Thursday, 30 August 2012

Michael Vaughan announces retirement from sailing

Blimey. Turn up to Act 5 of the Extreme Sailing Series gig in Cardiff where I expect to see the world’s best sailing commentator Leigh McMillan and the world’s 81st richest bloke Ernesto Bertorelli among others and who do we see?

Michael Vaughan (right) talks to GAC Pindar's Mark Bulkley
Michael Vaughan – the England cricket captain before Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff (did I miss anyone?) – standing at the top of the pontoon shaking his head and announcing he had retired from sailing.

It took me a while to get oriented. What on earth was a cricketer like Vaughan doing at a sailing event? And why was he announcing his retirement when to my knowledge, he’d never sheeted off in anger in his life.

The last time I was that disoriented by the sailing-cricket intersection was in January when I was walking down the pontoon in Abu Dhabi when suddenly I see Graeme Swann running towards me shouting ‘Hello beautiful’!! 

I kid you not and no, he wasn’t drunk though he might have forgotten my name. He was with Alastair Cook, the current England cricket captain, and the pair had driven up from Dubai where they were just about to play (and lose) their first Test against Pakistan to go sailing on one of the Volvo 70 boats as guests of the Volvo Ocean Race. 

When I am covering sailing, I expect to see sailing folk. When I’m on cricket, I expect to see Swann or Cook or Vaughan so for a moment there in Cardiff I was confused. But Vaughny was there as a guest of GAC Pindar, sponsors of one of the Extreme 40s and trying his hand at sailing....for the first time, as it turned out. 

He had been out on an X40 in Cardiff Bay and had found the whole thing very scary...well, the breeze was around 20 knots and those things fly a hull in around three so I can’t blame him. There was nothing to hang on to and I think he felt a little exposed and shell-shocked. 

So that’s Michael Vaughan’s sailing career done...and dusted in the space of half an hour. Funnily enough, had it been a Help for Heroes soldier, of the wounded sort who did Round the Island with us in 2011, those conditions would have left massive grin on radiant face. 

Do you want to meet Michael Vaughan, I asked Team GB silver medallist Luke Patience who was there hoping desperately that one of the sailors would drop out so he could have a go. Yeah, sure, brilliant, fab, he said then whispered as we were heading over......who’s Michael Vaughan??   

By then, Vaughan and Paul Goodison, who this week is coaching the Oman Sail guys, were deep in conversation about Sheffield football because that is where they both come from. Not sure if they both support the same team but they had a typical footie exchange (ie INANE) before moving onto something much more interesting, the resignation of England captain Andrew Strauss.

Yes, good time for Strauss to go...but no, Kevin Pietersen will not be back any time soon...and that just about sums up the answers to all the big cricket questions at the moment. I disagree with him about KP. I think he will be back soon because I think Andy Flower will make it his priority to sort it out. 

KP is a rare and amazing talent and although he is a jumped up nob of a prick at times, he merits a special effort, management wise. Vaughny thinks KP is incapable of learning from this latest sorry episode but I think differently. 

Whatever, it is a huge problem for Flower, KP and now Cook  to resolve.....

But where were we? Oh yes on the start line of the Extreme 40 event in Cardiff and of course, by the time the boats fired off, Vaughny was drinking Americanos in the back of a limousine. Probably. Nice to see him though.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Ben Ainslie admits day one of America's Cup WS was a blur!

His first day of America’s Cup World Series racing in San Francisco was a ‘blur’ but despite his lack of experience in multihull racing Ben Ainslie won his first two races to qualify for the quarter-finals.

Pitched against Team Korea, with his old adversary Giles Scott as tactician, Ainslie and his four crew of Ben Ainslie Racing scored two straight victories in the qualifiers but from his first hand accounts, found the pace of the 13 minute races and the performance of the AC45 catamarans somewhat frenetic.

“Clearly we’re very pleased, but that was a day like no other so far. I think I’m still trying to take it all in," said Ainslie who two weeks ago won his  fourth gold medal to become the best Olympic sailor in history.

“What’s becoming very clear already is that when the breeze is up, the pace is incredible.

