Over the past few months we have accumulated several interviews which for various reasons we haven't been able to get online - until now.
Today we have an interview and images from Tom Ashley's Gold medal winning final race in Qingdao at the 2008 Olympic regatta. We spoke to him just after the medal ceremony.
To recap, after leading By three points after race nine Ashley's lead in the vanished when he finished 32nd in the penultimate race of the RS:X mens event in the 2008 Olympic regatta.
Ashley had started well at the pin end of the line in that race but had stayed left emerging on the wrong side of a big 30degree windshift.
In a double whammy Ashley's nearest rivals turned in good placings and Julien Bontemps of France held the overall lead on 45 points while Nick Dempsey GBR and Ashley were locked on 46 points, and it all comes down to the double-points medal race. To complicate matters Shahar Zubari of Israel posted a 4th place in the same race and although nine points adrift of Ashely and Dempsey a medla was still a possibility for the Israeli.
Top five standings going into the medal race were: 1st FRA Julien Bontemps - 45 points; 2nd GBR Nick Dempsey - 46 points; 3rd NZL Tom Ashley - 46 points; 4th ISR Shahar Zubari - 54 points; 5th BRA Ricardo Santos - 65 points
The pressure was clearly on the New Zealander, who had finished 10th in the same event in Athens, but had lifted his game, winning the 2008 World Championship off Takapuna. He was assured of a medal in this event - any one of Gold, Silver, Bronze or Leather (4th place).
Qingdao that morning had been a fickle venue, as it was most days of the 2008 Olympics. Already there had been amazing scenes as the Jian Yin (CHN) had moved through the fleet to win the first ever sailing Gold medal for the host country. Since then the wind had lightened, and the Mens event would be a one lap shoot-out, taking less than 20 minutes.
As can be seen from the images of the race, Ashley started at the Committee boat end of the line along with Israeli sailor Shahar Zubari. His two main rival for the Gold medal, in fact any medal, Julien Bontemps (FRA) and Nick Dempsey (GBR) started at the pin end.
About 20 seconds before the start of the race, Ashley performed a quick gybe turn and crossed the start line on port tack at the committee boat end. SW:
When did you decide to be the port tack start? Was that a spur of the moment thing? Ashley:
: About 20 seconds out – it started to look pretty pear shaped on the line, and there were a lot of guys in a short line – so I definitely wanted to be in the same piece of water as those guys. But it’s pretty hard to come off the line in such a small space. That’s when I decided to go around behind Shahar and pump out on port, and then come back pretty quickly after that. SW:
Did you know the right hand side of the course was going to be favoured? Ashley:
:The right had been looking pretty good – since I got on the water, the breeze probably went 60 degrees to the right. So it was a huge shift. We didn’t know if it was going to go any further – but when that happens with the breeze, it often gets pretty unstable and there will be little pulses coming from both sides. SW:
What was the crucial part of that race? Ashley:
: Probably two thirds of the way up the beat I got a really good lane with some very nice waves on starboard tack, I took that all the way across to the port tack lay line and that meant I didn’t have too much to sail on port to get to the mark.
A couple of the other sailors got stuck, and a couple more guys crossed just behind me on port, but I was on quite a good lift and sailing quite fast in the increased windstrength. That was probably the turning point in the race. SW:
What were conditions like out there? It looked like some times you were stuck on the water and other times you just got and and planed – was that the story of the beat? Ashley:
:That’s the story of the RS:X in general. You've got to pump very hard to get it moving. You’re really really working hard to get it planing in those conditions. It’s a matter of managing your effort. You can choose to pump at a moderate intensity and go at a moderate pace, or you can back off and then go really hard.
In those conditions it often pays to relax a little bit and then give it heaps when you’re pumping. SW:
What was your strategy before the race today? Was it to go out and cover the three other sailors who were in line for the medals? Ashley:
: It’s all very well to cover them, but you’ve got to be in front of them first. I had to make sure I had a good start and a good first half of the first beat – and then regroup and come up with a better plan. I was looking to cover, but only if I had the opportunity to be in front of them. SW:
What was the break point in the series? Was it today’s race, or did that occur some time earlier in the regatta? Ashley:
: There’ve been a whole bunch of breakpoints. Definitely in the other guy’s series there have been more highs and lows than there have in mine.
Those other guys choose to sail taking a few more risks – that gets rewarded with race wins and also punished when they finish deep, occasionally. I was pretty steady the whole way through, and was able to take it easier yesterday (in the penultimate race when he finished 32nd) because of that.
(Ashley had more than a windshift go his way. the only one of the four medal contenders ahead of him at the first mark, Julien Bontemps (FRA), fell off his board just after rounding the first mark, letting Ashley through into third place, Bontemps was fourth (taking the silver medal) and Shahar Zubari (ISR) sailed the race of his life for second on the water and the bronze medal. Britain's Nick Dempsey was seventh in the 10 strong fleet. King Yin Chan (HKG) won the race, but that could only lift him to sixth overall.)
Our overwhelming memories of that day were the pirouette turn on the startline, and then the NZ emblem shooting across the fleet on starboard tack, doing two to everyone elses' one, as Ashley got both a good shift and a little more pressure and planed his way across the front of most of the RS:X fleet. Once around the windward mark, it was several minutes as the few Kiwi's that were on the water that day, had their hearts in their mouths watching the metres tick away until and exhausted Ashley crossed the finish line, and take the Gold medal for New Zealand. Good Sailing!
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