Topics: From the Wires
WEYMOUTH, England (AP) — “God Save the Queen” wasn’t as big a hit down by the seashore as a lot of people thought it would be.
Chants of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi, oi, oi!” were all the rage.
While host Britain topped the sailing medals table for the fourth straight Olympics with five, only one was gold.
The Aussies were ecstatic to finish with more gold medals than the rival British. The Australians had their most successful games regatta ever with three golds and a silver.
It might have been four golds if not for women’s match racing skipper Olivia Price getting washed overboard during the third race of the gold medal match against Spain on Saturday.
No worries, though. The 20-year-old Price and her crew came ashore with smiles on their faces, not having been projected to get that far.
It was “good on ya” every night at the Cove House Inn, the old stone pub with a stunning view of the English Channel that the Aussies took over to celebrate their accomplishments. The Aussies imported touches of home, including VB beer, Bundaberg rum and kangaroo for the barbie.
Tom Slingsby won gold in the Laser, Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen dominated in the Aussie-designed 49er skiff and Malcolm Page won his second straight gold in the 470, with skipper Mathew Belcher winning his first gold.
Britain’s only gold medal was nonetheless a big one. Ben Ainslie became the most successful sailor in Olympic history when he narrowly clinched the gold in the Finn class by holding off Denmark’s Jonas Hoegh-Christensen, who had led throughout the qualifying races.
Coupled with his silver medal from 1996, Ainslie surpassed Paul Elvstrom, who won four straight golds from 1948-60.
Otherwise, the British were relegated to silvers in the Star, men’s and women’s 470 and men’s windsurfing. The Star crew of Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson somehow managed to sail themselves out the gold medal in the final few hundred meters of the medals race, opening the way for Sweden’s Freddy Loof to win his first gold in six Olympics, along with crew Max Salminen.
The Aussies knew they had a strong team but played down their chances coming into the games.
In Sydney in 2000, the British won three golds and five medals in all, while the Aussies took two golds and four medals overall in their home waters.
“At the end of the day, it’s nice,” Australian team leader Peter Conde said about winning more golds than Britain. “If you think back to Sydney 2000, the Brits came and rained on our parade as sailors and went away as top nation, so I think it’s fitting that we return it in a smilier way.”
Aussie sailors and officials said the medal haul was the result of a plan implemented after the 2004 Olympics, when they sent three world champions to Athens and failed to win a medal.
Page, who’s retiring from Olympic sailing, was chosen as Australia’s flagbearer for the closing ceremony.
“It’s a perfect way to go out,” the 40-year-old Page said. “Sure this gold medal plan has been around for seven years. I do remember Athens very clearly. I was one of the athletes who failed there. So I think we’re really only starting to just get our momentum going. I think in four years time there’s no reason why we can’t be even a stronger team.”
After the failure in Athens, “we collected all the best brains of Australia in sailing,” said coach Victor Kovalenko. “We made a big brainstorm. We were following this plan before Beijing, we are following this plan now and we will follow this plan until Rio de Janeiro, with some corrections every Olympic cycle. … Our dreams, our Sydney dream, to be sport No. 1 in Australia and team No. 1 in the world now became reality.”
While the British team is heavily funded by the national lottery, Kovalenko said the Aussies used a “dollars-effective” plan based on donations.
“Each dollar we took from farmers, we took from fishermen and from workers, was working very well for Australia, for Australian sport, and especially for sailing,” he said.
Page said he and Belcher spent so much time training at Weymouth in the last four years “that we even understood the local accents.”
“I suppose when you get into a sport like sailing, you’ve got to come up one with Mother Nature, so we planned that we would spend a lot of time here in Weymouth to become local, so to speak,” he said. “I think we spent enough time here to say there was no reason why any team would have a local advantage over us. Sure we didn’t grow up here like many of the British sailors would have, or that they live here because it’s their training base, so we had to overcome that as a nation not being your home nation.”
The biggest shock of the regatta was the flop by the Americans, who failed to win a medal for the first time since the 1936 Berlin Games. U.S. Sailing President Gary Jobson said the Americans weren’t competitive in any class and promised an extensive review of the program.
It’s doubtful Ainslie will sail in a sixth straight Olympics. He’s off to head up Ben Ainslie Racing in the America’s Cup World Series beginning with a regatta Aug. 21-26 in San Francisco. He’ll sail with defending champion Oracle Racing in the 34th America’s Cup on San Francisco Bay in 2013. He’d like to head up a British challenge for the 35th America’s Cup and try to win back the silver trophy his countrymen lost in 1851 and have never won back.
Outteridge is skipper of Team Korea in the America’s Cup World Series. Slingsby will report to Oracle Racing in September, serving as a tactician. Percy is a tactician with Sweden’s Artemis Racing.
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