“The whole way round the guys are working flat out just handling the boat. No sooner have we set up for one leg it’s time to turn a corner, deploy the gennaker, trim on, hit the boundary, furl, gybe, unfurl, swap the boards trim on and hike out.

“Sometimes it’s less than a minute before we are doing the operation again, especially if we’re on port coming back at our opponents downwind.

“So after our first day of official racing we’re pleased with how it went but this is a tiny step forwards in the campaign and there’s a huge amount to learn.

“After the race, during the public presentation and the media interviews I said that the day was a blur – honestly, I meant it.”

The win qualified Ainslie’s team for the match racing quarter finals where they come up against the experienced Dean Barker and crew of Emirates Team New Zealand, who were runners up in the 2011-2012 ACWS.

Ainslie is not the only British sailor taking part in ACWS. Chris Draper, the Olympic 49er silver helms one of the Luna Rossa boats Piranha with Freddy Carr and Nick Hutton on board while Paul Campbell James drives Swordfish.

Mark Bulkeley and Matt Cornwall are with Giles Scott on Team Korea, helmed by Australian gold medallist Nathan Outteridge and Iain Percy is tactician for Artemis, though not competing in San Francisco.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Would Ellen MacArthur do a Volvo Ocean Race?

The news that we will have a women’s team in the next Volvo Ocean Race is momentous and if the SCA project is managed well, the gap in opportunities for male and female professional sailors, which is currently MASSIVE might just narrow a little.

It has always surprised me that top level female sailors have not fought harder to open up channels for other women in professional sailing.  Dame Ellen MacArthur was never interested in talking about being a woman in a man’s world.
No pecs on these girls: Dee Caffari and Sam Davies 
Gender makes no difference to anything she always said, and in short-handed sailing as Dee Caffari, Emma Richards and Sam Davies have showed, she was right. In general however, she was wrong.

It is no coincidence that all our high profile female sailors come from the short-handed fraternity because long distance solo sailing is a peculiar sporting arena which has less to do with bare knuckled competitiveness and more with courage, patience, determination, resourcefulness, stamina and an unending ability to love your boat.
But the macho world of crewed racing, where point scoring and pec bouncing  rule the waves, is not an easy place for a woman, however brilliant she is, to forge a career.

Emma Richards..or Sanderson as she is now
Take our three blondes in a boat for instance. Shirley Robertson, Sarah Ayton and Sarah Webb all gold medal winners. All fabulously talented sailors but where can they have gone with their careers had they wanted to remain on the race track?

No opportunities in the old America’s Cup because the boats were powerful and required big bouncy pecs to be sailed quick. Can anyone name the last woman to race in the America’s Cup?

No opportunities in the Volvo Ocean Race either for the very same reason though we all know what happened to poor Adrienne Cahalan when Torben Grael discovered after one leg of the 2005-06 Race how big and bouncy the pecs on a VOR 70 needed to be.

Women were occasionally sighted on a TP52 in the Audi MedCup but not enough to warrant a mention and women are occasionally sighted on boats in the classic races such as the Fastnet and Sydney Hobart but the competitive boats are mainly populated by hairy grinders with big bouncy pecs!
Dame Ellen MacArthur

So Shirley went into TV and the Sarahs are building families with one hopes, an eye on a return though once women have had children, the chances of them heading off into hazardous watery wastelands are virtually nil (hoorah for Sam!!)

The Whitbread Round the World Race - now the Volvo Ocean Race - used to be an opportunity for women to forge careers in professional sailing. Look at Clare Francis (does she sail any more?) who skippered ADC Accutrac in 1977-78 and of course the unique Tracy Edwards who, quite simply, was a game changer.

She had the trailblazing idea to enter the 1989-90 race, raised the money to buy a boat and an all girl crew and organised the Maiden campaign which although it didn’t win, remains one of the most captivating highlights in the race’s colourful history.

I had no real interest in yacht racing back then yet I was in Southampton when they arrived back and was taken aback by the numbers who had turned out to greet them – there were THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS - and also by how small the Maiden girls were!!

