by Bob Fisher
Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson start in the Medal race of the Star class
An off-the-cuff prediction on this website yesterday read: 'With decent breeze the Star medal race could be the thriller of this Olympic regatta.' The facts bore this out completely. There could not have been a better thriller and it all hung on the last leg with medal places changing all the while.
The decent breeze materialised – officially 12 knots of south-easterly, but reckoned to be a couple of knots stronger – and the men’s keelboat was fully powered up to give the crews a tough ride. With very, very little difference in the speed of the boats, any difference was due to sailing technique, reading the shifting winds and to managing the waves – the ideal conditions for sailboat racing.
With a weather going tide, the fleet was wary at the start, and none more wary than Freddie Loof (SWE), who with Anders Ekstrom, was in the gold medal seat. Loof was shut out at the committee boat by Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson (GBR) who were two points behind in the overall standings.
Loof tacked immediately that he could clear the bows of the committee boat and set off to the right with Alonso Domingos (POR) and Marc Pickel (GER). Percy played the middle while Robert Scheidt and Bruno Prada (BRA) favoured the left hand side and led by five seconds from Hamish Pepper and Carl Williams (NZL) at the first mark. Behind them were Switzerland and Portugal before Loof and Percy went round together.
Downwind, pushing large quantities of water aside and surfing frequently, the technique of those used to these conditions bore fruit. Scheidt held his lead but Percy was next followed by Loof with Xavier Rohart and Pascal Rambeau (FRA) right behind them.
On the next beat, Percy was covering every move of Loof, mainly out to the right hand side of the course, but the wind shifted to the left and new faces emerged at the front. Mateusz Kusznierewicz and Dominik Zycki were first to the final mark with Flavio Marazzari and Enrico de Maria next, ahead of the Portuguese and the Germans. Scheidt was back to fifth, Percy was seventh and Loof last of the ten.
Percy needed to improve downwind to clinch the gold medal and Loof needed to be out of last and within six places of Scheidt to score the silver. The last few minutes of the run were breathtakingly tense as the pattern began to unfold. Scheidt’s and Percy’s downwind technique, honed by years of single-handed dinghy sailing proved to be the telling factor.
While the current world champions and 1996 Finn gold medallist retained the lead, Scheidt, the 2007 world champion and multi-Olympic medallist moved to third behind the Swiss.
Pickel was next and then three boats hit the line almost abreast and it was Percy, nearest the port end, who was fifth and this gave the 2002 world champion the gold medal.
Loof could not improve from last and this dropped him from the gold medal place with which he had started the medal race to level points with Scheidt and on count back gave the Brazilian the silver and the Swedish skipper the bronze.
It took a few seconds for the British pair to realise that they had captured the big one, but then fists punched the air in delight.