by Lindsey Bell
Y2X0801 copy - 2008 Qingdao Medal Race
Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson have won Star class gold on a thrilling final day of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Regatta today, leaving Britain’s sailors with their best Olympic medal haul for 100 years.
Sydney 2000 Finn gold medallist Percy and Simpson, making his Olympic debut, went into the race two points behind Swedes Freddie Loof and Anders Ekstrom but with one eye also on Brazilians Robert Scheidt and Bruno Prada behind them in third.
In a nail-biting encounter, Percy and Simpson executed a tactically perfect race, the Swedes being forced to gybe on the first downwind run and the Brits edging their noses ahead, a position they refused to relinquish for the rest of the race.
At times, Scheidt and Prada, who had taken the race to the rest of the fleet and built a big lead on the first lap, appeared to threaten the gold, meaning Percy and Simpson not only had to stay ahead of the Swedes but also finish in the top six.
But as the Brazilians fell down the fleet, it became a straight head-to-head between Great Britain and Sweden and in a scintillating sprint to the finish line, Percy and Simpson surfed over the line in fifth place, with the Swedes 11 seconds behind in 10th for the gold to go to the Brits with a final tally 45 points overall.
Speaking immediately after the race, Percy, who also beat Loof to gold in Sydney, said: 'It was unbelievable, so special. We felt good this morning, I knew we weren’t going to bottle it and we didn’t. It’s been a killer four years and I am so glad it’s behind me.'
Simpson added: 'I’m shocked and over the moon. This week and this year have been so hard and there are no words to describe how happy we are. For the last year, everything has been focussed on this week, we’ve worked so hard and it is just amazing. We’ve pulled it back from the brink and it’s all come good for us.'
Loof and Ekstrom had to settle for bronze despite finishing on the same overall points – 53 - as Scheidt and Prada, the Brazilians snatching silver on account of them finishing higher up the fleet in the medal race than the Swedes.
Percy and Simpson’s is Britain’s sixth sailing medal of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games with Ben Ainslie (Finn) and Yngling trio Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb and Pippa Wilson winning gold on Sunday, Paul Goodison taking the top Laser prize on Tuesday, Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield clinching 470 men’s silver on Monday and windsurfer Bryony Shaw claiming bronze yesterday.
This surpasses the Brits’ medal total at the past two Games in Athens and Sydney where Britain won five medals apiece while the sailors’ feat in Qingdao mirrors the achievements of the British sailing team at the 1908 London Games.
It also means for the third successive Olympics, Britain finishes the regatta as the world’s top performing sailing nation.
RYA Olympic Manager Stephen Park was a happy man. 'It’s absolutely fantastic, I’m over the moon with the medals and the gold for the Stars is the icing on the cake.
'It’s a huge relief that we’ve actually managed to deliver against our target. I’m really pleased that Great Britain is having a fantastic Olympic Games and we’re playing our part in that.'
Park had particular praise for Star crew Andrew Simpson: 'He’s a brilliant sailor, I’m really over the moon for him particularly as he has spent the best part of his life as the understudy and playing second fiddle to Ben Ainslie and Iain Percy, two of the best sailors of their generation.
'But finally, he’s come out and he’s managed to add a little bit something to Iain Percy’s game and it’s fantastic that he’s managed to come away with a gold medal.'
Meanwhile, Leigh McMillan and Will Howden have finished the Olympic Regatta in sixth overall after romping to medal race victory.
The pair went into the final medals’ showdown in ninth position knowing that a medal was out of their reach.
But they ended their 2008 Olympics on a high, taking the Spanish boat of Fernando Echavarri and Anton Paz Blanco before the second mark and winning the race, 14 second aheads of the Canada duo Oskar Johansson and Kevin Stittle.
'It gives us some positives out of it and just shows really what we can do, and what our abilities are,' said McMillan. 'We’ve had a real tough week and just a few key races went against us and that was the difference between being in the medals and not at the end.
'It’s nice to actually come out and win the medal race, which is the main race, and also to show what the Tornados and catamarans are capable of doing in putting on a good show because they are incredible boats. Hopefully there’s the opportunity to get the multihull back in the Olympics for 2012 so we’ve got something to go for.'
Spaniards Echavarri and Paz Blanco won the title with 44 points, Darren Bundock and Glenn Ashby (AUS) finished with silver on 49 and Santiago Lange and Carlos Espinola (ARG) in third on 56. McMillan and Howden finished on 68 points.