Saturday, August 11, 2012
Spain wins dramatic sailing gold
WEYMOUTH, England -- It's a skipper's worst-case scenario, and it happened in the Olympics with a gold medal at stake.
Trying to earn the top spot on the podium in women's match racing, Australia's Olivia Price instead found herself being swept out of the back of her boat and into the big waves on Weymouth Bay.
Her crew had to gain control of their broaching boat and then pluck their skipper out of the water as Spain's Tamara Dominguez, Angela Pumariega and Sofia Toro of Spain sailed off toward match point.
The Aussie chances weren't totally swamped. Undaunted by the misadventure, they tied the match at 2-2 before making another mistake in the deciding race that allowed the Spanish to take the gold.
Back ashore, the 20-year-old Price couldn't help smiling. She and her crew hadn't been among the favorites coming in, and they're going home Australia's fourth sailing medal of these games.
"We're really happy with the silver," she said. "We really gave it our all and the Spanish sailed really well today. The conditions were quite wild. Yes I did get thrown overboard by a wave; it was quite a shock to the system, but we really didn't give up. We kept going the whole time. I'm really proud of how we sailed."
With the best-of-5 match tied at 1, the boats were sailing nearly side-by-side downwind in the third race when the Australian crew lost control and its boat rolled on its side.
"We rolled the Spanish to windward and the sea state was quite large," Price said. "One of the waves just picked the boat up and we Chinese gybed and I wasn't holding on quite enough and I just got swept straight out the back."
A Chinese gybe can quickly mean chaos.
"It's where the boat rolls into windward and you have no control of the steering because the churn just tips it around and it lays on its ear, so it's really not that pretty," Price said.
Curtis and Whitty not only had to get the boat under control -- its spinnaker had wrapped around the forestay -- but then slow down to pick up their skipper, who began swimming toward the boat.
Spain won that race by 1 minute, 1 second, but the 20-year-old Price and her crew won the fourth race to force a deciding match.
In another mistake, Price was assessed a penalty in Race 5 for a right-of-way violation and Spain sailed ahead to win the gold, leaving the Aussies with the silver.
The loss denied Australia a fourth sailing gold medal of the London Games. As it is, the Aussies' three golds are their best ever, and they finished with two more of that color than the host British. Britain led the overall sailing medals table with five, including four silver.
Price and her crew had won all 11 races of the round-robins to take the top seed going into the knockout rounds.
All three Spanish sailors jumped into the water in celebration after the finish, then had to swim after their boat. Their coach eventually tracked it down.
It was Spain's second gold medal of the regatta. Marina Alabau won the women's windsurfing.
"We are very, very happy," Pumariega said.
As for the Aussies' misadventure, she said: "It's not very good winning the point like this, but this is the game, the match racing."
The Spanish weren't the favorites, but they're the champions.
"Each race is going good, so why not be the Olympic champions?" Pumariega said. "It's a dream."
After tying the match 2-2, the Australians made another mistake in the final race.
Surfing across the waves on the downwind second leg, the Aussies nearly overtook the Spanish crew but Price didn't give Dominguez the right of way. The umpire boat flew a penalty flag and Price did a penalty turn, but apparently didn't complete it properly because the umpire boat continued to fly the penalty flag.
The Spanish boat sailed into the lead and held it across the finish line.
Price did another penalty turn just before the finish line.
Finland won the bronze medal after prevailing in an on-the-water protest hearing.
The Finnish crew of Silja Lehtinen, Silja Kanerva and Mikaela Wulff won the petit final 3-1, barely holding off the Russians at the finish line of Race 4.
The Russian crew of Ekaterina Skudina, Elena Siuzeva and Elena Oblova raised a protest flag during Race 4, apparently believing both boats were over the starting line early.
When the race ended, the two skippers, Lehtinen and Skudina, went to an umpire boat. After about a half hour of discussion, they returned to their boats while the umpires deliberated. The decision was relayed a few minutes later. The Finnish crew jumped up and down and waved a flag. The Russians sat dejectedly.
Protests usually are heard on shore, but this one had to be decided quickly in case Race 4 needed to be rerun.