by Bob Fisher
London 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition: Was there any doubt that Luke Patience and Stuart Bithell would attack the Australian pairing of Mathew Belcher and Malcolm Page? It was an all-too-obviously pre-planned strategy by the British crew, one that had the influence of Ben Ainslie stamped all over it. But it was something they had to do, the Brits needed to create a situation that put another crew between them and the Aussies - a big ask against the super-fast fleet leaders.
Luke Patience and Stuart Bithell (GBR) roll tack on the third leg of the 470 Mens Medal race
Sure enough, their match racing put them near the back of the ten boats as the starting gun fired, but critically the Brits were ahead and to windward as they headed out to the right hand side of the course. Patience and Bithell were the first to tack on to starboard, picking up a touch more breeze as they did so. It was then that it became more apparent that there were spikes in the breeze, spikes with two knots more wind and that these were going to have a major effect on the outcome.
It was, however, all going swimmingly for the British pair, the Croatians, Sime Fantela and Igor Marenic were sailing one of their best races of the series and providing the essential blocker for ultimate British success. Would that the race had finished at the first mark, where the order was Britain, Croatia and then Australia. We Poms were cheering our team on while the Okkers were telling everyone how fast Belcher and Page would be downwind.
Dammit, they got that right. Travelling noticeably deeper and faster they passed the Brits, as did the Croatians, and at the half-way stage were leading. The shifts on the upwind leg favoured the Croatians and once ahead they were never in danger. The Brits rounded fourth and started to charge. The umpires had other ideas and penalised Patience and Bithell for illegal propulsion. They took their penalty turn without hesitation and without losing a place, but the damage was done. It needed a reversal of places for a British triumph but the racecourse was running out. Dammit again. The Gold was Australia's and well deserved (It sometimes hurts to write the truth) and the Silver went to the Brits.
Mathew Belcher and Malcolm Page (AUS), Men's 470 Medal Race - London 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition
So, we said to ourselves, it has to be balanced by Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark, the reigning world champions of the Women's 470s - they were level on points with the Kiwi duo, Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie. It was bound to be a match race and doubtless Ben had been to give the champs a few tips. So it looked too, but when the gun fired the principal protagonists were heading in different directions - the Kiwis to the right and the Brits, trapped under the Australians, to the left.
As luck would have it, Mr. Sod had his say in this race. The right side paid dividends big time and as the Kiwis trotted around the windward mark with a goodly lead, the Brits were dead last, a minute and a quarter in arrears. One felt for Hannah and Saskia - all that effort dissipated in a ten minute beat - and they were to lose another minute downwind. The only compensation that the Brits had was that they could not lose the silver medal and they did get past the Yanks (but there was little consolation in the latter fact). The Kiwis deserved their victory (ouch again!)
The 470 sailors know that they will have their chances again in 2016, unless there is another rush of bad blood to the heads of the ISAF Councillors. It is a boat with which the majority can identify and is universally established, one can never be certain, given the mood swings that occur at the Annual Meetings, or even in the truth of what actually took place when voting takes place.
It would appear that the Spanish delegate, entrusted with the voting on the Boards versus Kites matter, Gerardo Seeliger, did exactly as he was bid and voted (under orders) for kiteboards; it was only the President of the National Authority, FNEV, that decided he would curry favour with the rank-and-file and say that he had made a mistake and did so because he didn't understand. Senor Pombo, I would respectfully suggest that it is time for you to resign.