Can British sailor make more Olympic history?

AP News
Posted: Aug 04, 2012 11:10 AM
Can British sailor make more Olympic history?

WEYMOUTH, England (AP) — British sailing star Ben Ainslie would like add another historic note to Weymouth's waterfront.

That is, if Denmark's Jonas Hoegh-Christensen doesn't ruin the nautical coronation.

Ainslie will sail for his fourth straight Olympic gold medal and fifth games medal overall on Sunday. If he gets the gold, he'll eclipse Denmark's Paul Elvstrom, who won four straight golds from 1948-60, as the most successful Olympic sailor ever.

Standing in the way is Hoegh-Christensen, Elvstrom's countryman. The smiling, unassuming Dane has led the Finn class since Race 1 and says he feels no pressure despite what's at stake.

"I think I have a very good chance of winning. But you've got to remember, Ben is the best sailor of modern times. He's going to be a hard guy to beat, no doubt about it," Hoegh-Christensen said Saturday, an off day for the 10 sailors who've advanced to Sunday's medals race.

This seaside resort can boast its share of history. The Black Death plague first touched England's shores here in 1348. King George III spent several summers on the long, curving beach taking therapeutic saltwater dips in the English Channel. The majority of American soldiers who landed in Normandy on D-Day shipped out from Weymouth Bay and Portland Harbor, the second-largest manmade harbor in the world.

On Sunday, some 15,000 paying fans are expected to jam the grassy hillside at Nothe Fort, most of them to wave their Union Jacks and cheer on the 35-year-old Ainslie.

There are plenty of pubs along the old-time harbor where they can celebrate if Ainslie wins — or drown their sorrows if he loses.

Although Hoegh-Christensen fell for Ainslie's mind games in Race 10, he isn't worried about the British star's home-water advantage.

"I know quite a few people who will be rooting for me out there tomorrow. I'll stay with those guys and wave to them," the 31-year-old Dane said. "I'm sure there will be a lot of British guys. You know what? I came here and I've fulfilled my goal that I set before the event. I wanted to finish in the medals and have a chance of winning gold going into the medal race, and that's what I've done.

"I don't have that much stress on me," Hoegh-Christensen added. "He has his back against the wall. I don't think he had thought it would be this close going into the medal race. He has a lot of pressure on him. So I think I'm sleeping a bit more sound than he is these days."

Hoegh-Christensen won three of the first 10 races and finished ahead of Ainslie seven times. He won the regatta opener on the Nothe Course, where the windward mark is right in front of the crowd and the shifting winds coming off the channel make it a hard place to sail.

Although Hoegh-Christensen leads Ainslie by two points, they're essentially tied. The medals race awards double points. Basically, whoever finishes ahead of the other will win the gold medal.

If the fleet were bigger, Ainslie might try to match race Hoegh-Christensen to the back of the pack. Ainslie did that to Brazil's Robert Scheidt in the Laser class in 2000 to win his first gold medal.

But with only 10 boats in the medals race, that won't work because Pieter-Jan Postma of the Netherlands is sitting in third, 14 points back.

"I think we're in a spot where we have to pay attention to P.J. Postma," Hoegh-Christensen said. "Yes he's quite a few points behind, but he's not further behind that if we go into a total match-racing duel, he'll end up winning the Olympics. We can't do that. We have to go and race. With that said, I still think that, knowing Ben, he's probably going to try and make a couple of moves. Once we get close to the start I don't think there's any chance of going into a total match-racing duel. Ainslie needs to finish no lower than seventh and ahead of Hoegh-Christensen to win the gold.

While Ainslie was the favorite coming in, Hoegh-Christensen has been an intriguing story. After finishing sixth in Beijing, he quit sailing for three years and became a commercial director with concert promoter Live Nation Denmark.

He's proud of starting Copenhell, a metal music festival which he said drew close to 15,000 fans this year.

"Some of the best concert moments I've had is watching Metallica," he said. "But I'm a big fan of some old-school rock like Led Zeppelin and a big fan of a guy called Jack White."

On Saturday, he was definitely in his sailor mode rather than a music mode. He was dressed in khakis, a plaid shirt and blue cardigan with the Danish team logo — and the motto Every Second Counts — on the left breast.

Hoegh-Christensen, whose father, Jens Christensen, is an executive with North Sails, said this is probably his last Olympic campaign because the physically demanding Finn class has been hard on his body. He'd like to sail in other classes and maybe do a Danish America's Cup campaign if the economy recovers.

Hoegh-Christensen said Elvstrom has passed along his best wishes.

"He doesn't pay a lot of attention to his record," Hoegh-Christensen said. "It's not that important to him. He had a motto, 'If by winning you lose the respect of your competitors, you've won nothing at all.' I've tried to live by that standard."

In Sunday's other medals race, Britain's Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson will try to repeat as gold medalists in the venerable Star class. Percy also won the Finn gold in 2000.

On Saturday, Australia's Tom Slingsby, a crewman with America's Cup champion Oracle Racing, won both races to take a 14-point lead over Pavlos Kontides of Cypress into Monday's medals race.

In the women's Laser Radial, China's Xu Lijia and Marit Bouwmeester of the Netherlands are tied with 33 points. One point back are Ireland's Annalise Murphy and Belgium's Evi Van Acker. American Paige Railey reached the medals race in ninth but is 58 points out of bronze medal position.

After four races in the women's' 470, Americans Amanda Clark and Sarah Lihan are fourth, seven points behind leaders Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie of New Zealand.