We were blown away by their achievement of racing around the world and knowing a bit more now about how difficult it is to put together these campaigns, I remain deeply impressed by her endeavour.

We all love to see an itsy-bitsy pocket rocket cocking a snook and punching above her weight, don’t we?? And that’s exactly what Tracy did!
Post Maiden, there was a flurry of female activity in the long distance market  and in subsequent races we had EF Education 1997-98 skippered by Christine Guillou and featuring an international crew of Isabelle Autissier, Anna Dre, Christine Briand, Leah Fanstone, Keryn Henderson, Kiny Parade, Emma Westmacott, Katie Pettibone and Marie Claude Kieffer.

Game changer - Tracy Edwards
It also included Lisa McDonald who in 2001-02 went on to skipper Amer Sports Too which was hastily put together at the last minute (not good!) but crewed by the best women in the business (good!) including five girls from EF Education.

But then, some cack-handed management at the Volvo Ocean Race saw changes in rules that dragged the race away from these women and forced them off the radar. Most notably, the introduction of a boat that could only be sailed by men. Nice work boys!

Not only were women excluded from the next race in 2005-06 (apart from Adrienne’s one leg wonder) but from all the races since, due to the sheer physical impossibility of getting maximum performance from the Volvo 70s.

It has meant a generation of women sailors missing out on the opportunity to compete at the top level of the sport and therefore the loss of a vital pathway for all aspiring female crew.

It has also taken something away from the race. The girls always add a different dimension to any competition. They might have the same objectives but rest assured, their game plan will have a totally different look to it.

Content off the boat will also offer a stark contrast to the images of hairy grunting geezers that we all have come to know and love and the one dimensional discussions about freeze dried food and weather.

There may be some different King Neptune ceremonies (please god!) and some alternative (and frank) discussions about life on board though we have to remember, a team is a team and what goes on tour stays on tour. MCMs notwithstanding!

Volvo knew they were missing a trick from a marketing and publicity point of view by not having women and might even have persuaded SCA to go down the girl route.

No worries. It is FANTASTIC news for the race and for women’s sailing. Now Knut, how about having a new rule that stipulates a crew of four boys and four girls. Now THAT would be very interesting…………!!

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Women's sailing given huge boost by Volvo Ocean Race

An all-women’s crew has been unveiled as the first team to enter the next Volvo Ocean Race due to start from Alicante in 2014, marking a return of women competitors following a ten year absence.

Just weeks after announcing details of a one design fleet intended to level the playing field between male and female competitors, Volvo Ocean Race organisers have received a fully-funded entry from Swedish hygiene and forest company SCA.

The team is thought to be undertaking selection trials before the crew is announced though with no women having competed in the past three races, availability of suitably qualified professional women crew with offshore experience has dwindled with most contenders likely to come from the short-handed racing circuit.
Lisa McDonald's crew on Amer Sports Too - the last all womens crew to compete in Volvo ocean Race 2001-02
"I'm very pleased to see a women's team back in the race," said Volvo Ocean Race CEO Knut Frostad.

"The lack of women in the last few editions of the race has meant we haven't been representing half the population of the human race.

"I'm also delighted to welcome back Sweden, which has a rich history in the Volvo Ocean Race. This is extremely good news."

The SCA team will be managed by Richard Brisius of Atlant Ocean Racing, which has a long record in managing successful teams in the Volvo Ocean Race.

“SCA’s investment in an all-female crew is unique,” said Brisius. “Competing for nine months in the world’s toughest offshore sailing race is a challenge that deserves respect. The new boat design enables an all-female crew, and our aim is to create a strong team that will have the best possible conditions to succeed."
Maiden, the first all-womens crew - skippered by Tracey Edwards

But Dee Caffari, the British offshore sailor who was known to be trying to raise a fully sponsored campaign with an all-women’s crew for the next race, said she had no involvement with the new team and was continuing to look for backing.

“The best scenario would be for me to get  funding and run a team I want rather than be involved with someone else’s but it depends on who they get in.

