Ainslie adds another Gold to Robertson'sIt's been an extraordinary day at the Olympic Regatta in Sydney, with drama everywhere, both on and off the water. But perhaps the most compelling watching has been the battle for supremacy between Ben Ainslie and Robert Scheidt. In what was almost a complete re-run of Atlanta, Ainslie and Scheidt came to the final race with only one thing left to resolve - who would take home the Gold and who would pick up the consolation prize of Silver. In a league of their own, this last race show-down has closed in on them inexorably from Day 1. It was just a question of who would have to do what, to whom.
In the end, it was a fascinating set-up. Scheidt had the better first race of the day, and his second to Ainslie's fifth gave the Brazilian a full nine point lead with both their two worst results discarded. But, where Ainslie held the advantage was in his second discard. Scheidt's worst races were a 21st and 23rd, while Ben had a 23rd and an 11th. Going into the final race to win Gold, Ainslie had two choices: he could sail his own race and hope Scheidt came ten or more places behind him; or he could try to sail Scheidt to the back of the fleet, forcing the Brazilian to count the 21st place he already had. If Ainslie could do that, it didn't matter where he came himself, he would win the Gold with the results he already had on the board.
It was immediately obvious from the five minute preparatory signal that Ainslie wasn't going to leave it to Scheidt to sail a bad race. He was much more up for this than in Atlanta four years ago, engaging Scheidt from the moment the racing rules came into play. The first incident came pre-start, and Scheidt did a 720 to exonerate himself after the start gun.
Now in front, Ainslie sailed an inspired first beat, driving Scheidt right to the back of the fleet and then blocking his path round the first mark. It seemed the Brit was quite happy to sail to Hawaii - if that's what it took. After several attempts to get clear and round the mark, the gold was slipping out of the Brazilian's hands as the fleet sailed away down the run. Then, Scheidt seemed to crack. He gybed to starboard straight into the path of Ainslie. The protest turned on whether or not the boat acquiring right of way through the manoeuvre - Scheidt, gave the new give way boat - Ainslie, time and opportunity to keep clear.
Sailing at the back of the fleet, it seemed that the Brazilian's task of getting back to 20th was hopeless. But Sydney Harbour hadn't finished with them yet. On the final lap, Scheidt picked up a puff and shift that hauled him all the way up to 22nd. Worse news for Ainslie was the fact that there were several protests in the fleet ahead of the Brazilian, that might see boats disqualified. Those could pull Scheidt up the final race rankings enough to give him the Gold - but only if Scheidt could survive the windward mark protest with Ainslie.
It didn't matter to Team GBR that things were still unresolved when Ainslie arrived back at the boat park. He was carried out of the water still sitting on his Laser, like a newly crowned Emperor. And they were absolutely right, after several anxious hours the Jury disqualified Scheidt - the Gold medal was Ben's.
Shirley Robertson managed to settle things earlier, digging deep to draw on the mental toughness that has been so evident since the World Championships earlier this year. At the end of an apparently disastrous first race, a 16th that would become her discard, she had seen the big lead over Margriet Matthysse whittled down to just five points with one race to sail.
The quiet words of coach Mark Littlejohn put things into perspective between races, when he congratulated her on achieving her goal at these Games. She was assured of at least Silver, and after the desperate disappointment of fourth in Atlanta, winning a medal was why she was in Sydney. Now, it was just a matter of enjoying the moment. Robertson went and did just that. Even with Matthysse launched from the pack and into the lead after a big shift, she kept fighting with the same coolness that Barker and Hiscocks had displayed earlier in the week. Robertson pulled up to third to give herself the Gold medal by two points.
There was plenty of action of the Finn course too, where in the third race of the day, Iain Percy had the gold medal wrapped up. Second placed Fredrik Loof was buried and Percy was out front where he belonged with both hands on Gold. Then a huge windshift came through and the race was abandoned. Nevertheless, Percy was as cool about it afterwards as he has been throughout this regatta. One place in the top five from either of two races will be enough - but as Percy commented, 'It's sailing and anything can happen.'
The protest room is still casting its long shadow on the position of Ian Walker and Mark Covell. When they came off the water they had done enough to ensure at least Bronze. But Peter Bromby has a redress protest in over an incident with Colin Beashel. Bromby's claim is that a clash of rigs with Beashel damaged his sail, and that resulted in the clew ring pulling out and leaving him with no mainsail. IF the Jury give Bromby redress, and IF that redress is average points for all races sailed, and IF Bromby wins tomorrow's final race, he will beat Walker and Covell by half a point for Bronze. Then there is Canadian Ross MacDonald, who is claiming that he was unfairly scored OCS in the last race, in which he was second. If that claim is upheld, he would go into the final race three points behind the Brits. At 2100 Sydney time, they were still waiting for decisions.