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The first gold medal race of the Rio 2016 sailing competition, held in Guanabara Bay, came in the women’s RS:X class. It began with a mere six points separating the top six windsurfers in the standings, with Italy’s Flavia Tartaglini leading from Russia’s Stefaniya Elfutina, China’s Chen Peina, Charline Picon of France, Israel’s Maayan Davidovich and the defending champion Marina Alabau Neira of Spain.
Never had the battle for gold in an Olympic windsurfing competition been so close, and the tension was racked up a notch when the start was delayed by over on hour due to light winds. When racing eventually got under way, Lilian de Geus of the Netherlands hit the front and stayed there, though the real drama unfolded behind her, with Picon beating Chen to the line to win gold. Taking bronze behind the Chinese athlete was Elfutina, while Tartaglini missed out on a medal altogether, having led the standings for much of the competition.
“It was like something out of a film and I really had to work hard. I knew I’d done it when I crossed the line and I just let all the emotion come out,” said an elated Picon, who draped a French flag over her shoulders and celebrated victory by sharing a hug with Cédric Leroy, her coach of four years. “We cried a lot together. He was feeling emotional too and he said I was too strong.” Giving his views, Leroy commented: “Despite all the titles over these last four years, I’ve never shown the slightest emotion, not a tear. I’ve always kept it together. But today I cried. It’s been a wonderful adventure.”
There was no such close finish in the men’s RS:X event, with defending champion Dorian van Rijsselberghe of the Netherlands sealing the gold before the medal race. Just as he had done at London 2012, Great Britain’s Nick Dempsey took second place behind him. After capping his successful defence with victory in the final race, the Dutchman said: “I’m very happy. We had a wonderful week sailing and today it was only a kind of show, but I’m glad that I pulled off another first place and another win. It’s never easy, but when you make it look easy, that’s always good! It’s a huge thing of course – and after all of the support [friends and family] put in, they can see it has paid off.”
Asked if he was disappointed to have come away with silver again, Dempsey said: “No, never! I’ve trained hard over the last four years and I’ve given it everything I had. I couldn’t ask anything more of myself. I was only good enough for second here and I’m very happy.”
The bronze was the only medal still up for grabs ahead of the last race, which began with Polish world champion Piotr Myszka in third place overall, just ahead of France’s Pierre Le Coq. The two fought out their own private race, with the Frenchman coming in seventh to Myszka’s ninth and edging past him to take the last place on the podium.
In the running for women’s Laser gold throughout, Marit Bouwmeester of the Netherlands eventually clinched it by taking seventh place in a medal race won by Great Britain’s Alison Young. Second heading into the final day, Anne-Marie Rindom of Denmark was overtaken on the water and the podium by Ireland’s Annalise Murphy and had to settle for bronze.
“I don’t think there is such thing as a flying Dutchwoman, but I’m very proud to represent Holland. It’s a great sports nation,” said Bouwmeester. After missing out on a medal at London 2012, Murphy was delighted to have put that experience behind her: “It’s incredible. I was pretty heartbroken after London. I’d been in medal position all week. So this week, to be in medal position again, it’s been incredible.”
The destination of the men’s Laser gold came down to a two-way battle between Australia’s Tom Burton and Croatia’s Tonci Stipanovic, who had led the competition from the opening race. A tense pre-start duel went the way of the Australian, who induced his rival for gold into an illegal bump of his boat, with the judges imposing a penalty turn on Stipanovic. Making his escape, Burton crossed the line in third place to clinch the title and succeed his compatriot Tom Slingsby as Olympic champion. The Croatian came in ninth and had to be content with silver.
The bronze went to New Zealand’s Sam Meech, whose fourth place in the medal race ended the hopes of Brazil’s Robert Scheidt of finishing on the podium. An ever-present at the Games since Atlanta 1996, the 43-year-old
Scheidt produced one of the performances of his distinguished career in winning the medal race, but it was not enough for him to clinch what would have been a record-breaking sixth sailing medal in six Olympic Games.
It was the venue that definitely benefits an all-round sailor. Consistency was key
It was the venue that definitely benefits an all-round sailor. Consistency was key
“It was the venue that definitely benefits an all-round sailor. Consistency was key,” said Burton. Silver medallist Stipanovic said the disappointment of missing out on gold was in no way greater than the pride he felt in winning Croatia’s first ever sailing medal. “The feeling of losing on the last day is not nice,” he admitted. “But I’m really happy with my medal. It’s the first medal in sailing in history of Croatian sport which is really key and I knew a few days ago already that I had done a good job.”