“I have an idea who I’d have on board. It would be nice to mix it up, to bring in some new blood as well as some salty old seadogs.”

As part of a move to reduce participation cost to around 15 million euros, Volvo Ocean Race organisers announced in June that the next two races will be raced in identical 65 foot boats. To encourage more women competitors, they also said all women’s crews were allowed two extra members over a men’s crew.

Navigator Adrienne Cahalan
The last woman to take part in the race was Australian Adrienne Cahalan, who started the 2005-06 race as navigator on Brazil 1 skippered by Torben Grael.

A fit but petite 5’5” professional, she was sacked at the end of the first leg to Cape Town when it was discovered how powerful the new Volvo 70 boats were and how important a crew’s physical strength had become.

Women have played a major part in the round the world race since it first started as the Whitbread Race in 1973 with Clare Francis, Sam Davies, Tracy Edwards, Emma Richards and Dawn Riley all forging professional careers through the race.

In 1997-98 Christone Guillou campaigned EF Education with a team of women and in 2001-02, Lisa McDonald of Amer Sports Too became the last female skipper of an all-women’s team.

Edwards was the first to campaign with an all-women’s crew in 1989-90. The trailblazing Maiden crew reunited for a regatta last November with America’s Cup skipper Riley leading the way in voicing calls for a return of women to the race.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Bithell visits barber in preparation of gold!!

Luke Patience and Stuart Bithell are two cool dudes!! They love their sailing, they love the Olympics and never let us forget it!!

Bithell barbered ahead of THE rac
They might have been nervous in the mixed zone this morning as they messed about in the boat park before the 470 Mens medal race. First Olympics, first medal race, some dodgy questions from a hungry media. But there were no signs of nerves. 

There was no sign of any breeze either. Will you be racing today, they were asked. It’s not up to me because I’m not an international race officer, said Luke smartly which made us all titter before the AP went up.

He is a showman and not scared of telling journalists their questions are 'stupid', as I found to my cost when I asked him earlier in the week if they had a plan for beating the mighty Australians Malcolm Page and Mat Belcher!! 

Cheeky chappy Patience
That's a really stupid question, he said. Booosh. That was me pulverised.....and also entertained because they will have had a plan without any question. But reluctant to share it, as one would expect! 

“We suspect its 50/50," he continued, coming back to the chances of racing today. 

"It’s a tricky forecast with the easterlies and the natural south westerlies wanting to build in Weymouth. If we do race it will be variable and light – thats good for us. We will crack on until we are told we are racing. I imagine they will call that early and we will not have to wait until late in the day before that decision is made.

“If it is light, it brings a different sort of racing especially if you are talking a match racing scenario. And if there is a bit of breeze, it is different again. Randomness would be no bad thing – it would be more of a hindrance for the defending boat. Randomness offers opportunities for an attacking boat so it is welcomed.”

Stu had been to the hairdresser overnight – prompted by his appearance on television later today on TOP OF THE PODIUM, dummy! Of course Luke took credit and once again, they had us all chortling across the barrier.

“I did it – can’t you tell?” said the irrepressible Patience.

“My barber skills are well known.”

As I said, no sign of nerves. Totally relaxed. Cool. Brilliant!

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Did late 49er selection cost GBR an Olympic medal?


Britain’s sailing selectors made their decisions early in seven of the 10 Olympic  classes but the 49er crew of Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes were given the nod just three months ago, which may have put their medal hopes in jeopardy.

The wait was in anticipation of a no-brainer contender emerging from the six teams battling for recognition and while John Pink and Rick Peacock lodged a convincing argument for selection, along with Dave Evans and Ed Powys, none of the teams seized their opportunity so the selectors hung on...and on.

In May, they finally announced Morrison and Rhodes as their men which came as a surprise since we had been lulled into thinking the trials would extend at least until Skandia Sail for Gold in June.  

It was a decision that many argue, could have been taken 12 or even 24 months before especially since their experience of competing in an Olympics carried so much weight in the selection process for a home games.

It would have given them more time to prepare though all of the contenders concede that the level of competition resulting from the contest had been raised dramatically which had been good for them all, irrespective of who earned the qualification.

