By BERNIE WILSON
AP Sports Writer
Sir Ben Ainslie and Emirates Great Britain earned their second straight SailGP regatta win on Sunday and the United States finished third a day after flight controller Hans Henken was knocked unconscious and hospitalized after the squad’s 50-foot catamaran crashed hard off its foils in strong wind in Taranto, Italy.
Ainslie prevailed over three-time defending SailGP champion Tom Slingsby of Team Australia and Jimmy Spithill of Team USA. The Americans subbed in Taylor Canfield for Henken, who was expected to spend a second night in the hospital.
The wind dropped off during the podium race and the 16-minute time limit expired, so race management awarded final positions based on the standings after five fleet races, which Ainslie dominated with finishes of 2-2-3-1-2, with the Aussies second and Spithill third.
“Clearly we were racing with a lot of purpose today,” said Spithill, who visited Henken in the hospital on Saturday night. “Without a doubt, this was the toughest event we’ve ever had as a team, given what happened with Hans yesterday. He sent us a message this morning to get out there and ‘Crush it,’ and yeah, we did. I’m really thankful to the team for really focusing on the day and getting some good results.”
Henken was injured during the third fleet race Saturday when the American catamaran crashed off its foils and buried the leeward hull in the water. That’s where Henken was positioned and he was knocked unconscious for a short time. He was taken to the hospital after the race.
The team hasn’t released specifics of Henken’s injuries, but they are severe enough that Spithill said the team will need a replacement flight controller for the next regatta in Andalucía-Cádiz, Spain, in three weeks. Henken’s wife, Helena, said in an Instagram post that he was in stable condition. “If you know Hans, you know he’s a … stubborn fighter and you will be pleased to know he’s cracking jokes,” she said.
Besides competing in SailGP, Henken, a Stanford grad, is campaigning for a spot in the 49er class in the Paris Olympics next summer.
Ainslie also won in Saint-Tropez, France, two weeks ago. He and Slingsby were part of Spithill’s crew with Oracle Team USA when it pulled off a stunning comeback against Emirates Team New Zealand to defend the America’s Cup in 2013 on San Francisco Bay.
“It looked like USA was going to score a pretty historic win after a traumatic Saturday and then at the last minute we found some breeze on our own and it looked like we were going to go around the outside and take the win,” Ainslie said. “Then they terminated the race. The emotions. It was a roller coaster ride, but I’m just delighted for the team after a really solid performance over the five races this weekend. It was a good win.”
Ainslie, the most-decorated sailor in Olympic history, credited strategist Hannah Mills, the most-decorated female sailor in games history, for her ability to spot the best conditions.
“Considering how challenging it was, I think we were literally at zero knots for quite a lot of the race and it was so intense,” said Mills, who got to hoist the trophy. “We just kept calm and always felt like there was going to be an opportunity to get back into the race — and there was. But we ran out of time, so it was a tough race.”
The Aussies held on to the season lead over Ainslie and Diego Botin of Spain, although Slingsby remains winless in Season 4 of tech titan Larry Ellison’s global league.
“I think the British deserved the win,” Slingsby said. “We found ourselves saying it’s good for the overall points, but it would be nice to win. They had the best points and I think that’s a lot fairer than if we finished that race somewhere and it would have been who’s ahead at the right time. We got told when they called it off we’re ahead, but I don’t think we deserved to be ahead, so I’m happy for the British.”
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