Sailing: Ainslie needs perfect finish for record

WEYMOUTH, England Sat Aug 4, 2012 9:09pm EDT

Britain's Ben Ainslie sails during the tenth race of the Finn sailing class at the London 2012 Olympic Games in Weymouth and Portland, southern England, August 3, 2012. REUTERS/Pascal Lauener

Britain's Ben Ainslie sails during the tenth race of the Finn sailing class at the London 2012 Olympic Games in Weymouth and Portland, southern England, August 3, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Pascal Lauener

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WEYMOUTH, England (Reuters) - Britain's Ben Ainslie will take to the water with his faithful Finn dinghy "Rita" on Sunday, aiming to become the most successful Olympic sailor ever.

With the winds forecast to favor the relatively light Ainslie - he weighs in at just over 90 kg while several of his rivals are around 100 - a home crowd will be willing the 35-year-old Briton on for every second of the medal race.

Ainslie has more than his 2008 Olympic crown to defend in the waters immediately off the historic Nothe fort, where spectators will have a bird's eye view. The triple Olympic gold medal winner is also looking to make sailing history.

But standing between Ainslie and a fourth consecutive Olympic gold is Danish sailor Jonas Hogh-Christensen. Unfancied at the start of the competition, the Dane has made it his mission to defend the record held since 1960 by fellow countryman Paul Elvstrom.

Elvstrom, now 84, won four golds in his career, three of them in the single-handed Finn dinghy.

If Ainslie can tease a fourth gold out of his at times creaking six foot frame, then he will have achieved a five medal tally in five consecutive Games, starting with the silver he won in the Laser class in Atlanta in 1996.

Points are doubled in the 10-boat medal race and red-headed Hogh-Christensen, 31, leads Ainslie by a slender margin of two.

He got Elvstrom's backing in the form of a text message to the veteran sailor's son-in-law, who is a member of the Danish support team.

Ainslie was riled during the week when Hogh-Christensen and Dutch rival Pieter-Jan Postma demanded he perform a penalty turn for apparently touching a course mark, and kept a low profile on Saturday's rest day while a relaxed Hogh-Christensen was spotted among the crowd watching the sailing.

Ainslie and fellow British sailors Iain Percy and Andrew "Bart" Simpson used the time to check their boats, revise relevant race rules, make last-minute course notes and study the weather forecast for the day.

The boat Ainslie will sail is the same one he steered to gold in 2004 and 2008. Every boat he has owned has been called Rita, and he has been sailing this one since 2003.

Percy and Simpson sail immediately before Ainslie in their two-man Star keelboat, hoping to defend the Olympic gold they won in the class in 2008 in the waters of Qingdao, China.

They lead going into the medal race, ahead of Brazilian Robert Scheidt, the man who beat Ainslie to gold in the Laser in 1996 but lost to him four years later, and Bruno Prada.

(Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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