After a mid-regatta scare when Tom Slingsby doubted his ability to win the Olympic gold medal he has hungered after for 12 years, he goes into Monday’s medal race needing to finish only seventh or better to tick the last box in his Laser CV.
Today he was totally dominant, leading both races from start to finish, to conclude the preliminary series with three straight wins and four wins overall.
However, the twenty-two year old Cypriot, Pavlos Kontides, will also write himself into the record books. It is unlikely he can put six boats between himself and Slingsby, to take the gold medal. But his 21 point lead over third-placed Swede Rasmus Myrgren means he is already guaranteed silver and will therefore become the first ever Olympic medallist from the tiny Mediterranean island.
Kontides did not feature on anyone’s radar coming into the Games. He was a two-time Youth World Champion and finished 13th in the Olympic Laser in Beijing, but most of us thought the challenge would come from Andrew Murdoch (NZL) or the defending champion Paul Goodison (GBR). However, Kontides deferred his studies for two years and became a full-time sailor, training with Tonci Stipanovic of Croatia and coming into the Games with a very clear goal of winning a medal.
But today was all about Slingsby. From races four to seven, the Gosford sailor had lost his speed edge and was getting engulfed in the pack. He turned that around in race eight yesterday, and in race nine this afternoon he hit the start line at speed, lifted clear and tracked to windward of the pack who had started on the pin. When the fleet came back together, Slingsby was up to third and he rounded the top mark in second, behind the Spaniard Javier Hernandez.
There was no change in the reach to the wing mark, but once they swung over onto the opposite gybe Slingsby took off and was never headed.
Australian supporters were counting the boats between the Australian and Kontides, and were disappointed when Goodison appeared to put the handbrake on and let the Cypriot through. Kontides was putting his heart and soul into the race, and pulled back from a dire position to finish seventh and minimise the damage.
The final race was almost a carbon copy of the previous one. With his aura restored, the fleet gave Slingsby clear water and clear air on the start line (no-one ever wants to start underneath him and risk getting gassed). Pointing higher and with better boatspeed, he quickly put a gap between himself and Myrgren and rounded the top mark 35m ahead. From there he increased the lead at every mark and was a distant 160m ahead by the finish line.
Kontides shows class
Meanwhile, Kontides had gone “troppo” several times looking for the miracle, but it didn’t come. He was good enough to get back into the fleet after putting himself in danger out to the right, and when Goodison again showed little interest in challenging him, he moved up to fourth behind Myrgren and Murdoch.
Slingsby applauded the Cypriot’s performance after the race. “I did everything I could do,” he said. “Pavlos had some really good come-backs today. I can’t control him so I did what I can do.”
With a rest day before Monday’s double points medal race on the tricky Nothe course, Slingsby on 25 points should take gold, Kontides on 39 points is guaranteed at least silver and there will be an interesting battle for the bronze between Myrgren on 60 points and Stepanovic on 61.
However, neither Slingsby nor Kontides is conceding that the gold medal is settled.
“The Nothe is the course where I had my worst result this week so I know how hard it is and I’m not going to get complacent at all. I’ll look at what I have to do and just concentrate on myself,” Slingsby said.
Pavlos said that being guaranteed at least the silver made this the most important day of his life. “Cyprus is on the medal table. Nothing is decided yet about gold. I know it is going to be hard but I have to give my best and fight for every point and every place. Who knows, maybe I will be able to win gold now a lot of pressure is off me now that a silver medal is guaranteed.”
Asked what he though Slingsby’s tactics would be he said, “I think Tom probably will match race me. For him to be sure he will win gold he needs to match race or keep very close to me. I need to think about that and think of some strategies and how I might be able to escape him and turn the tables.”
However, this scribe is not so sure that Slingsby will match race. In a fleet of only 10 boats where he has to beat just three of them, I wouldn’t be surprised if he just tries to get off the line well and use the superior speed he showed in the last three races to clear out and put the race beyond doubt.
We shall see on Monday.
- Roger McMillan
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