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London Olympics- That Finn Race - How the Bronze was Lost and Won

by Richard Gladwell on 9 Aug 2012
Dan Slater - Medal Race - Finn class 2012 Olympic Regatta. The offending camera mount of the stern of his Finn can be plainly seen © Richard Gladwell www.richardgladwell.com

The Medal Race for the Mens Heavyweight Singlehander (Finn) was probably the most watched race in Olympic sailing history.

A crowd estimated at over 30,000 were gathered on the Nothe, a natural horse-shoe shaped amphitheatre, just outside the seawall at Weymouth.

It s often said the top level sport is a study of people under stress, and this key race in the 2012 Olympic Regatta was no exception, from a number of perspectives.

The Main Event was a bout between three times Olympic Gold medalist, and the home-town hero, Ben Ainslie, and Jonas Hogh-Christensen (Denmark) who had been top of the leaderboard all week.

Ainslie went into the double scoring Medal Race, trailing the Dane by two points – meaning he had to finish one place ahead.

Behind the Main Event, the battle was all on for the Bronze Medal, with it being mathematically possible for one of the main protagonists to drop back, but unlikely.

Just one point separated two sailors J-P Postma (NED) and Ivan Gaspic (CRO) with Jonathan Lobert (FRA) in with an outside chance, but five points or three places in double points scoring Medal race terms. Vasilij Zbogar (SLO) was another place adrift.

Dan Slater (NZL) was at the front of the next bracket, and mathematically was an option for seventh at best. A position he wanted to retain.

In the end Slater became something of an unintended King-Maker for the Bronze medal.

In the Mixed Zone after the Medal Race had concluded, Slater reflected on a three Olympics career in the 49ers and two in Finns. A former ISAF Youth Champion in the Laser, Slater has campaigned a Finn since 2004.

'I made a lot of friends in the fleet and probably lost a couple as well,' was his opening line in the Mixed Zone, after probably sailing his last serious race in the 50 year old classic.

'The last thing I wanted to was to get involved in the race. I just wanted to be clear and let them do their own thing', he said referring to the duel between Ainslie and Hogh-Christensen.

Then he switched to the Battle for the Bronze. Slater was in second place approaching the sixth mark of the race, sailing downwind, with just a mark rounding to be done, and then head on a short reach to the finish line. P-J Postma was in third place with the Bronze Medal secure by one point – even with the Jonathan Lobert (FRA) gone for all money.

But the Medal race is about placings not margins.

All Jan-Pieter Postma, Silver Medalist at the 2011 ISAF Worlds had to do was protect his third place position, and let Slater go.

'What P-J did was super high-risk for very little gain,' explained Slater.

'He had a Bronze medal sewn up and he tossed away.'

'I knew the French had to win the race – he was gone - I couldn’t catch him. We could close up a bit but I couldn’t catch him.

'I just wanted to cross the line in second place. I had Rafa (Rafael Trujillo (ESP) ) just behind me. I had to beat him as we were on equal points. Daniel Birgmark (SWE) was close as well, and I had to beat him by a boat as well.

'We were in a race for second, and that was my goal.'

A few boatlengths from the final mark, the Bronze looked to be J-P’s.

'I had protected the starboard rights on him, and stayed on the inside of the mark, and he dived down the outside,' says Slater.

'I said to him 'Don’t have a go up at the mark, because I will take you out. Don’t do it because you have got a Medal.'

'He was red in the face, and it was going through his head as to what he was going to do, but he didn’t execute it properly. I didn’t luff him at all, I went up, but I didn’t do a hard luff at all. His boom hit the back of my camera mount. The whole world saw it.

'He did a penalty turn. We were well outside the three boat length circle. He went up to get inside me, by the mark.

'I pushed him up so I could gybe back into the three boats lengths and protect my position from there.

'He is a very, very good friend, and I am sorry for him.'

Postma’s error and subsequent penalty dropped him back to fifth place, with Lobert (FRA) winning and taking the Bronze medal, for the 2012 Olympics, by three points.

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