Silver for Barker and HiscocksGreat Britain's Ian Barker and Simon Hiscocks are Olympic silver medallists in the 49er class after shutting out the Americans, Jonathan and Charlie McKee, in a tense final race in yet more light and shifty conditions on Sydney Harbour.
Barker and Hiscocks were not among the medal favourites in the 49ers but they timed their run into Sydney perfectly, hitting form just when they needed to and finding a boatspeed improvement through a hard summer of testing and training, following their narrow win in the British trials in April.
From the first of the 16 heats here, it was clear they were on the pace and we knew from the way they handled going from first to 13th after sailing into a wind-hole in race one, that their mental preparation was on the button too. Barker and Hiscocks just carried on as if nothing had happened. They sailed consistently in their first Olympics and mastered the windshifts, wind-bends and tidal effects on the inner Harbour courses as well, if not better than, most of their rivals.
Most impressive was their seemingly effortless ability to keep their cool as the pressure for results increased during the series. After moving into third place mid-way through the regatta, the key day came on Saturday when they added a win, a fourth and a fifth to their score, while the Americans went seven, six and then 11th.
This dropped the McKees out of second place behind the gold medallist Finn crew and left the Britons in silver - so long as they finished within five places of the Americans in the final race. Slipping to bronze at the death would have been painful indeed and Barker had no intention of allowing that to happen. "Silver was very important," quipped Barker after the race, "with no disrespect to people with bronzes, I don't like the colour."
Initially things went well on an overcast day with the Britons applying a loose cover up the first beat in a ten knot north-easterly. But on the first run a small separation developed when Barker gybed for the gate earlier than the Americans. Up the next beat the USA were ahead and in better pressure on the right-hand side of the course. By the second weather mark it was suddenly finger-nail biting time as the McKees rounded first with Barker and Hiscocks down in bronze medal country in sixth place.
But things improved on the run as the Spanish - who started the race with an outside chance of edging the Americans out for bronze - took the lead and Barker moved back to fifth. A good last beat saw the Britons take one more place and at the finish they were third. The Americans, who won the race, could be said to have won the battle but lost the war. It was on the British boat that the celebrations were quickly underway with Stephen Park, the British 49er coach, furnishing Barker with a bottle of champagne.
"We had a bit of a job to do today but it wasn't amazingly difficult," said Barker afterwards. "We nearly made it look like that but generally I'm pleased. We sailed a very solid, consistent series not getting any bad results which, at the end of the day, gave us a good result."
Summing up the race, he said, "We just tried to get a clean start and we tried to start on the right-hand side of the Americans which we didn't manage to do, and then we just wanted to make sure we had a reasonable position. If they won, we had to be fifth, so as long as we stayed with them and kept a reasonable position, it was pretty unlikely they were going to (get silver)," he added.
While most sailors - even of Barker's ability - would have been happy with a silver medal, it would be fair to say that Captain Splash (a nickname he earned for the regularity with which he capsized in his early days in the 49er), was not ecstatic. He came to Sydney determined to win the gold and he might have done that had he not had that ill-fortune in race one. Barker has not finished with the Olympics and hopes to return - perhaps in a Star - at the next Games.
Overall, the 49er fleet made a good debut at the Games though the boats could have done with more breeze to look their best and the problems with the national flag-emblazoned spinnakers which saw them replaced after the first day, were a great pity. The gold for the Finns - former Laser world and European champion Thomas Johanson and crewman Jyrki Jarvi - was a surprise, but not half as surprising as the performance by Australia's Chris Nicholson and Daniel Phillips.
They went into the regatta as hot favourites for gold and just seemed to lose their heads completely as they rushed around the course banging corners left and right, desperately trying to win every race. Their first seven results tell as much of the story as you need to know. The three-time world champion in the class turned in scores of 11, 11, 1, 14, 1, 1, and 12th. To my mind his coaches failed to get him mentally prepared to cope
with the pressure of massive favouritism on his home ground, although it was also clear that the light conditions did not suit Nicholson.
The good news on the 49er course has kicked off what could turn into one of the greatest weeks ever for British Olympic sailing, with medal prospects ahead for Ben Ainslie in Lasers and Shirley Robertson in Europes (both of whom resume racing on Tuesday) and in Finns for Iain Percy. The Finns were racing on Monday on the tricky course just inside Sydney Harbour Heads and Percy did well to recover from a bad opening to the first race, which had him down in 20th position at one point, to finish ninth. In the second race he was back to his best when coming second behind Sebastien Godefroid of Belgium. After four races, Percy now holds a 10-point lead over defending Olympic champion Mateusz Kusnierewicz of Poland, with Godefroid third, three points further back.
On the same course Ian Walker and Mark Covell had a difficult day in Stars adding a 12th and a seventh to their score and are now sixth overall. Walker knows it is going to be tough to medal in such a high quality fleet. "Basically it isn't going to come easy," he told madforsailing. "We haven't got anything in hand so it's up to us to make the plays and from time to time it's not going to work."
In Men's 470s Britain's Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield have moved up from fifth to fourth position with just one race to come, following the disqualification from race 10 of the defending gold medallists, Ivan Braslavets and Igor Matvienko. Rogers and Glanfield are now just five points behind the Argentinian crew of Javier Conte and Juan de al Fuente, who hold the bronze medal position going into the last race of the series on Wednesday.