Tonci Stipanovic of Croatia and Tom Burton of Australia went into the Laser medal race at Rio 2016 knowing they were going to win a medal. The only question was what colour that medal would be.
Stipanovic had a handy 10 point lead over Burton, meaning the Australian had to put five boats between them to win Gold. In turn, Burton was 10 points ahead of Sam Meech of New Zealand, meaning Meech had the same equation as Burton – put the Aussie five boats behind him and Meech could win Silver.
However, as that was unlikely, Meech's attention was probably concentrated on Jean Baptiste Bernaz (FRA) who was nine points behind and Robert Scheidt and Nick Thompson (GBR) who were 10 points behind. Theoretically any of those three could win Bronze if Meech had a bad race and finished lower than sixth.
The wind had freshened slightly since the Radial medal race. And it was obvious from the beginning that Stipanovic was going to make life miserable for Burton. But Burton, possibly having learnt lessons from mentor Tom Slingsby on such matters, sheeted on, slipped out from underneath and put the Croatian in trouble with a well-timed luff. When the gun went Stipanovic was well below the line and had to do a turn for not keeping clear as the windward boat.
Meanwhile Burton had joined the back of the pack as they slogged upwind. At the top mark Juan Maegli (GUA) led Scheidt and Meech with Burton still in ninth but only 20 seconds behind and 30 ahead of the Croatian. His cause was helped by Pavols Contides having to do a penalty turn.
When Julio Alsogaray (ARG) was announced as OCS, Stipanovic moved up one place and made Burton's task harder.
At the gate it was Brazil, France, New Zealand first around and if Meech could get into the lead, Burton was in trouble for the Silver. As it was, he had only one place to spare.
At the second top mark Scheidt and Bernaz were keeping Meech in line and they were the first three around. Burton had secured his Silver by moving up to fifth but needed two more boats.
On the run it looked promising. He moved right to the stern of Maegli. The tracker showed him as fourth, five ahead and in Gold position. Stipanovic was hit with a pumping penalty, meaning he would not improve from ninth.
At the line it was Brazil, France and AUSTRALIA! Burton had the Gold.
Jake Lilley, preparing for the Finn final, sailed over to congratulate his teammate. Burton held the Australian flag, stood up in his boat and raised his hands to the sky. In a nice gesture, the Croatian coach boat also raced over to add their congratulations.
Disappointed to have lost the Gold, they nevertheless had Croatia's first sailing medal. Sam Meech of New Zealand had the Bronze.
Stipanovic was gracious in defeat, saying: “I am very happy with my Silver. Tom sailed very well all week so he deserved it, especially with my bad start.”
However, earlier in the interview he said the jury boat had got too close to the clinch in which he held Burton and he felt that the wake had helped Burton escape.
urton was understandably delighted with his win and grinned all through the interview. “I wasn't really going to engage that early (2 minutes before the gun) but he wated to have a go. There was a lot of talk (with his coach) in the last few days about catch and release and really it couldn'thave come off any better. It was nearly perfect.”
Describing his efforts to catch the fleet and get to the vital third place, he said, “It was so shifty, you can't go off on a blunder. There were tight lines and dirty wind (from the boats in front) but I just tried to chip away. I thought at one stage that Sam (Meech) could win and I would lose Silver but I knew I wasn't going to go from last to first. And I knew I only had to pass fourth by a metre…”
He also mentioned his battle for the Australian spot, when young WA sailor Matt Wearn put him under a lot of pressure, saying that had helped his boat speed and competitiveness.
Finally, he talked of the relief that it was over and of the sacrifices he had made, such as missing sister Alison's wedding, to be in perfect shape to win Olympic Gold.
Tonight there will be celebrations with family and friends.
Full results can be seen here.
– Roger McMillan in Rio.