Two simple starting errors and a fall from the boat cost Olivia Price, Nina Curtis and Lucinda Whitty an Olympic gold medal at London 2012. But they made Spain’s Tamara Echegoyen work every metre of the way, and earned the admiration and respect of all Australian sailing fans.
Here’s how the day’s racing panned out:
Price had right of way, and dominated at the start until a simple error let the Spanish through. From there it was a game of catch-up. There was little contact on the first beat, but the Australians improved downwind to be 7m down at the bottom mark.
With the wind easing but the biggest swell of the regatta running, Australia closed on the second beat but at every cross there was still a huge separation.
Running downwind both boats were surfing, with first one surging and then the other. The gap was 34m and looked impossible to bridge, but a good surf and a surge and the impossible looked possible. Could Price pull another Houdini act like the one yesterday? The simple answer was “no”. The yellow flag went up on the finish boat and Spain led 1-0
The second race bore no resemblance to the first. Price won the start and led by 13m at the top mark after an uneventful beat. Spain was closing downwind, then Australia gybed and carried them out to the right. Again Price broke away and led by 30m at the bottom mark.
Upwind Spain tried throwing a series of tacks, but Australia covered. Coming into the top mark with both boats on starboard, Spain tacked first but Australia tacked well ahead and rounded 10m in front.
From there the Aussies just raced away, crossing 80m ahead. 1-1.
The third race was a cracker in the early stages, with Spain controlling the pre-start and carrying Australia well down to starboard. Australia broke the grip and with two minutes to go, headed back towards the line. There was a lot of circling and Spain was sitting on Price’s transom, but lost control and Price raced away to cross first.
They split from the line before engaging in a series of tacks. They would separate, come back together and tack, over and over, carving squares up the course. Australia led by 4m, then 5m, but near the mark Spain got the overlap and forced Australia wide, before tacking to the mark and rounding 14m ahead.
Australia hit their top speed, clawed back the gap, then disaster! Surfing down a wave at more than 12 knots, the boat broached, crash gybed and Olivia was washed from the boat. Nina Curtis frantically grabbed the tiller while Lucinda Whitty dropped the kite and their skipper swam quickly back to her boat.
Price climbed back on board but the damage was done. Spain led 2-1.
Perhaps Olivia Price was inspired to get the race over with, so she could get warm and dry. She attacked early, controlling the Spanish in the pre-start. They snuck out from under, but the Australians lifted off the line and more tacking duels ensued. Australia picked up a lift out to the right and went to a slight lead. By the top mark the margin was 12m, which quickly blew out downwind.
On the second beat, a loose cover was all that was required to deliver a 20m lead at the top mark, which increased to a 70m winning margin. Now it was 2-2.
In the vital last race, neither skipper was prepared to risk penalties and the early engagements were fairly mild. Both boats were sailed well below the line, with Price shadowing Echegoyen but not engaging.
Finally, both boats returned to the line and the Spanish won the race and the gold medal right there. Price mis-timed her run ever so slightly, the Spaniards hit it at full speed at the pin end and lifted 14m clear.
A series of tacks ensued, with Australia 7m behind each time the boats met and tacked away. As they got closer to the mark the tacks became shorter and so did the distance between. But Spain rounded 3m ahead.
The Spanish initially increased their lead, then Australia came back. They gybed across the stern, hit the front briefly but were carted wide by the Spaniards, who forced the penalty. Then it was all over.
With a clear 25m lead, very little tacking was done and the downwind became a procession, with Echegoyen crossing the line with a 100m winning margin.
Spain had won the match 3-2 and had its second gold medal, while Australia picked up its first silver. Finland’s Silja Lehtinen beat Russia’s Ekaterina Skudina for the bronze.
The ONLY girls have done Australia proud. Although I think the women’s skiff will be a more exciting class than match racing when it debuts at Rio in four years’ time, it is a shame that this talented young team won’t be able to sail for Olympic gold again.
- Roger McMillan