Olympics: Down to the golden wire

By Michael Brown

After trying to keep a handle on 19 crews throughout the week, Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie will have their eyes on only one for their last race.

The New Zealand women's 470 crew will duke it out with Great Britain's Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark for Olympic gold. The stakes couldn't be higher or the contest closer.

The rivals are locked on the same points and don't have to worry about any other crew. They are so far ahead that a silver at least is in the bag so long as they are not disqualified.

Match racing is entirely different to fleet racing. Tactics change - they need to cover their opponents if they are ahead, or try to mix it up and find clear air if they are trailing - and decorated British sailor Ben Ainslie, who won his fourth Olympic gold this week, is one of the best.

In 2000, he famously hounded Robert Scheidt around Sydney harbour knowing the Brazilian had to finish outside the top 20 for him to win gold. It forced Scheidt into a series of mistakes and disqualification. Irate Brazilians burned effigies of Ainslie on the streets of Sao Paolo, Scheidt's hometown. The Briton happily collected gold.

The showdown between 26-year-old Aleh and Powrie, 24, and the British crew isn't likely to end so explosively, but tactics will play a huge part when they sail in front of what is expected to be a big crowd in front of the Nothe at Weymouth.

Powrie is the reigning national match racing champion (Aleh was a member of the crew) and is said to have an intimate knowledge of race rules. It might be an area where they hold an advantage, although Aleh will be on the tiller as skipper and will ultimately call the shots.

"I wouldn't be able to handle the front of the boat so that wouldn't work," Aleh said when the idea of swapping places was raised.

The combination is also working and the pair went into the Olympics as one of the favourites, having won last year's Sail for Gold pre-Olympics regatta in Weymouth. It was also expected Great Britain would be near the head of the fleet but Mills admitted they didn't have much match racing experience.

"We haven't done that much, to be honest,' the British skipper said. "We did three days before this in build-up, just going over the basics, but neither of us are particularly specialised in match racing so we'll definitely be going over the rules."

It might not have come down to a winner-take-all contest. Aleh and Powrie extended their overall lead to eight points after finishing second in yesterday morning's first race but faltered badly in the second race when Great Britain were second and New Zealand 18th in light and shifty conditions.

Their worst result in the previous nine races had been 10th and another finish in the top 10 would have handed them a lead heading into the double points medal race.

"We had a pretty good first race today, which helped us a little bit, but then we followed it up with our little stuff-up of the regatta," Aleh said. "There had to be one, we figured, so that was it."

They can't afford another in the medal race. They are known as Team Jolly and they hope they are just that come tomorrow morning.

- APNZ

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