Sunday, August 17, 2008

Great Britain Win Yngling Gold in First Ever Olympic Medal Race

[Source: ISAF] British sailors Sarah AYTON, Sarah WEBB and Pippa WILSON were crowned Olympic Champions in the Women's Keelboat event after winning the first ever Medal Race held at the Olympic Games.

The British team led around the course on a stormy Fushan Bay to win the first ever Medal Race held at the Olympic Games and with it the gold medal. The Dutch team of Mandy MULDER, Annemieke BES and Merel WITTEVEEN won silver, with Sofia Sofia BEKATOROU, Sofia PAPADOPOULOU and Virginia KRAVARIOTI of Greece claiming the bronze.

For AYTON and WEBB, 28 and 31 years old respectively, it is a second Olympic gold medal, after winning the same event in Athens four years ago with Shirley ROBERTSON at the helm. Following that triumph the team split, with AYTON taking over helming duties at the back of the boat. WILSON, a star from the British youth ranks, joined team team at the start of 2007 and since then they have risen to new heights winning back-to-back World Championship titles and a host of other major events. AYTON says today's victory was confirmation of the team's belief in themselves. "When we crossed the line, the three of us just looked at one another. I can't describe the feeling, because you just know that you're the best in the whole world at what you do," she said.

Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb and Pippa Wilson of Great Britain celebrate winning the Olympic gold medal in today's Medal Race. Qingdao, 17 August 2008. Photo copyright Juerg Kaufmann

"It has been a fantastic journey. It is so exciting with a little relief and, of course, loads of joy," added WEBB.

Following that triumph the team split, with AYTON taking over helming duties at the back of the boat. WILSON is the youngest member of the team aged 22. A star from the British youth ranks, she joined up with AYTON and WEBB at the start of 2007 and since then the team has risen to new heights. In 2007 they won the ISAF Sailing World Championships and won gold at the Worlds again this year.

In today’s Medal Race, conditions were completely at odds with the past seven days in Qingdao. In place of light breezes, an easterly wind of 15 knots, heavy rain and large waves made for an incredibly testing finale. However, AYTON explained they were conditions very familiar to the Brits, "The conditions today were quite Great Britain: big wind and big rain! We were quite prepared," she said.

Both British and Dutch, who were just one point behind in the overall standings, got away strongly at the start with the Dutch just holding the advantage. However, it was AYTON, WEBB and WILSON who led at the top mark although their rivals were just a fraction behind. The Brits pulled away downwind, lost one place to the German team on the second upwind but again showed their downwind speed to move back into first on the final run. They crossed the finishing line first, just seven seconds ahead of the Germans to win the first ever Medal Race held at the Olympic Games and in so doing claim the first Olympic gold medal in sailing of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

MULDER, BES and WITTEVEEN were an unknown quantity coming into the Games as the unique Dutch selection process of rotating nine crew around three different boats meant the final team for Qingdao had only been formed a few weeks earlier. They sailed superbly over the past ten days in Qingdao, but we unable to match the British crew in today’s heavier weather conditions.

The Greek team were ecstatic with their bronze medal success. Although they had BEKATOROU, gold medallist at the Athens Games in the two-person 470 dinghy, at the helm their inexperience in the boat meant they were not considered amongst the medal favourites coming into the Games. “We feel great for the 10 million Greeks back home. It's wonderful,” BEKATOROU exclaimed.

Germany finished second in the race, but it was the Greek team in third who were celebrating as their position ensured they had won the Olympic bronze medal. Australia came in fourth followed by the Netherlands, with fifth place good enough for them to secure Olympic silver.



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