Emotional Nacra gold for Argentina, first ever sailing medal for Croatia

Associations, Sailing, Sports — By on August 16, 2016 at 11:52 PM

The Rio 2016 Olympic Sailing CompetitionAfter a shaky weather forecast and a fear of lack of wind, the Pão de Açucar (Sugarloaf Mountain) course delivered some excellent conditions for four nail-biting Medal Races.

The oldest man in the competition, recently recovered from cancer, won a gold medal. Croatia won its first ever Olympic medal in sailing. And that’s just the start of it.

Mixed Multihull – Nacra 17

Santiago Lange and Cecilia Carranza Saroli (ARG) have won gold after a heart-stopping Medal Race in the Nacra 17 Mixed Multihull. Jason Waterhouse and Lisa Darmanin (AUS) took silver and bronze goes to Thomas Zajac and Tanja Frank (AUT).

The Argentineans made hard work of the Medal Race, picking up a penalty early on to round the first mark at the back. But, they fought back to third by the top of the final lap, only to incur another penalty for sailing too close to the Austrians. After dropping the gennaker and taking their 360 penalty turn, Lange and Saroli rallied to cross the finish in sixth place, just seven seconds ahead of the Italian team.

It was a crucial seven seconds that gave gold to Argentina by a single point from Australia. The young Aussies crossed the finish behind the New Zealand team of Gemma Jones and Jason Saunders (NZL), but more importantly finished ten seconds ahead of the Austrians who crossed for third place. Australia and Austria were tied on points, but silver goes to Waterhouse and Darmanin for their superior finish in the Medal Race.

Looking back at that extraordinary race, Lange commented, “We started the Medal Race with an unfair penalty because the British didn’t give us room to dodge the Australians. It was hard but we have sailed here many times since November when we came to live here. The wind was unstable, I saw it and I was quite sure how to do things, others were wrong. We sailed an incredible race.”

It has been an extraordinary Games for Lange, at 54 the oldest competitor in the sailing competition at Rio 2016. He has had the pleasure of watching his sons, Yago and Klaus, represent the nation in the 49er skiff, and he has survived cancer in the past year.

The Rio 2016 Olympic Sailing CompetitionLange says the rigours of his sport helped to save his life and return to competition after he lost half a lung to cancer just a year ago. His hectic schedule led to diagnosis of the disease, he said, while the experience of five Olympic campaigns, winning two medals along the way, was key in keeping him positive through his ordeal and returning for a sixth challenge.

Lange, with crewmate Carlos Espinola, won bronzes for Argentina at Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 in the now discontinued two-person Tornado class event before combining with Saroli (ARG) in 2014 in the Nacra 17 mixed class, a new addition to the Olympic sailing schedule at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Plans were suddenly placed on hold in 2015 when Lange was diagnosed with cancer and eventually he had half his left lung removed. “The six months I was dealing with that, I was so positive,” Lange said. “Now when I look back it was a good experience, difficult, but I learned a lot. I was operated on in Barcelona and after five days I was cycling, in a month I was back sailing.”

Lange was reluctant to dwell too much on his cancer episode. “This may help to give strength to many people who are going through what I’ve been through. But I prefer to focus on what we did athletically. The disease has nothing to do with it, it was a stone in the road. I became obsessed with getting to Rio very well prepared and we did.”

He was also reluctant to focus on his age. “I am a firm believer that you carry your age in your heart and in the desire to do things, not in the numbers. I do not look at the number of your age, only the desire I have for my goals and to achieve them.”

Men’s One Person Dinghy – Laser

Tom Burton (AUS) has won Olympic gold in the Men’s One Person Dinghy after a tense pre-start battle with Tonci Stipanovic (CRO). Even if Stipanovic let gold slip from his grasp, he has still won Croatia’s first ever medal in Olympic sailing. Sam Meech (NZL) took bronze.

With the Australian being the only sailor who could threaten Croatian gold, Stipanovic engaged Burton in an aggressive duel before the start. However, the match racing tactic backfired as the Australian turned the tables on his rival, with Stipanovic given a 360 degree penalty by the jury for failing to keep clear of Burton.

The Rio 2016 Olympic Sailing Competition“I wasn’t really going to engage especially with four minutes to go,” said Burton. “There wasn’t much point but he wanted to have a little bit of a go so I was just seeing what I could do. You just needed something to come off late so if it happens with two minutes to go it’s not really effective so you do your penalty and it’s over. We had a lot of talks the last two days about catch and release. Get a penalty and make it back for the start and it couldn’t have come off any better. It was perfection nearly.”

Stipanovic was a long way last off the start line and had to play catch-up during the race. Burton was near the back too, and Meech was looking to capitalise on the situation with the New Zealander threatening Australia for the silver. However, Burton moved through the fleet to finish third across the line while Stipanovic never recovered from his bad start.

