Report from Weymouth: Aussies strike gold as Cypriot makes history

Australian Tom Slingsby, a sailor first inspired by Britain’s Ben Ainslie, struck gold on Weymouth’s Nothe course on Monday in a race that saw the island of Cyprus win its first ever Olympic medal, a silver in the same Laser class.

Slingsby, 27, from New South Wales, who has said he is retiring after these games, could have been a professional tennis player but took up Laser single-handed dinghy sailing aged 15 after being inspired by Ainslie’s duelling with Brazilian Robert Scheidt.

And it was these aggressive match-racing skills that saw him through to a gold medal today in strong winds gusting to more than 22 knots. The pair separated from the fleet after a pre-race battle of nerves that became a one-on-one tussle at the back of the fleet, on the opposite side of the course, with Slingsby eventually stretching a gap from his opponent.

Slingsby had gone into Monday’s medal race as the gold favourite after consolidating his place at the top of the leaderboard by winning both races on Saturday.

The four-time world champion was able to put to rest his disappointing result at the 2008 Beijing games.

However, it was 22-year-old Pavlos Kontides from the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, who made Olympic history for his country with the silver. He showed his dramatic improvement from his 13th placing in Beijing.

Before Monday’s final encounter, Slingsbu said he was worried about contesting today’s race on the Nothe course, where he had earlier sailed his worst race of the regatta. The Nothe course is notorious for its shifting winds and strong tides.

Rasmus Myrgren from Sweden started the race in third and took bronze after holding off Croatia’s Tonci Stipanovic to finish third in the medal race too. Myrgren’s second place in the second race on Saturday put him in third place overall, ahead of fourth-placed Stipanovic, who was second in the 2012 world championship and who scored consistent top 10 results in the regatta’s earlier stages.

Slingsby said earlier: ‘If I can win gold for Australia, all the better, but I am not just trying to win it for Australia, it is for myself. To win a gold medal would be a huge relief. This has been a long journey, with 12 years of preparation. It would be an Olympic dream.’

The Aussie champion, who has described his discipline as ‘like running a marathon while playing chess’, celebrated by leaping into the water from his boat in front of the capacity crowds on the ticketed area around the Nothe Fort. The Duchess of Cambridge was on a VIP boat at the finish gate to see him crown his sailing career.

Britain’s Paul Goodison, who had shown improvement in later races of the qualifying stages, took penalties for sail-pumping in the medal final. He finished sixth on Monday, and seventh overall.

In Monday’s earlier women’s Laser Radial, just one point separated the top four sailors in the class before today’s double-points medal showdown. The tense and tight final contest was between China’s Xu Lijia, Marit Bouwmeester of the Netherlands, Annalise Murphy of Ireland and Evi Van Acker of Belgium.

Despite a strong early showing from Ireland’s Annalise Murphy (who finished the medal race in 10th and the event overall in fourth), and much shuffling of race positions over the short course in front of the Nothe Gardens the gold went to China’s Xu Lijia, the Netherlands’ Bouwmeester took silver and Evi Van Acker from Belgium the bronze.