Giles Scott (GBR) has assured himself of gold after another brilliant performance that leaves him 24 points clear at the top after the fifth day of racing at the Rio 2016 Olympic Sailing Competition. Vasilij Zbogar (SLO) is second, 13 points ahead of Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic (CRO). Once again, Rio’s challenging conditions provided a mixed bag of results, with several sailors picking up high scores. There is now just the medal race to sail.
With no clear form through the fleet apart from Scott and Zbogar, it was always going to be a scrap to the finish, with the points around the medal race cut off very, very close. For the fifth day in a row it was all change once again.
After a long postponement, first ashore and then afloat to wait for the wind, Kljakovic Gaspic started his day leading round the top mark in race 9, in very light winds. He was passed on the second upwind by race 1 winner, Facundo Olezza (ARG), who maintained the lead, by mere seconds, all the way to the finish. Alejandro Foglia (URU), who had rounded the top mark in 15th, finally found his speed to cross in third.
Foglia then went on to win Race 10, started in slightly more wind, after overtaking Scott on the final downwind. Caleb Paine (USA) had rounded first but dropped to fourth while Ioannis Mitakis (GRE) ended the race where he started, in third.
To make sure of the gold today, Scott had to gain three points on Zbogar. In the first race of day, he looked to have opened out a nice margin, only to loose ground on the second upwind and finish just one place ahead. But the margin had increased to 18 points and most of his other rivals had high scores.
So in the final race, Scott just had to finish more than two boats ahead of Zbogar to win the gold with a race to spare. For a while Zbogar was right behind Scott, but a few errors on the second upwind let Scott escape, and the gold was gone.
Meanwhile Olezza followed up his race win with a seventh to climb back in to the top 10 again. A last place for Jake Lilley (AUS) in race 9 initially dropped him out of the medal race, after going into the day in third, but after Pieter-Jan Postma (NED) was disqualified from race 10, Lilley gains one point to overtake Ioannis Mitakis (GRE), and was back in the medal race.
In addition, both Paine and Max Salminen (SWE) have closed on the top and are now within striking distance of the podium.
Asked what it meant to him to win the Olympic title, a normally unemotional Scott said, “I know what it meant to me because of the way it made me feel towards the last stages of that final race. I just found myself welling up and in tingles as it slowly dawned on me what I'd done. I wouldn't put myself down as the emotional sort but I had a little cry to myself, which I like to think I don't do that often. Just the emotions that come out of you in that situation you can't prepare yourself for. It's been amazing.”
"When we put the campaign together after London, Matt [Howard], my coach and I we decided that we wanted to campaign flat out. We weren't going to go soft in any regattas and everything we went to, we wanted to win and win it in style.”
"That approach is great but it does put a target on your back. Especially two or three years out that target inevitably gets closer as everybody ups their game. To have been able to maintain that gap enough into the Olympics with a race to spare - it gives great justification to those decisions earlier on.”
A clearly exhausted Zbogar commented, “It was a really difficult day, really stressful because the wind was up and down. Puffs of wind were all over the race area and it was impossible to predict, so very tough mentally. I tried to be conservative playing the middle, and I lost a few places there in both races. But at the end I think I managed to have two good races, which was really good in these conditions.”
“In the first race if there were not the big waves, it would have been easy sailable, but the waves made it almost impossible. It was up and down and was a bit of a lottery at the end. And many guys were ahead and in a few moments lost everything.”
Foe the first time in the regatta, Kljakovic Gaspic has moved into a podium position. “The first race was quite light, but for me was regular. There were big differences in the downwind in pressure and positions so it was not easy to sail. I was lucky being extended on the front so I didn’t have this headache, but for other guys it was quite tough.”
“The second one was tragic for me. I was just getting extra points for nothing and making my life more complicated that it should have been. Right from the start everything started to get complicated and when racing gets complicated it’s never good. And then the wind picked up and distances got that much bigger and it got harder to recover. On the second beat I went on the left side to get more pressure and it didn’t come, and lost even more places.” He finished 13th.
“But at the end of the day I am still in a good position. I need to sleep and relax and get ready for Tuesday.”
Scott still must sail the medal race, but the result is irrelevant. He cannot be beaten. Mathematically, any boat in the top 10 can win a medal, but that would need some letter scores. Zbogar is almost secure for a medal. To lose a medal, he would have to be last, with Paine or Max Salminen (SWE) winning. Kljakovic Gaspic in third, is just five points ahead of Paine and Salminen, so the question is will he attack for silver or try to defend the bronze?
The medal race is scheduled for 13.05 on Tuesday 16 July. It might even be on TV, if you are lucky.
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Results can be found here.