“Equipment wise it has been last minute com because we have had three boats to test from different manufacturers, a few masts and five sets of sails,” said Morrison.

“ If you talk to Ben Ainslie and Iain Percy they have been doing that since last October whereas we have been doing it since May so we have had to work our behinds off. 

“But we feel ready to go out and do well. We were the last team to beat Nathan and Iain in a World Cup regatta so we know we can do it. 

“It would have been nice to have done what Nathan and Iain have done and won three or four events in the run up to here but as we proved in China, it is one week out of your life and a chance to get everything you have dreamed of and trained for and you have to grab it.”

Morrison and Rhodes  posted two fourth places in World Cup events since they were selected which they are pleased with, especially when added to their defeat over out and out gold medal favourites from Australia Nathan Outterridge and Iain Jensen at the Delta Lloyd ISAF World Cup Regatta in May 2011.

The demons from flunking in Beijing 2008, where they went into their first Olympic Games as favourites and finished ninth, have now been banished though only after a good deal of soul searching which they say, served to strengthen their partnership ahead of the 2012 campaign.

Idiots guide to Olympic sailing

This reminds me of the first time I ever saw a race start in a big regatta.....didn't have a clue what was going on. Brilliant comedy material!!

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Is Ainslie set to quit Olympic sailing?

OK so I have no confirmation of this and he always trots out the ‘never say never’ line when asked about it but my instinct is that Ben Ainslie will quit Olympic sailing after Sunday's sensational showdown at London 2012 with Jonas Hoegh-Christensen from Denmark.

Let me explain why. He has made no secret of the fact he has found the physical demands of Finn training and racing incredibly hard in this Olympic cycle. The introduction of free downwind pumping in the class has made a massive difference to the fitness levels these guys need to consistently win races at this level.

Ainslie has an aggressive style of pumping – just watching him wears me out frankly. And when you hear Rebecca Adlington say at the age of 23, she can no longer compete seriously with the 15 and 16 year olds coming through, you realise how tricky it must be for the 35 year-old Ainslie to match the strapping young talent in the Finn class. 

 To say he has worked bloody hard is an understatement. He has been grinding away on the treadmill day after day after day since late 2010 when Keith Mills revealed he was disbanding his America’s Cup syndicate Team Origin.

That decision while gut wrenching, freed him up for the gym and from that point, Ainslie who was seriously underweight and underfit for the Finns, devoted his waking hours to beefing up every physiology element that could be measured.   

He is now around 15 kgs heavier than he was then – but still quite slight for a Finn sailor – which has been vital to his campaign for gold, especially in the stronger Weymouth breezes.

The chances of him wanting to do all that again, when the incredibly talented Giles Scott is waiting in the wings, are nil. And besides, getting his fourth gold medal in front of a British crowd would have meant EVERYTHING to this fiercely patriotic bloke. 

As a script, it could not have been written better and his final Olympic chapter will make a belter of a climax. A postscript in Rio 2016 might prove woefully limp as a wrap!

He has also laid the foundations for the next phase of his career and will be off as soon as the Olympics are over to get started. No professional sailing career is complete without a win in the America’s Cup and although the event is not so coveted as it once was, Ainslie is intent on having the Auld Mug in his massive trophy cabinet.

It will take a lot of effort and support and money and although his Ben Ainslie Racing campaign has been launched, he needs some big sponsorship bucks to make it successful . That will become his priority and will fill every waking hour. He will also need to get up to speed on the AC45s – his multihull experience has been limited – but that won’t take long for someone of his remarkable talents.

With a fourth gold medal to add to the silver from Atlanta, he will become the greatest Olympic sailor in history, which reflects those remarkable talents and 20 years of sacrifice, effort and endeavour.

It is difficult to think of one reason why he would continue in Olympic sailing and in some ways, it is surprising he has not announced his retirement already but then, you can see why he would want to keep his options open.  

He is the most marketable commodity in British sailing, perhaps in world sailing, and it would be daft to pass up any opportunity to add to his growing fortune. He may want another Aston Martin in the near future and do away with his trusty Volvo, you never know.  

