Ben Ainslie won the men’s Finn class sailing event, allowing the Briton to break a 52-year-old record with his fourth Olympic gold medal.
The 35-year-old crossed the finish line in Weymouth Bay today in ninth place, ahead of Denmark’s Jonas Hogh-Christensen, to win with 46 points. Hogh-Christensen placed second, followed by France’s Jonathan Lobert in bronze.
A week of competition pitted Ainslie against this year’s Danish champion who was going for his first Olympic medal and to defend the sailing-medal record held by Denmark’s Paul Elvstrom. Hogh-Christensen placed ahead of Ainslie in seven of the 10 preliminary races leading up to the eleventh and final medal race today, forcing the British sailor to claw his way back. The two were effectively tied going into the medal race.
“That race was certainly one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of my life,” Ainslie said to reporters in Portland Marina after the race. “My main closest rival was Jonas and all I could focus on was to try to stay ahead of him.”
Ainslie and Hogh-Christensen began fighting for position even before the race began, chasing one another around the committee boat marking the starting line. The British sailor continued to mark the Dane through the rest of the race, letting much of the fleet past, while keeping his rival pinned behind.
“My tactics were to try to make life difficult for Jonas in the start, but he did a reasonably good job of just going round the boat and protecting himself,” Ainslie said. “I thought the right side would pay,” he said. “Thankfully it did and then it was just a matter of staying ahead.”
Elvstrom was Olympic champion from 1948 to 1960, winning his first gold in the firefly class and remaining three in the Finn. Ainslie has dominated the class since 2002, winning a record six Finn World Championship Gold Cups and gold medals in Beijing and Athens. His first gold was in a lighter Laser during the Sydney games.
Olympic sailors in every event other than women’s match racing compete in a series of races. The first 10 races are scored by awarding one point for first place and nine for ninth. The accumulated scores, minus the worst -- or, for some classes, two worst -- finishes, are used to determine the athletes and crews for the medal races. Points scored in that race are doubled and added to previous scores for the final result.
Hogh-Christensen finished last in today’s contest, scoring 20 points, which gave him a total point score of 46, equal to Ainslie’s total. In sailing the final medal race position decides who wins when points are tied.
“Great week, but bad day,” the Dane told reporters after the race. “I can definitely find a couple of points where I could have made my lead going into the medal race bigger. You have to fight for a week and you make mistakes. I just made one too many.”
Ainslie began sailing off the coast of Cornwall in southwest England at the age of eight. By 16, he won the world championships in a Laser Radial, a single-handed, 14-foot sailing dingy. He won his first Olympic medal, a silver, during the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 at the age of 19.
“You have to say he is the greatest sailor in the world now,” New Zealand Finn Dan Slater said, “Paul Elvstrom, what an amazing feat, but it was in a different era and you can’t compare eras,” he said. “I can’t really speak highly enough about his sailing ability. It’s pretty awesome really.”
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