on song

As light winds dog Olympic class racing at Sail Melbourne

Thursday December 16th 2010, Author: James Boyd, Location: Australia

With just three races to sail before Saturday's double-points medal race, the leaderboard has closed up at Sail Melbourne today. Steady morning winds faded during the day, making conditions tricky and catching some of the big names out.

The biggest upset has been in the 470 class, where world champions Mat Belcher and Malcolm Page dropped from first to fourth place after their “worst day in two years”. Stuart McNay and Graham Biehl of the USA and Matthias Schmid and Florian Reichstaedter of Austria now share the lead after a win each today. Sam Kivell and Will Ryan, the Australian Sailing Development Squad crew, had a win and two seconds to move into third place, one clear of Belcher and Page.

The day could have gone even better for the Americans, but they were over the line at the start of the last race and had to circle back. “With three races tomorrow plus the medal round, it's wide open and really close,” said Graham Biehl. He described the conditions as “tough”.

Belcher and Page couldn't hide their disappointment but were philosophical about the day's racing. “In two years together we've never had a bad day,” said Page. “We didn't get a (good) start all day and weren't where we should have been.”

Their coach, Victor Kovalenko, seemed unfazed by the position his gun charges find themselves in. “They need this,” he said. “If they are just winning, winning, winning it is not good for them.”

With just three points separating the top four, the class is still wide open, as Biehl pointed out. It would take a brave punter to bet against Belcher and Page staging a come-back tomorrow and in the medal race.

It is also very tight at the top of the women's standings, with Austrians Sylvia Vogl and Carolina Flatscher holding a five and six point lead respectively over the two German crews. Despite a win in the second race, the Austrians also had their worst day of the regatta with a fourth and a fifth. Prior to today, their worst result had been second.

In the women's Laser Radial, Zhang Dong Shuang of China continues to lead world number one Marit Bouwmeester of the Netherlands and Nathalie Brugger of Switzerland. Brugger had the best of today's light conditions, recording two, one, two in the three races sailed.

According to another Netherlands competitor, Claire Blom who sits in ninth, conditions deteriorated as the day wore on. “The first race was good, the second (was) OK and in the third it just died.” Claire has competed at all three events of the Sail Down Under series and made a joking comment about the light winds that Australia produces. She is hoping for steadier winds tomorrow and Saturday.

Skandia Team GBR's Andrea Brewster currently lies seventh with Charlotte Dobson tenth.

The other Olympic classes to start this morning were the men's and women's RS:X sailboards. These classes have been dogged by the very light conditions and only one race was completed before the sailors were called ashore in the hope that a further two races could be sailed this afternoon. That was not to be. Only three races have been sailed over the four days, and all have been “pumping” races. The sailors have not been “on the plane” all regatta and the frustration is starting to show.

Andy Leung of Hong Kong leads the men's division with three second placings, ahead of compatriot Chan King Yin and Aichen Wang of China.

Jessica Crisp of Australia won today's race among the women to remain in second place, splitting the two Chinese competitors, Hualz Zhu and Quibin Chen. Only six points cover the top three, meaning once again that tomorrow's two or three races will be vital before the double-points medal race on Saturday.

In the Finn, Ben Ainslie is back on form having posted three consecutive bullets, but after six races (and one discard) he is just one point ahead of US Sailing Team Alphagraphics' Zach Railey with British team mates Gold Cup winner Ed Wright and Giles Scott holding fifth and sixth, respectively 12 and 14 points adrift of the British Olympic legend.

In the Laser there is current upset with an Australian other than Tom Slingsby leading. Tom Burton, is a development squad sailor with the Aussie team and having scored three bullets in four races now leads second placed Brit Nick Thompson by five points, in turn seven ahead of Slingsby.

Full results here


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