Photos © Richard Langdon / Ocean Images
Ben Ainslie produced a tactical masterclass to put himself within striking distance of a record breaking fourth Olympic gold medal at the London 2012 Sailing Regatta at Weymouth and Portland today (Friday 3 August).
Ainslie goes into Sunday's double points' medal race two points behind current leader, Jonas Hogh-Christensen (DEN), knowing that to win that medal he has to beat the Dane and finish in the top seven boats.
Even if Ainslie finishes seventh and Hogh-Christensen is eighth, leaving them both on 42 points, the Brit will win gold as he finished in the highest position in that final medal race. Dutchman Pieter-Jan Postma, currently third overall, could still claim gold if he wins the medal race, putting him on 44 points, and Ainslie and Hogh-Christensen finish in positions that give them a total of 44 points or more.
Ainslie scored a sixth and a first place today to leave the medal race as a thrilling winner takes all showdown.
Ainslie said: "It was another tough day to be honest, it was quite breezy again. The first race was not good at all. Halfway through I was in a lot of trouble so [I was pleased] to pull things out of the bag down that final downwind leg and catch up very close to Jonas. I then managed to get it together for the final race.
"I have to say after the first six races I was starting to get a bit concerned but I'm really pleased I have managed to drag this back. It's going to be incredibly tough, Jonas is a fantastic sailor and is sailing really well so it's going to be a huge battle on Sunday but I'm up for it and I enjoy those occasions.
"I've done a lot of work with my training partners on the Nothe medal course so I will be analysing the notes and things that we learnt racing on that course. I might even speak to a couple of them and get the mind ready for what will be a huge battle."
To give himself the best chance of gold going into the medal race, Ainslie went into the last two races of their series – races nine and 10 – today knowing that he had to try to stay ahead of the Dane.
But things didn't go to plan from the outset as he rounded mark one in 11th in the first race, with Hogh-Christensen seven places ahead of him. He eventually managed to reel the Dane in with Ainslie finishing sixth in the race and Hogh-Christensen fifth, extending the Dane's overall lead to four points.
But Ainslie was back to his masterful best in race two, taking on the fleet from the start, getting himself into the lead and then, in an immaculate execution of race understanding and tactics, slowed down to enable Hogh-Christensen and Postma in the two chasing boats to catch him.
It was Ainslie's intention to put an additional place between himself and Hogh-Christensen. By giving Hogh-Christensen dirty air, enabling the Dutchman to overtake Hogh-Christensen, Ainslie ensured that the gap going into the medal race was just two points. The plan worked to perfection leaving Ainslie and Hogh-Christensen effectively neck and neck with all at stake as they head into Sunday.
Ainslie added: "It was pretty crucial with the Dutch sailor overtaking Jonas and to get that point in between, which puts us equal going into the medal race so it's whoever beats who. There was an opportunity for me maybe to try and block Jonas's air but in that situation I couldn't afford to give up too much ground in case things went wrong on the run and he over took me. Thankfully the Dutch guy PJ did his job.
"I'm a little bit frustrated that it has taken me to the final race for me to find the turbo button but it was important for me to get that final race right and get those points back. Now it's a good position to be in and it's going to be a fascinating race to be in on Sunday with it all to play for."
The Finn medal race is scheduled for 2pm on Sunday (5 August) on the spectator Nothe course. The Olympic Sailing Regatta runs from Sunday 29 July – Saturday 11 August.
Full results can be found on the ISAF London 2012 Results Centre