Zach Railey dominates dicey conditions

2008 Olympic Regatta - Day 2 - Finn - Race 3

A quick glance at the Finn scoreboard after four races would seem to indicate someone is rolling the dice in Qingdao. One person who seems to have loaded dice is Zach Railey (USA), who after two awesome second places today moves into the overall lead and would have had a significant points advantage apart from a last minute charge in race four by Ben Ainslie (GBR) to move from seventh to first on the final leg. Chris Cook (CAN) narrowly moves up to third as one of only four sailors to maintain top ten positions so far.

With yesterday's highs and lows consigned to history and experience, the sailors today went afloat knowing that anything could happen once again. The only real difference was they were racing on Course Area E, some 4.2 nautical miles offshore.

Many of the favourites who yesterday picked up one or two high scores were looking to correct that today. Some succeeded, some didn't. However, the forecast of 8 to 10 knots wasn't too far wrong, with a steady 9 knots of breeze at the start.

Building on his overnight celebrity status after being in an unexpected second place, Zach Railey (USA) pulled out all the stops to lead round the first mark in race three from Daniel Birgmark (SWE) and Eduardo Couto (BRA).

Like yesterday, many of the favourites were struggling at the tail end of the fleet with yesterday's first race winner Emilios Papathanasiou (GRE) rounding in 21st and world number one Jonas Høgh-Christensen (DEN) in 22nd.

Railey maintained his lead on the first downwind while Rafael Trujillo (ESP) moved up to second and Birgmark dropped to fifth. Trujillo took the lead on the next downwind while Birgmark recovered back to second. On the final upwind leg, Birgmark made a small gain to cross the finish line one second ahead of Railey, with Trujillo four seconds back in third. Ben Ainslie (GBR) maintained his fourth place throughout the entire race.

With the steadier wind there were not quite as many massive place changes as yesterday, but still Papathanasiou moved up to fifth by the finish, and the overnight leader Rafal Szukiel (POL) who rounded the top mark in sixth dropped to 21st on the first downwind and finally end up 19th.

Race four got underway at 14.50 local time with Couto, leading round the first mark and the first lap. Guillaume Florent (FRA) rounded second with Haris Papadopolous (CYP) in third. Ainslie was in fourth and Railey rounded eighth.

Qingdao Olympic Regatta 2008. Zach Railey (USA).
Railey then sailed a perfect second upwind leg to move into the lead just ahead of Couto and Dan Slater (NZL) who had moved up from 10th at the first mark. Ainslie had dropped to seventh.

The final downwind to the finish was dramatic. In a reversal of fortunes from yesterday, Ainslie found the best wind to take the lead in the final three-quarters of the run to finish six seconds ahead of Railey while Florent moved up from 14th at the top mark to third at the finish. Again those who found the puffs made the biggest gains.

Other big movers on the final leg were Gasper Vincec (SLO) moving from 12th to 5th and Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic (CRO) jumping from 20th to 8th. In fact the finish was really tight, so tight that the first 16 boats all finished with 35 seconds of each other.

One of yesterday's most unexpected disappointments was Dan Slater (NZL) who placed 21 and 19. He was struggling again today in the first race with an 18th after getting a yellow flag from the jury and having to take a 720 penalty turn, but pulled out a fourth in the second to move up to 16th overall. He said 'The second race was much better with a good start and I rounded the first mark seventh or eighth and then on the run I was able to gain a few to go round the bottom mark in fourth.

Up the second beat it looked like I was leading for a while till the wind shifted back to the left a little and I rounded a close third at the top mark. On the final run I lost one boat to finish fourth and at least post a counter on the scoreboard. So although there are plenty of points still to catch up it's been done before and I will just take one race at a time.'

Meanwhile one of the pre-regatta favourites for a medal here, Papathanasiou received his third yellow flag - after picking up one in each race yesterday - and had to retire from his second race of the series and scored DNE.

Meanwhile, Nachhatar Johal (IND) couldn't match yesterday's first race result again. Having been invited to Beijing to take part in the opening ceremony on Friday evening he found he couldn't get back to Qingdao until the following morning, so slept over in the capital and arrived back in Qingdao at 11.00 on Saturday morning, ready for the first start at 13.00. He went sailing and placed fourth in the first race, his best ever result in the Finn class. Today he was struggling, placing 23rd and 24th.

Eighth overall is Guillaume Florent. After two top tens yesterday he placed 20th in race three before a spectacular recovery to fourth in race four. Earlier he said, 'The sailing area is really weird, with lots of current compared with the wind. With these conditions, I will not take any risks at the start as I don't want to be pushed over the line by the current.

'I started on second row and anyway the beats are not that important. You can round the top mark in 15th place and come back on the run. We must concentrate until the very end, especially downwind. I am happy with my downwind speed where I can compete with the best. However, I am slower upwind, especially in winds around 6 to 8 knots. Unfortunately there is not much to do about it. Generally my first day was good, with two races in the top ten. This was a good start even if I thought I could win one. A puff of wind pushed some sailors who were trying a risky coup to come back and pass me.'

But the overnight leader is the young American sailor, Zach Railey. Many said he was going to be fast in light winds, but not many expected him to be leading at this stage. 'I had another good day. It feels really good to be leading the Olympics, however there are lot more races to come and I am trying not to look at the results and take one race at a time.'

On scoring top five in all the races so far he said, 'Some races, I got really lucky. It is a mixture of luck and skills. I try to execute everything properly and avoid big mistakes. I try to get a good start and a good first beat. Ben sailed a really good final downwind. He was very fast, so credit to him as he raced really well.

Course E had much less current than A, especially during the first race. The wind was also stronger but very puffy and with different zones of pressure. The issue of the race came down on who got the last puff on the last run. The fleet is very close so every puff sees place changes, especially downwind, where the major gains and losses are made.'

Two more races are to be sailed tomorrow, Monday, before the Finns take a lay day on Tuesday.