Renewed rivalry on the seas could sink the hosts in the drink

For centuries, Britain and Denmark have been the best of buddies, but the next four days see them fight it out in not one, but five Olympic events

The UK and Denmark have always enjoyed a special bond. It started with some good old-fashioned Danish raping and pillaging, and then the Brits returned favour nearly a thousand years later with a firebombing or two. Britain liberated Denmark at the end of the Second World War, and then Danish pornography liberated soon-to-be swinging London in the 1960s. There have been notable unions (notorious philanderer Edward VII, Roger Moore, Helle Thorning-Schmidt and Susannah of Trinny & Susannah) and friendships, mostly built on anti-EU sentiment. 

So it is perhaps alarming to note at the time of going to press, with both countries desperately hoping to get off the bottom rung of the medal table, that some of their best chances over the remainder of the first week of the Olympics see the two nations pitted against each other. Five cast-iron opportunities present themselves, but who will show the steelier resolve: the rapist pornographer or the rapacious philanderer? 

Rebecca Adlington vs Lotte Friis
Women’s 800-metre freestyle
Friday August 3; 20:45

Friday’s keenly anticipated showdown sees race favourite, current world record holder and aqua darling of the host nation, Rebecca Adlington, lock horns with Danish stronghouse Lotte Friis. There was little to divide them in the 400-metre freestyle on Sunday, with Adlington edging out Friis by 0.97 seconds to take the bronze. 

Their last significant meeting over 800 metres was at the 2011 World Aquatics Championships in which Adlington was triumphant, but only by 0.69 seconds, finishing in 8:17.51, over three seconds outside her WR of 8:14.10. 

The bookmakers agree that it is a two-seahorse race with Adlington favourite at 4/9 (Ladbroke’s) and Friis next at 5/2 (Bet 365). The only other competitor who has a chance is 15-year-old American swimmer Kathleen Ledecky (9/1). Adlington is not counting her chickens. “The 800m is going to be a battle,” she told the British media. 

And there have been a few homefront distractions. Caustic Scottish comic Frankie Boyle after her double gold in the 2008 Olympics said he thought Adlington “looks like someone who’s looking at themselves in the back of a spoon”, and he has been up to his old tricks again, questioning whether Adlington “will have an unfair advantage in the swimming by possessing a dolphin’s face”. 

But with the rest of her country cheering her on, Adlington will be a hard nut to crack. 

Ben Ainslie vs Jonas Høgh-Christensen
Finn Sailing Class: medal race
Sunday August 5; 15:00

They will have to start referring to Jonas Høgh-Christensen as ‘Luke Skywalker’ if he wins the Finn sailing class in the waters off Weymouth in southern England.

The force so far has clearly been on the side of the 31-year-old Dane, who heading into races seven and eight on Thursday had an imposing total of just seven (thanks to three firsts, two seconds and a seventh – the worst score is discarded), leading British sailing legend Ben Ainslie (two seconds, a third, a fourth, a sixth and a 12th), who is chasing a fourth straight gold medal in the sport, by ten points

Willing on Høgh-Christensen’s bid to derail Ainslie’s empire from afar is 84-year-old compatriot Paul Elvstrøm (Yoda), the most successful Olympic sailor ever, who won four straight sailing golds from 1948-60.

While Ainslie needs to win gold to match Elvstrøm’s haul, his record will surpass Elvstrøm’s as he will have won four golds at five Olympics, while Elvstrøm competed in eight, including one in 1988 aged 60!

“I think he was on a hotline to Paul Elvstrøm today,” Ainslie told British press agency PA following the first day of sailing on Sunday. 

To win Ainslie will be praying Høgh-Christensen posts two bad performances in his final five outings. Without them, it is difficult to see how Ainslie will catch him – particularly given his precarious standing following his 12th-placed finish on Monday. 

The medal race, which is contested by the top ten and carries double points, was introduced this century following allegations of ‘piracy’ in previous Olympics. In 2000, Ainslie memorably secured gold by deliberately blocking his main rival, Brazilian sailor Robert Scheidt, to finish 22nd. It was sweet revenge for identical tactics employed by Scheidt to edge Ainslie out into silver in 1996.

It is a game plan that Høgh-Christensen, should he continue his form, might very well consider on Sunday. 

UK vs Denmark
Men’s Lightweight Fours
Thursday August 2; 11:00

The Brits are even money favourites to take this title, but that won’t stop the Danish public believing in their ‘Guld Firen’, who after scraping their way through the heat, won their semi-final on Tuesday to reignite their challenge. 

In a time nearly four seconds slower than the UK in the other semi, Denmark eased home ahead of South Africa and Australia. Nevertheless, most bookmakers believe the Aussies, the reigning world champions after beating the UK into third last September in Slovenia, are the main threat, rating them 7/2 ahead of Denmark at 4/1.  

The Brits, perhaps more than anyone, will be wise to the threat posed by the Danish crew. They might even call it the Stephen Redgrave factor, as their sport has a habit of producing stories of heroism and endeavour rarely seen in others. In the form of their veteran Eskild Ebbesen, the Danes have the X Factor that might see them home. The 40-year-old is bidding to win his fourth lightweights fours gold medal, following triumphs in 1996, 2004 and 2008.  

Ebbesen likes his crews to come out fast and stay there. Their inauspicious start in the heat, followed by their improved performance in the semi, suggests they will probably peak in the final. It promises to be a fascinating clash of oars. 

UK vs Denmark
Men’s Lightweight Double Sculls
Saturday August 4; 10:40

Neither Denmark (Mads Rasmussen and Rasmus Quist) or the UK’s reigning Olympic champions (Mark Hunter and Zac Purchase) are the favourites to win the men’s lightweight double sculls – New Zealand, at 9/4, are – but both will go close. Rasmussen and Quist will be hoping to better the bronze they won in 2008 and their fourth place in 2004. They have twice won the World Championships, hold the fastest time this year, and clocked the fastest time in the heats. The semies are on Thursday morning. 

UK vs Denmark
Women’s Lightweight Double Sculls
Saturday August 4; 11:00

Shortly after Rasmussen and Quist’s bid for gold, Danish duo Anne Lolk Thomsen and Juliane Rasmussen will stroke off in their bid to upset the odds. As things stand, they are 12/1 third favourites, behind the UK (2s) and China (5s). 

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