Robert Scheidt (BRA) may not have succeeded in his quest for a record sixth Olympic sailing medal in front his adoring home crowd, but the 43-year-old still gave the spectators on Flamengo Beach something to cheer about as the Brazilian legend sailed across the finish in first place. He had finished fourth overall, four points off a medal.

The new Olympic Champion Burton concluded, “A few days into the regatta I thought I was out of it. I had a bit of a bad day and some tough situations but the amount of hours I put into it, the things I sacrificed like my sister’s wedding, I didn’t go to the Opening Ceremony and it’s all worth it now.”

Women’s One Person Dinghy – Laser Radial

Marit Bouwmeester (NED) has won the Laser Radial gold medal that eluded her four years ago. Silver went to Annalise Murphy (IRL), a sweet reward after finishing an agonising fourth place at London 2012. Anne-Marie Rindom (DEN) took bronze.

It was a tense Medal Race in light and fluky airs on the Pão de Açucar course in the shadow of Sugarloaf Mountain. Bouwmeester looked to be in a good position during the early stages, but a big split developed in the fleet after the top of the final lap, and the Dutch and Danish contenders were dropped to the back. They could only watch as Murphy and the other front runners sailed away and across the finish line more than a hundred metres ahead.

It was so close between the front five boats on the final run, there was a chance the Irish sailor could steal gold from the Netherlands. But Murphy crossed the line in fifth, yielding the Olympic title to Bouwmeester. With Rindom back in eighth, Murphy had done enough to take silver. All three sailors celebrated and every one of them looked delighted to have emerged with a medal from perhaps the toughest sailing venue ever seen at an Olympic Games.

The Rio 2016 Olympic Sailing CompetitionBouwmeester now has the gold to go with the silver she took in London 2012. It was a tense moment for the Dutch sailor wondering if she’d done enough for gold. “I didn’t know who finished first when I crossed the line and Annalise looked so happy celebrating and I was like, ‘Do I have it? Do I not have it? I think I have it but I’m not sure.’ I didn’t know – but now it feels so unreal and I am very happy.”

Murphy said, “I don’t know what to feel, I’m really happy, a bit shocked and I don’t think it’s going to sink in for a while. Marit’s been sailing so well for the last eight years, she deserves the gold. It’s an incredible feeling and I’m just so happy that I’m able to turn my fourth in London into a second here.”

Rindom admitted, “I have a little bit of mixed feelings because it was not my best race but in total I’m very satisfied with my results. This was the goal from the beginning and now I made it. So of course I’m happy.”

Heavyweight Men’s One Person Dinghy – Finn

Giles Scott (GBR) had already wrapped up the Finn gold medal before contesting the Medal Race today, but Vasilij Zbogar (SLO) secured silver, the third Olympic medal of his career, while Caleb Paine (USA) sailed a great race to clinch bronze on the Pão de Açucar (Sugarloaf Mountain) course.

All ten competitors had a shot at winning a medal of some colour, so close were the points going into today’s finale. The exception was four-time and reigning World Champion Scott whose 24-point buffer made him unassailable for the gold medal. Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic (CRO) started the day in bronze medal position but the American Paine went better in the moderate winds to finish first across the line, which gave the ecstatic American the medal by a comfortable margin.

Scott said, “It was great to be able to go out and enjoy that race today. The 17th place on day one on the Sugarloaf course was not the way I wanted to start the regatta and it wasn’t until day three or four that I started to believe that the gold was in my grasp. Winning four World Championships is great, but this is one that everyone wants and everyone remembers, so now to have an Olympic gold is a great feeling.”

Zbogar commented, “I feel relieved. I feel relieved that it’s over. It just went well. I was only dreaming of it one week ago. I feel very happy because it’s in a different class. The first two were in a Laser, this is in Finn. I am by far the oldest sailor in the Finn and this result is even more meaningful. My body is a bit old and I was struggling over the last few years and I continue pushing all the time. Fortunately, my mind is still 20 years old and I pushed every race as much as I could.

“I managed to survive the week and I just wanted to be in with a challenge of a medal. I had nothing to gain in the race, I had everything to lose, as Giles had gold. There was a small chance I could lose it. I knew I couldn’t push too much but I did anyway. Second place for me is something unbelievable.”

After USA left London 2012 with no medals, Paine has brought an end to the medal drought for this great sailing nation. “It’s pretty awesome, it’s been a pretty tough regatta and to be able to come away with a medal at the end is a great feeling. It was a tough push and a hard Medal Race but fortunately enough it makes it easier when you hit the right shifts off the bat and I just had to make sure I didn’t mess it up. I was fortunate to establish a lead right ahead of time and let everyone else make mistakes and I sailed the best race I could.”

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