Also competing in his sixth Games, Argentinian veteran Santiago Lange won his first Olympic gold, teaming up with Cecilia Carranza Saroli, 25 years his junior, to top the Nacra 17 podium and secure their country’s second medal of Rio 2016. “We didn’t expect it. It was a very tough race in the end. It was unbelievable,” said the 54-year-old Lange, a familiar face on the America’s Cup circuit. “I’ve been dreaming of a gold medal since the 1980s, and I’ve spent a lot of time working for this.”
The Argentinian pair finished sixth in the medal race, enough to give them the gold ahead of Australia’s Jason Waterhouse and Lisa Darmanin, with Austria’s Thomas Zajac and Tanja Frank taking third. Pre-competition favourites Billy Besson and Marie Riou of France endured a tough week and eventually placed sixth. A four-time world champion, Besson suffered a slipped disc in training, hampering his movement around the boat.
Great Britain’s Giles Scott had already made sure of the gold prior to the medal race, extending a British winning streak started by Iain Percy at Sydney 2000 and continued by the great Ben Ainslie at the following three Games. Held in near-perfect wind conditions, the medal race saw Slovenia’s Vasilij Zbogar come in eighth to clinch silver, while Caleb Paine of the USA produced one of his best performances of the Olympic regatta to finish second and jump from fourth overall into bronze.
Describing himself as “over the moon” following his stress-free medal-race outing, a delighted Scott said: “It means a great deal. I’ve been trying to get to the Olympic Games for at least two cycles so to qualify for Rio firstly was a huge deal for me.”
Silver medallist Zbogar, who made the switch to Finn class after winning two medals in Laser, was delighted to add to his haul: “I’m delighted to finish on a positive note with second place, which for me is a dream. I’m extremely proud and happy to be able to sail very consistently all week and to get a medal.
Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze of Brazil produced a breathtaking comeback in a very keenly contested women’s 49erFX medal race to win gold from New Zealand’s Alex Maloney and Molly Meech. The Brazilians lay a whole 26 points behind the Kiwi pair at one stage of the race before storming back to the beat them to the line by two seconds. Denmark’s Jena Hansen and Katja Salskov-Iversen won the bronze, nudging Tamara Echegoyen Dominguez and Berta Betanzos Moro of Spain out of the medals. The Spanish duo had started the day on top of the standings, with a solitary point separating the leading four crews ahead of the final race.
As well as delighting the home fans, Grael’s gold was the eighth Olympic medal won by her family over the years. Her father Torben, the head coach of Brazil’s sailing team, collected five in all – two golds, one silver and two bronzes – while her uncle Lars won two bronzes in the Tornado class.
In contrast to the women’s event, the men’s 49er gold had already been decided before the medal race, with New Zealand duo of Peter Burling and Blair Tuke having opened up an unassailable lead over the field. In a reverse of the London 2012 podium, reigning champions Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen of Australia claimed the silver.
“Blair and myself obviously have to have a celebration,” said a delighted Burling. “We’ve put everything into the last four years and even the four years before that. To put so much work in and for it to come together on a week like this is amazing.” Reacting to his second medal in four years, Outteridge said: “It’s always been a passion and a dream to get to the Olympics. This is my third Olympics now, and winning a gold and a silver out of three is a pretty good track record.”
The bronze went to Olympic debutants Erik Heil and Thomas Ploessel of Germany. “I’m really happy to have won that medal,” said Ploessel. “It’s something I have always dreamed of. It’s a good introduction for us for to our first ever Olympics.”
Silver medallists at London 2012, Saskia Clark and Hannah Mills went one better in Rio. Holding a 20-point lead going into the last day, they only needed to finish the medal race to be sure of gold. In the end they took eighth, enough for a 10-point victory margin. New Zealand’s Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie won silver, while French duo Camille Lecointre and Helene Defrance beat the Netherlands’ Afrodite Kyranakou and Anneloes van Veen to the bronze by a single point.
“The first moment I sailed with Hannah, I knew we could do something special,” said Clark. “We have been together through ups and downs and been with each other all the way.” Mills added: “This is all we have ever dreamed of and we are so happy.”
Meanwhile, silver medallist Aleh was understandably pleased to make it onto the podium after what she described as a tough competition: “We’re pretty stoked. We’ve battled all week and it was a hard medal race.”
Sime Fantela and Igor Marenic landed a first ever Olympic gold for Croatian sailing, overcoming a stiff challenge from Australia’s Matthew Belcher and William Ryan to win the men’s 470 class. Greece’s Pavlos Kagialis and Panagiotis Mantis took third place on the podium.
“I’m proud of our Croatia team,” said Fantela. “I’m grateful for these guys around me because they push us forward.” Competing in an event so often won by crews from the southern hemisphere, Fantela added that watching the Australians had helped drive his own team forward: “Australia has always set a training goal for us. This was a part of our motivation. We proved to ourselves that the way we were training worked and that we just needed to stick to the plan. That’s the reason we are sitting here right now.”