His interests outside of sailing are growing too. He has taken up flying and wants to get his pilot’s licence and is mad for motor racing. With his intensive gym programme tapered, he can devote more time to these leisurely activities though it difficult to see them taking over.

And of course he wants a family and they don’t happen by magic so that too will take up time. His type of Olympic obsession excludes normal activities but the years are passing and so perhaps are the opportunities for a match made in heaven. Many men have had two wives by the time they are 35 for heaven’s sake.

But I’m probably wrong about all of this. It has been known.

How many medals will British sailors win?

British rowing and cycling - and now athletics - are proving to be a gold rush all over again and we are wondering if the sailors are feeling the pressure to stump a few more medals to pile into the great big British booty.

British sailing heroes Ainslie and Percy
So this is where we are at with all that ok.  I am SO nervous about saying he or she or they WILL get gold since I have a 100% kiss of death record on that front.  Even if I wish sailors – or cricketers for that matter -  good luck, there is instantly a scythe that whooshes down from on high and wipes away their footmarks on the leaderboard.

But these are the updates from the media centre in Weymouth:

Sunday medal race: Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson (STAR) have to finish worse than fourth to let the gold slip away but so far, they have been on the podium for eight of their ten races and led from day three. MEDAL

Sunday medal race: Ben Ainslie (FINN): He needs to beat Jonas Hoegh-Christens ten to win gold but must come at least seventh if Dutchman Pieter-Jan Postma crosses the line first. MEDAL

Monday medal race: Paul Goodison (LASER): Last day’s racing on Saturday but no chance of Goody retaining gold due to his back problems. NO MEDAL

Monday medal race: Alison Young (LASER RADIAL): Needs a stonking good day on Saturday to move back into contention . STOP PRESS: She was DSQ in first race today NOT GOOD! NO MEDAL

Tuesday medal race:  Nick Dempsey (RS: X Mens) Lying 13 points behind Dorian Van Rijsselberge (NED) in 4th place with four races + medal race still to go.MEDAL

Tuesday medal race: Bryony Shaw (RS: X Womens) Lying 28 points behind Marina Alabau (ESP) in 7th place with three races + medal race to go NO MEDAL

Wednesday medal race: Stevie Morrison/Ben Rhodes (49er) Lying 32 points behind Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen (AUS) in 4th place with four races + medal race to go MEDAL

Thursday medal race: Luke Patience/Stu Bithell (470 M): Lying 1st, six points ahead of the Aussies Malcolm Page and Matt Belcher (AUS) with six races + medal race to go MEDAL

Thursday medal race: Hannah Mills/Saskia Clark (470 W): Lying 1st, one point ahead of Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie (NZL) with eight races + medal race to go.MEDAL

Our match racing girls are mid way through their marathon and lying in joint 5th. The round robins determine the seedings but if they make the top then becomes a knock-out. Too early to call but they are not exactly zapping the oppo...yet! NO MEDAL

By my reckoning, Team GB will finish with SIX medals....but don't quote me on that.

RYA Olympic Manager Stephen Park gives us an update:

“Ben is coping with the pressure very well, I think of all the sailors in that Finn fleet he has had to deal with a lot of pressure and expectation for a huge number of years now. He will cope with that pressure very well and it will be interesting to see how the Dane really deals with that. 

"I would certainly still back Ben to the end and it will be a very interesting start. I think the start and first leg of the Finn race on Sunday is going to be quite intense.

“Iain and Bart have got a few points cushion so they have got a far better chance, so long as they are in touch with the Swedes and particular the Brazilians, even if they are behind, they will win the gold. They have quietly gone about their business, part of that is due to the media wanting to focus on the battle between the Dane and Ben, but if Iain wins, which I’m sure he will, it will be his third gold medal.

“That immediately puts him into an elite group of athletes across all sports. To win three gold medals across three Games is a fantastic achievement in terms of longevity of performance at the very top end of your sport.

