David and Krystiane Price must have no fingernails left. Watching their 20-year-old daughter helm the Elliott 6 in super light airs against the experienced Finn Silja Lehtinen, with a chance to sail for an Olympic gold medal the prize, Olivia must have given them heart palpitations.
In the first race, Price had the advantage of coming in on starboard tack and was dominating the pre-start. However, she was forced to let the Finns out from under and when the gun went, the Australians went right and the Finns went left.
When they came back together, Finland was in front and it became a drag race up the first beat. A few desultory tacks and it was round the top mark with Finland holding a comfortable lead. And that’s the way it stayed, despite some more tacking and gybing, all of which was well covered.
In the second race, the tables were turned. Lehtinen had the starboard advantage and quickly put a penalty on the Australians, but it was Price who won the pre-start after breaking away and catching Finland a little too far off the transom.
Once in control, the Australians were ruthless. Price sailed the Finns almost into the pin, then peeled away in total control. The boats split and came back, split and came back, seven times in total. At the top mark Price still had control. She spun the boat around and raced away downwind, extending the lead.
From the bottom mark it was a drag race, with the lead so great that Price could combine do the penalty turn and still come out in the dominant position, simply rounding the mark and racing downwind to the finish.
It was 1-1. A glance at the scoreboard showed that Ekaterina Skudina (RUS) and Tamara Dominguez (ESP) were also 1-1. It was already going to be a long day, and then the wind died.
After a long delay, the final race looked like a disaster for Price. She was on the Finn’s transom, doing circles, hassling well but then Lehtinen forced her over the line and she had to recross. This let Finland away and despite some close crosses they held a decisive lead at the top mark.
The conditions were very light and going downwind, Curtis and Whitty were crouched forward near the mast. They pulled alongside but Finland gybed away. All six women were moving very slowly and carefully around the boat, avoiding sudden movements. The Elliott 6s glided slowly towards the mark.
There was no overlap at the bottom, and Australia was forced to tack away on port. The boats would separate, come back together and separate away, always with the Australians to the right. They closed but couldn’t get the overlap.
Around the top mark there was almost no wind at all. Price gybed, went to one side then the other, trying to steal the Finns’ wind. Finland held.
Coming into the line it looked as though Australia could lay it, but they gybed then Finland gybed. There was nothing in it as the two boats ghosted towards the finish… then the blue flag went up. Australia had won!
With no time left to sail the next two races, Price Curtis and Witty were declared the winners and will race Tamara Dominguez of Spain for the gold medal tomorrow.
- Roger McMillan