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American Railey takes lead in Finn sailing

Aug. 10, 2008, 7:34 a.m. (ET)

QINGDAO, China (AP) Outsider Zach Railey of the United States hauled in first place overall in Finn class sailing on Sunday, with British sailing star and undisputed favorite Ben Ainslie, a triple Olympic medalist, riding hot on his wake.

"I definitely have to say it is an honor to be the lead," Railey said. "But we are just four races into this and it's a long regatta. We're not even halfway."

Olympic first-timer Railey, 24, took two second places on Sunday, following up on a second and fifth on Saturday's opening day in consistent sailing. Ainslie, 31, took a fourth and a win Sunday, coming off a 10th and a second on Saturday in the 11 race series.

The American, who was No. 28 at the 2008 Worlds and is currently ranked No. 18 worldwide, hadn't even figured into pre-games speculation about top challengers. The seemingly unbeatable Ainslie is going for third straight Olympic gold, and fourth medal in four Olympics, including his silver in 1996.

"Zach is sailing really well," said Ainslie, adding that he was also satisfied with his own result in 26-boat class because "a fourth and a first were good results."

After Race Four in all, Christopher Cook of Canada was third overall, Gasper Vincec of Slovenia was No. 4.

Sailing also continued in the three-women Yngling class, with British favorites Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb, and Pippa Wilson taking a lead on Finland, the Netherlands and the United States after four races. On Sunday, competition started in the fast 49er skiffs, and the day's three races ended with Britain in the lead, followed by Italy, Denmark and France.

Conditions were hot, with bright sunshine, clear skies, and steady breezes that dropped off toward the end of Sunday's racing, slowing some boats to a duck's pace.

In Race Three on Sunday, Ainslie took a time-costing 720-degree penalty turn after the first leg for a possible right-of-way violation against Railey, rather than risk a protest by the American that could have led to his disqualification.

Railey "had a fantastic opportunity to shout 'protest'," said Ainslie. "I'd rather do a turn" as a precaution.

For the defending champion, starting off with a bad finish and a disqualification would have been nightmarishly like his start in Athens in 2004, where he also finished 10th in the first race and was disqualified from the second race, forcing him to claw his way back to gold.

Railey led the first two legs of Race Three, before he was passed by Rafa Trujillo of Spain, and Daniel Birgmark of Sweden, who went on to win the race in 58 minutes and 49 seconds, one second ahead of Railey, with Trujillo in third, 10 seconds behind the winner.

In Sunday's second contest, Race Four, Ainslie frothed ahead on the last leg to gain seven places, passing leader Railey, to win in one hour and three seconds, six seconds ahead of the American. Guillaume Florent, of France, was 12 seconds behind in third, and Dan Slater of New Zealand was 15 seconds behind in fourth.

Railey said he plans to stick to his original strategy for the Olympics, and not get caught up in how he or the other boats are doing.

"My overall goal coming into this was to sail conservatively, and not take too many chances," Railey said dockside. "This is a big event. It is always on your mind. ... When I go to bed, I think about what I am going to do, and then think about it in my sleep."

The 49ers class had their first three outings of 16 races on Sunday, with the British team of Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes leading overall with fourth, third and fifth places. Italy's Pietro Sibello and Gianfranco Sibello were No. 2 overall, with third, ninth and first, followed by Denmark's Jonas Warrer and Martin Kirketerp Ibsen, with a second, a fourth and a 10th.

Defending Olympic champions Iker Martinez and Xabier Fernandez of Spain won the opening 49er race, but fell off the pace, with a 10th and 17th place.

Racing continues Monday in all three classes, with opening races at four other events, RS:X windsurfers for men and for women, and 470 dinghies, also with men's and women's classes.