“Andrew will also become a double Olympic gold medallist if they can convert on Sunday. We must remember with all the media interest around Ben, that these guys aren’t forgotten. They are amongst the best sailors in the world and will be amongst the most decorated sailors in the World if they win gold on Sunday.”

Arise Sir Benjamin!!

We were on the bus tonight having gorged on some terrific entertainment all day when the bloke behind us asked us who would win on Sunday. Didn't occur to us to ask what he was going on about.

He was from Politiken, one of the largest selling newspapers in Denmark and in town of course to write about the big Ben v Jonas showdown. It was a fascinating conversation which left us thinking Ainslie would have to be desperately unlucky if he lost out to the Hawk - as Hoegh-Christensen is known in his homeland - on Sunday.

For a start, Jonas' Olympic record is a bit ragged compared to Ben's. Sixth at Beijing and ninth in Athens......make that a first and a first for Ben. He apparently decided this time not to boast of winning medals as he has done before and instead filled his pre-Olympics interviews with  'hopes' of doing 'well'.

Everyone back home in Denmark is amazed he is doing so well apparently and puts it down to a new mast and rigging which has given him a few extra knots of pace and his bulk (he has the most enormous thighs!!) which has been handy in the fresh breezes.

Add to that the small matter that he has been sailing out of his skin, picking the shifts and making Ben feel like a munchkin and we have a persuasive argument for him being new Olympic champion.

Except.....and we LOVE the excepts!! The Hawk hasn't realised what a kick Ainslie gets out of being angry and sadly for him, he has aided and abetted the whole 'Get Ainslie Angry' campaign, unwittingly. We have seen Ainslie say openly this week that he is 'pissed off', 'really pissed off', 'frustrated' and 'angry' though there was only one day when his flaring nostrils and smilin eyes (smilin as in assassin!) spoke as loud as his words.

The rest of his pixillated hyperbole was clearly a game to work himself up into a lather to unleash his deadly X factor, you know the one that has repeatedly left opponents slain and feeble over the past 15 years. He needs to do this otherwise he verges on being ordinary.

Hence the slanging match which, we are assured finished with Ainslie calling Jonas some nasty names. In cricket, this is called sledging and the more vile and offensive it is, the more juvenile or worldly the protagonist appears depending on how effective it is. Goodness why everyone was getting their knickers in a twist about Ben's baiting but only time will tell how he will emerge.

Jonas was a fool to get sucked in. He should have resisted the temptation to answer back because that is exactly what Ainslie wanted. Had there been no reaction, there would be no lather.

Hang on. Why am I saying this because those interviews on Thursday were mediatastic!! Australian cricketers used to refer to the whole slagging off process as mental distintegration and that is exactly what Ainslie was trying to do to the poor unsuspecting Dane.

The Brit lost a point to the Dane in race one on Friday then gained a stupendous lead of 150 metres in the second which afforded him the luxury of planning ahead. If he could force Hoegh Christenson to drop two points, he would only have to beat him in the medal race to take gold. But he needed The Dane, who was in second to fall back to third (earning three rather than two points....geddit??) which required someone else to enter the fray to take second.

Welcome Pieter-Jan Postma from the Nederlands, a compatriot of Ainslie's Dutch girlfriend Marit Bouwmeister who rode to the rescue. He did this irrespective of Ainslie's tactics though Hoegh-Christenson might have been distracted by the slowing down and easing of sails he could see ahead of him. That must have seemed mighty strange.

Commentators got a bit carried away with Ainslie's trickery thinking back to the ruthless brilliance of Sydney 2000 but truth is, all he did was slow down to consider his options. Nothing more, though it could have been brilliant had Postma not overtaken Hoegh-Christensen of his own accord because Ainslie would have been compelled to put the knife in...god knows what he had in mind.
The Hawk will have to contend with partisan crowds on the Nothe

So we now have a contest that Hoegh-Christensen describes as 'epic' (he is probably shitting himself) and Ainslie will doubtless see as perfect sport aka lambs to the slaughter. His hand was bandaged last night and his fingers bloody but we had so much gold dust for our column inches that no one thought to ask why he was leaking. Maybe he has purchased some knuckle dusters.

