by Bob Fisher
London Olympics 2012 - Little was left to doubt in the Laser Radials before the medal race even started - there were only four women, all within a point, and well clear of the fleet, who could win the medals, effectively making the finishing order of the top three the medal winners. The John Emmett-coached Lijia Xu of China who had the gold medal on her sail after ten races by virtue of the countback over Holland's Marit Bouwmeester, was dominant on the day.
Lijia Xu (CHN), Laser Radial - London 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition
For only a few seconds was there any doubt that Xu would not be wearing the gold medal around her neck. She had tacked away from the pack to go to the right hand side of the course as the 15-knot breeze first swung that way, but the statuesque Irishwoman Annalise Murphy had taken advantage of the swing to the left and came from that side of the course to round the windward mark with a three second lead.
In a flash, Xu struck - her downwind technique was infinitely superior to that of her rivals, with the exception perhaps of Marit Bouwmeester, who appeared to have been taking lessons from her gold medal-winning boy-friend, Ben Ainslie - the body language was oh-so similar to that of the Finn sailor's.
Xu led narrowly from Britain's Alison Young at the leeward gate but Murphy hit back upwind to trail the Chinese woman around the top mark. From then on there was never any doubt about the gold medal but the other two medals were in constant abeyance. Bouwmeester put her stamp of authority on the silver on the final run, staying ahead of the fast finishing Belgian Evi van Acker after passing Young. So, 1-2-3 in the medal race became 1-2-3 overall. Murphy's fifth gave her the 'leather' medal while Young was fifth overall.
The men in the Lasers virtually knew their fate before the short-course final race for the medals. Australia's Tom Slingsby, the pre-series favourite in everybody's book, was going to have it all his own way. Only Pavlos Kontides of Cyprus, who was 14 points behind, could, if disaster struck Slingsby, beat him for gold; the next two, Rasmus Mygren of Sweden and Croatian Tonci Stipanovic with 35 and 36 more points were left to scrap out the bronze medal.
Inevitably, Slingsby went into match racing mode before the starting gun had fired. He had the Cypriot in his sights and never let him out of them, tacking on top of his rival every time the other made a move. Somewhat surprisingly, Paul Goodison, the defending champion who has been suffering with back problems throughout the regatta, led around the first mark, while Slingsby and Kontides were eighth and ninth.
The battle continued and the two each dropped a further place to bring up the rear. Up front the German Simon Groteluschen was on the march, stamping first on Goodison and then his replacement Alejandro Foglia Costa of Uruguay. Behind these three, the fight for the bronze was being settled, on the water at least. Mygren finished sixth, two places clear of Stipanovic, but a protest had been lodged against the Swedish skipper by the Equipment Inspection Committee for an infraction of the measurement rules.
Under Sections 3.1 and 3.2 of the Regulations applying to supplied equipment, in this case the Lasers, all alterations and repairs must be first approved, in writing, by the Equipment Inspection Committee. Until this protest was heard, the bronze medal position remained in doubt. The International Jury heard the evidence from both sides and found in favour of the Swedish sailor who retained the bronze medal he had won on the water.
For sheer poetry in motion . . . nothing was better than watching Nathan Outteridge and Ian Jensen rounding the weather mark for the third time. It was in their first race of the day, the fourteenth and penultimate of the series prior to the medal race. They had recently passed the Japanese pair, moved into the lead and rounded on starboard tack. As Outteridge upped the helm, Jensen came in off the wire, grabbed the spinnaker halyard and hoisted the sail. At the same time Outteridge gybed the boat, the kite filled and Jensen launched himself out on the port side trapeze. It was the work of four seconds.
The Aussies went on to win that race and had a 25 point lead over their nearest rivals, the Kiwi pairing of Peter Burling and Blair Tuke. If the Kiwis won the last race, and the Australians finished within five places of them, the medal race would be simply a formality. As it happened, a third for the Outteridge/Jensen duo in the fifteenth race clinched their gold medal - they will, of course, turn up for Wednesday's medal race. The maths are simple; the Australians have a 28 point lead over the Kiwis, who in turn have a 32 point lead over the Danes.
Their strategy in that final race had been obvious; they shadowed the Kiwis before and after the start and then drew away, claiming place after place as they surged towards the front. The Italians, having taken an early advantage, refused to be caught as did the flying Finns, but Australian flags were spotted all over the Nothe gardens as the dynamic duo did its lap of honour before returning to the harbour. The Cove pub in Portland will be the scene of much celebrating tonight.