Almost certainly one of the finest sailors I have ever met won a bronze medal crewing in the 5.5 Metre class for Robin Aisher at the 1968 Olympic Games in Acapulco. I can remember being told whilst hanging around the yacht club as a young kid, in whispered tones…”you know, he won a bronze in Mexico” …and to me it was magical. A bronze medal. Wow. There’s something classy about that.
Whilst the headline writers obsess with Gold, and in the UK with such a fabulous Youth and Olympic dinghy programme we have almost come to expect the shiniest of medals from our athletes, the bronze is still a magical, remarkable thing to win and something that forevermore can be cherished and looked back on with pride.
And so it was today for the brilliant Emma Wilson in the RS:X Women’s Windsurfer who scooped the bronze out on a shifty, difficult, patchy course in a race with more twists and turns than the Suzuka F1 Race Track. Emma looked dead and buried off the line and at the first mark but when behind, do what the best do and bang a corner on the next beat – and she did, trailing out hard left and getting back into the race, incredibly rounding the final windward mark in second place.
However, she was in familiar company and it was fitting that the outstanding trio of Wilson, China’s Yunxiu Lu and France’s defending Olympic champ Charline Picon going into this Medal Race should all finish in the top three ahead of the field. Picon took the race win and the silver, Wilson was runner up to secure bronze and Lu came in third – enough to secure Gold.
Emma has every right to feel chuffed at that result. It’s a medal at the Olympic Games – just think about that – and it was all smiles as the three leapt into the water to cool off, gathering around for the inevitable photo shoot after a seriously hard bout of pumping and core strength depletion, into the waters of Enoshima Harbour. Classy stuff.
Unfortunately it wasn’t to be for Tom Squires in the Men’s RS:X but the medal contenders did their best to open the door with the committee RIB ominously flying up the course flagging first Poland’s Piotr Myszka for being OCS followed by bronze medal contender Mattia Camboni from Italy and then on the second upwind leg, the man in silver, France’s Thomas Goyard.
A desperate wait ensued for Goyard as the race unfolded and he was forced to leave the course as the young 22 year old Israeli Yoav Cohen eked into the lead and then extended whilst China’s Kun Bi worked out the mathematics and realised that a bronze medal was within his grasp if he could finish fourth.
A second place would have displaced and relegated Goyard but with the sublime talent of guaranteed Gold medallist Kiran Badloe on the course seemingly cruising at will into second place in the Medal Race, Kun Bi settled and secured fourth to take an unlikely bronze at the death. Goyard looked mightily relieved but silver was his. Pressure sailing. The Olympics is hard.
Elsewhere, and unseen in the coverage on Eurosport at the time of writing, was Giles Scott smashing in yet another race win in the Finn – his fifth in the regatta – and taking a massive six point advantage after eight races completed. Any way you choose to look at this, it’s a brilliant, devastating, classy, outstanding, Gold-medal-deserving series that Scott is putting together here and if the shiniest of medals is to be his, the rest of the fleet will be looking on knowing that it’s thoroughly deserved and hard earned. Amazing performance.
And equally, in the Men’s 49er fleet, the Kiwi geniuses of Pete & Blair (they don’t even need surnames now) are cruising to the podium, eight points clear going into the Medal Race. It hasn’t been easy. It’s not a cakewalk. But it’s consistency and sheer brilliance that is lifting them ahead of Dylan Fletcher and Stuart Bithell who have it all on to defend silver against the Spaniard Diego Botin Le Chever.
My guess is that in the slimmed down fleet, Pete & Blair are nigh on untouchable and will cruise the Gold – the battle now is for the second and third rungs of the podium. Awesome display from the Kiwis yet again – is there anything more for these two to achieve?
The dye is rapidly becoming cast on this Olympic regatta. Medals are being won and the super-talent has risen. What makes a champion is a conundrum, an algorithm if you like, wrapped up in opportunity, dedication, sacrifice, raw talent and hours upon hours spent on the water honing technique combined with innate intelligence and a sense of the sea and the conditions.
Many have it in bursts, but very few have the complete package and that’s what defines the Olympic sailing medallists. It’s a club guaranteeing immortality. Your name is inscribed forevermore in the history books and forty years from now, those with a Gold, Silver or Bronze, it really doesn’t matter, will be the subject as the wide-eyed kid is told of your endeavours.
As Oscar Wilde said: “Anyone can make history. Only a great man can write it.” And history is being written by these fabulous Olympians – heroes all.