SPORTS

British star Ainslie wins 10th race to set up 'epic' medals showdown with Dane

08/03/2012 11:04 EDT | Updated 10/03/2012 05:12 EDT
WEYMOUTH, England - Sailing with a huge lead, British star Ben Ainslie slowed his boat and looked back at rival Jonas Hoegh-Christensen.

Ainslie looked back again. And again.

Ainslie considered dropping back and giving the Dane a dose of bad air, then decided against it.

It turned out Ainslie didn't have to. His brilliant mind game distracted the Dane enough that he was passed by Pieter-Jan Postma of the Netherlands.

That one-point swing in strong wind and big waves out on the English Channel was enough to set up a dramatic showdown in Ainslie's quest to become the most successful sailor in Olympic history.

Ainslie won the 10th race Friday to pull within two points of Hoegh-Christensen. The Dane has led the Finn fleet since Race 1 and angered Ainslie on Thursday with a claim that the British star hit a turning mark.

Now comes Sunday's medals race, when Ainslie will try to win his fourth straight gold medal and fifth games medal overall. That would make him the most successful sailor in Olympic history, supplanting Hoegh-Christensen's countryman, Paul Elvstrom, who won four straight gold medals from 1948-60.

Ainslie has been called Britain's greatest sailor since Admiral Lord Nelson, whose statue high above London's Trafalgar Square commemorates victory over the French and Spanish fleets in 1805.

He'll get the chance to prove it Sunday in front of what is sure to be a partisan crowd flying scores of Union Jacks while watching from the Nothe Fort on Weymouth Bay.

"It'll be amazing. It'll be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I'm really looking forward to it," said Ainslie, the son of a sailor.

Hoegh-Christensen, who finished third in Race 10, leads with 26 points while Ainslie has 28. Postma has 42 points.

"Two points ahead, it doesn't really matter that much," Hoegh-Christensen said. "It'll be whoever beats who in the final race. That's going to show for an epic battle Sunday and looking forward to it. That's what we're here for and why we love racing."

The top 10 sailors advance to the medals race, which awards double points. Ainslie needs to finish no lower than seventh and ahead of Hoegh-Christensen to win the gold.

Had Hoegh-Christensen finished second in Race 10, Ainslie would have needed to finish two spots ahead of him Sunday to win the gold medal. By passing the Dane, Postma removed that scenario.

"That's exciting," Postma said. "Wow. It will be fantastic. I'm really looking forward to the medal race."

Sailors generally don't like the Nothe Course because it's close to shore and the wind is usually tricky.

Then again, Hoegh-Christensen won Race 1 on that course.

"I think it plays a little bit to my favour that we're going to sail in there, but I still think Ben is the favourite to win the gold," said the Dane, who might have been playing a mind game of his own.

Ainslie had a great start in the 10th race and built a lead of about 150 metres (yards) approaching the windward mark for the second time. With the Dane in second and Postma in third, Ainslie slowed down and kept looking back at Hoegh-Christensen.

"I had a pretty sizable lead and it was pretty important for me that the Dutch sailor got past Jonas," Ainslie said. "I did consider trying to help facilitate that. You have to go quite a long way back. In reality, it was probably too risky. If something had gone wrong in the final run and I lost space back, I'd look pretty silly."

Hoegh-Christensen admitted Ainslie's bluff distracted him and he gave Postma too much space.

"I made a bit of a mistake up the second beat and gave him a little bit too much room and he punished me. It was stupid, but things happen," he said. "I almost took him back on the run but just managed to get by him, and here we are."

The 10th race was just the third time in 10 races that Ainslie finished ahead of Hoegh-Christensen.

"I waited all week to find the turbo button and get out in front, which is a bit frustrating, but the main thing is I pulled back those points and I'm in a strong position," Ainslie said.

If Ainslie pulls it off Sunday, he'll add to his long list of rallying at the Olympics. The last time he didn't win gold was in 1996, when as a 19-year-old he was handed a bitter defeat by Brazil's Robert Scheidt and had to settle for silver.

American Zach Railey, who took the silver medal behind Ainslie in Beijing, finished 12-19 for 12th overall, missing a spot in the medals race.

Sunday could be a big day for Britain's strong team. Defending Star class gold medallists Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson finished 4-1 in Friday's two races for 18 points, eight better than the team they beat for the gold in Beijing, Scheidt and Bruno Prada. The Brazilians went 1-3 and have 26 points.

Sweden's Freddy Loof and Max Salminen were 2-6 and have 30 points.

Those three crews are assured of winning the medals. Percy and Scheidt are each seeking their third gold medals. Percy also won gold in the Finn class in 2000. Scheidt won gold in the Laser in 1996 and 2004, and silvers in the Laser in 2000 and Star in 2008.

Loof has two bronze medals.

In the 49er skiff, Australians Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen went 9-5-4 to hold their lead over New Zealand's Peter Burling and Blair Tuke (7-2-1). Americans Erik Storck and Trevor Moore (2-17-5) were 10th.

In the Laser, Australian Tom Slingsby went 15-1 to keep his lead. American Rob Crane (19-28) is 26th.

In Laser Radial, Belgium's Evi Van Acker went 2-10 to take the lead from Ireland's Annalise Murphy (2-10). Murphy had won the first four races. Paige Railey, younger sister of Zach Railey, went 21-20 to drop to ninth.

In men's 470, Great Britain's Luke Patience and Stuart Bithell went 4-2 and were in the lead. Americans Stuart McNay and Graham Biehl were 11th after finishes of 10-3. The women's 470 opened with Great Britain's Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark going 6-1 to take the lead. Americans Amanda Clark and Sarah Lihan (7-3) were fourth.

Dorian van Rijsselberge of the Netherlands continued to lead men's windsurfing, with American Robert Willis in 18th. Spain's Marina Alabau continued to lead women's windsurfing, with America Farrah Hall 20th.

MORE:cpSports