The Nothe course where the medal race will be staged was used for the first race last Sunday and was host to the first of Hoegh-Christense's six outright wins. But that was yonks, perhaps light years ago and the momentum has now changed. The race track on Sunday will be half the distance of all the previous races which may force errors if the breeze refuses to cooperate and of course, that is the mother of all IFs! The wind is supposed to be light.....that's ideal for Ainslie.

This will be a masterclass in match racing and it is no coincidence that Ainslie is not on anyone's Christmas card list in the match racing circuit. He takes people out with all the niceness and clinical precision of a firing squad.

Would you put your house on Ainslie beating Hoegh-Christensen and winning gold? Bleedin nora. Now we have got past that iffy moment mid week before the red mist descended, I would put my house on it and yours too. This contest on Sunday is going to be a classic. Sit back and enjoy.........!

Friday, 3 August 2012

This is it............!!

On my way out to watch the Finn and Star races and fully expect Ben Ainslie to be pumped up like never before. We were talking about him last night - you'll be amazed to hear - and decided he needs to get himself into this sort of angry tizz to release the X-factor that separates him from ordinary competitive mortals.

Jonas has been complicit - probably has no idea that he is buying in so readily to the Ainslie plan but he will soon find out to his cost because the gold medal is as good as Ainslie's now.

He has won the battle of wits and the momentum on the water is, one feels, with him. But we'll see. I predict another victory for our Bulldog bruiser. This is an important day for Iain and Bart too - if they gather another five points today, they could pretty much have this sewn up before the medal race.

Wouldn't that be the most amazing thing...and cool too. Weather out here in Weymouth Bay is fantastic. Sunny though a bit overcast, like to have up to 15 knots...more later. Bring it on!!

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Ainslie and Jonas get personal (not pretty!)

Ainslie (left) and Hoegh-Christensen (right) cranking up their hostilities

The Ben and Jonas duel took a turn for the worse today when their rivalry on the water turned bloody in the boat park.

They came off the water with the gap between them shaved to three points after a round of skirmishes that climaxed in a heated exchange on the finish line.

We were pretty sure what Ainslie will have said – his usual abuse to respected opponents includes the words f*****g  c**t as most opponents can confirm (see below!!!).

But we weren’t sure what had triggered the exchange. It turns out that Hoegh-Christensen and Pieter-Jan Posta of the Nederlands thought Ainslie had hit a mark.

They called it and although Ainslie denied it, he completed a penalty turn just to be on the safe side then accused the Dutch and Danish sailors of ganging up against him

"I had no choice, and didn't want a protest,” Ainslie said.

"The Dutch and the Danish guys teamed up against me and I'm pissed off about that at this level. At this level they'll take any advantage they can. I'm seriously pissed off about it to be honest."

Hoegh Christensen was pretty pissed off too, especially after he had been in the drink earlier having capsized spectacularly when in fourth place which dropped him down to eighth and said Ainslie’s allegation was harsh.
Fabulous capsize picture from RICK TOMLINSON (YAY!!)

“Two guys saw the same guy hit the mark which means he probably hit the mark. He decided to take the penalty so why did he do that if he didn’t hit the mark. The exchange of words was unnecessary but that’s sport.”
The Great Dane - by Rick Tomlinson

Ainslie posted his first victory of the week then followed it up with a third while the Danish sailor scored a discardable eighth – after he capsized - and a fourth. It keeps him at the top of the leaderboard with Ainslie in second.

When Bart Simpson came off the water, I asked him.....(why is it ALWAYS me who has to ask the tricky questions) if he wanted to hazard a guess what Ainslie might have said to Jonas.

Typical Bart – he is a such a breath of fresh air and we LOVE ‘im.
“I have been on the end of his abuse a few times myself,” he said grinning.

What letters would they have started with, Andy Rice asked?

“Probably an ‘F’ and a ‘C’ and that’s just a starter for ten and a bit worse as well. When you are sailing in those conditions you are super fired up – you have to be.  And Ben is good at that stuff.”