Ainslie leads way as Britain prepare to rule the waves

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 August, 2008, 12:00am

The British adore their seafaring heroes. And their telescopes will be swivelled in the direction of champion Ben Ainslie as he hunts down more national glory in Qingdao.

Ainslie, Britain's most successful Olympic sailor, is chasing his third successive gold and fourth medal of any metal on the waters off the Shandong coast.

Like many, Ainslie has lamented the conditions in the sailing regatta city, most notably the lack of wind.

'Nature will have more of a role to play because it's quite unpredictable weather, with generally quite light winds, a lot of current and a lot of tide,' Ainslie said. 'However, we always knew it was going to be a difficult venue, and I'm comfortable with the difficulties. I'm keen to get on with it.'

The 31-year-old is the strong favourite to retain the Finn title he won in Athens, having taken his first gold in Sydney in the Laser class in 2000.

Team GB also are tipped for a podium place in the 49er class dinghies with Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes. And Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb and Pippa Wilson - dubbed 'the three nautical blondes' by the British media - will be seeking to defend the gold in the Yngling class.

France, Spain and Germany, as well as the US and Brazil, will make Team GB work hard to maintain their dominance. But the British take their sailing extremely seriously, are highly organised, technically strong and well funded. They have had a training base in Qingdao since the end of the last Olympics.

A team house has been rented for the duration and sailors have had most of their kit stored in 10 sea containers at a nearby yacht club, which has been used as the international training base. A support staff of 20, including physios and coaches, are behind them - and chefs have been providing high-protein, fat-busting menus. To compensate for the expected light winds, most sailors are on a strict exercise regime and diet.

'It is time to do the business,' team manager Stephen Park said. 'No team is bullet-proof, but we are better prepared than any previous Olympic sailing team.

'We go in good heart, confident we have done the hard yards and, providing the dice don't roll against us, we should be well-placed.'