London Olympics 2012 - Match Racing for Gold
by Mark Chisnell on 11 Aug 2012
At the London 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition, match racing started early on the Nothe Course today - scheduled for 14:30 when the Elliotts were due to take to the water, it actually began at 12:00 with the 470 Men's medal race, and carried right on through the 470 Women's decider. Both involved British boats against Southern Hemisphere opponents and both the local teams were to be disappointed - if you can be disappointed with a silver medal at the Olympics...
Olivia Price, Nina Curtis and Lucinda Whitty (AUS) competing today, 10.08.12, in the Women’s Match Racing (Elliott 6M) event in The London 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition. onEdition © http://www.onEdition.com
It was the postponed Men's 470 medal race first and this was the British pair of Luke Patience and Stuart Bithell up against multi-World Champions, Mathew Belcher and Malcolm Page. The two pairs had gold and silver sewn up, and the Brits needed to put a boat between them and the Aussies to take gold. It started well for Patience and Bithell, they took the lead off the line and even had the Croatian pair of Sime Fantela and Igor Marenic between them and Belcher and Page at the top mark.
A left-hand shift soon after they rounded onto the run did for the Brits though, as both the Croatians and the Aussies rotated inside them, and then crossed in front after Patience and Bithell gybed. It didn't help that Belcher and Page also appeared to have a small speed edge downwind and had extended by the gate. But Patience and Bithell got a split upwind and took the game to them, coming out of the left almost bow-to-bow half-way up the beat.
A tough tacking duel ensued with the Aussies pulling out a length and picking the right side when they finally split. Right turned out to be right, and they came out well in front at the top mark, and again extended downwind to take second, with Patience and Bithell in fourth. Between them was Argentina's Lucas Calabrese and Juan de la Fuente - and that third place gave them the bronze from Italy's Gabrio Zandonã and Pietro Zucchetti.
The 470 Women were up next and in the British boat were Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark; and in the Southern Hemisphere boat were the Kiwis, Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie. It was a simple matter of winner takes all and these guys got fully into the pre-start - it was a win for the Brits with a front row start going left, and the Kiwis buried in their dirty air and forced to tack and clear. No one knew it at the time, but the medal was decided the moment that Mills and Clark decided not to try and extricate themselves from the front-row and take the loss to cover.
The Kiwi girls found a twenty degree shift on the right of the race course, and no one touched them for the rest of the race. The Brits wriggled on the hook, but only succeeded in making it worse with big splits out to the left - they finished ninth. Bronze went to the Netherlands Lisa Westerhof and Lobke Berkhout by a single point advantage over France's Camille Lecointre and Mathilde Geron.
Next up for the crowd on the Nothe was the actual Women's Match Racing, semi-final round. Round Robin winners, Australia’s Olivia Price, Nina Curtis and Lucinda Whitty squared up against Finland’s Silja Lehtinen, Silja Kanerva and Mikaela Wulff. While Russia’s Ekaterina Skudina, Elena Syuzeva and Elena Oblova took on Tamara Echegoyen Dominguez, Sofia Toro Prieto Puga and Angela Pumariega Menendez of Spain. It was Lehtinen and Skudina that took the early advantage, but Australia and Spain then squared it up, just as the breeze faded.
The wait was long and agonising, as no more racing would have meant resorting to the round robin results to get the finalists. In the end, after a move into Portland Harbour, the race officials managed to get one more race going - and it was clearly do or die. Both matches saw extraordinary turnovers. Olivia Price left it until the last metre to get past Silja Lehtinen, and so confirm Australia as the dominant sailing nation at these Games. They have now got a guaranteed match racing gold or silver to add to the three golds they have already won.
And in the other match, it was Skudina who held the early advantage, with both the lead and Echegoyen carrying a penalty. But the Spanish managed to get past and then clear the penalty with some great sailing. They held their advantage all the way to the line. Tomorrow's final will be Australia versus Spain, with Russia racing Finland for the bronze, and if it's half as exciting as today, it will be a great advertisement for the sport. Shame it's out of the Olympics...