Slingsby starts Aussie gold rush

There’s an Australian gold medal rush going on at the seaside resort once favored by an English king.

Tom Slingsby of Australia won the London Olympics sailing gold medal in the men’s Laser class Monday by match-racing his closest competitor, Pavlos Kontides of Cyprus, to the back of the fleet.

A few hours later, as Slingsby was about to receive his gold medal in a harbor-side ceremony, the Aussie crew of Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen came ashore with an unassailable lead in the 49er skiff class.

To collect their medals, Outteridge and Jensen need to make a ”genuine effort” to start, sail the course and finish in the medals race Wednesday.

They said they’d do that, and plan to sail near their trans-Tasman mates from New Zealand, Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, who have an unbeatable lead for silver.

After crossing the line in ninth place in the Laser medals race, Slingsby, a tactician with America’s Cup champion Oracle Racing, capsized his boat in celebration. He couldn’t resist capsizing again a few minutes later, then waved the Australian flag at a big group of supporters watching from Nothe Fort, including his parents.

”It’s a bit cold, actually, now in hindsight,” Slingsby said after coming ashore. ”At the time, I didn’t notice at all.”

Later, he planned to down a few rums in the pub that the Aussies have adopted. Outteridge and Jensen planned to join him.

As far as national rivalries go, the Aussies could finish with more gold medals than the British.

Given their history as a British penal colony, the Aussies would love to dominate at Weymouth, which became popular after King George III spent several summers here, taking therapeutic saltwater dips in the English Channel.

”They usually get a few more medals than us, but in the past, we’ve had a few more golds. I reckon we’ll beat them in the medals table,” Slingsby said.

He and one-time friend Paul Goodison of Britain had a feud and don’t speak with each other. Goodison, the defending gold medalist, finished sixth overall.

”Anytime Aussies get up, we’re very happy,” Slingsby said. ”In the sailing regards, our guys are coming out on top so far.”

The British have one sailing gold medal so far, won by Ben Ainslie in the Finn class on Sunday. It was his fourth straight gold and fifth straight games medal overall, making him the most successful Olympic sailor ever.

The Aussies lead the men’s 470 class and are unbeaten in women’s match racing.

Slingsby had won all four pre-Olympic regattas in Weymouth as he aimed to better his 22nd place from four years ago.

”Last time I did everything I could to come away with a medal and I wasn’t even close,” Slingsby said. ”This time around I got the gold. I’m going home very happy, knowing that all the work was for something. It’s a great feeling.

”I’ve worked for 12 years to get here. I’ve put everything I have into it. And now I’ve done it. I couldn’t be happier.”

The Aussie came into the medals race leading Kontides by 14 points, leaving them the only two with a chance at the gold.

Slingsby got ahead of the Cypriot at the start and kept him pinned at the back of the fleet, making sure he couldn’t break free.

Slingsby said he watched the Star and Finn medals races Sunday, which were sailed on the same Nothe Course in shifty conditions. Britain’s Ben Ainslie had to fight to win his gold and the British Star crew lost the gold medal to Sweden in the last 200 meters.

”I saw how easily it can slip through your fingers,” Slingsby said. ”Today I was pretty brutal but I had to be. I knew Pavlos couldn’t lose second so I didn’t want to give him an inch all day.”

Kontides took the silver, the first-ever Olympic medal for Cyprus, the small island nation that started taking part in the games in Moscow in 1980.

”I feel really wonderful,” Kontides said. ”I guess when I have the silver medal around my neck and be back home, then all the celebrations will start, and I will really understand what I have done. It’s a historic day for Cyprus sport and for myself as well. I guess I wrote my name in Cyprus sport in golden letters.”

Outteridge and Jensen finished first and third in Monday’s races for a 15-race total of 45 points. They stayed on shore as long as possible to watch Slingsby’s race before heading out for their first race.

The Kiwi crew is next with 70.

The Aussies and Kiwis are friends and training partners.

”We’ll probably have a nice sail around with them and have a good laugh with them about the week,” Outteridge said, looking ahead to the medals race. ”Now it’s satisfaction for four years of work between the two teams and it sort of shows the work we’ve been doing has been paying off and we’re just going to enjoy every moment of it in front of the crowd.”

Four years ago, Outteridge and then-crew Ben Austin were in the lead in the medals race when they capsized not far from the finish, dropping them to fifth.

Once secured, the gold will be the first for Australia in the 49er class, which made its Olympic debut in Sydney in 2000. The 4.9-meter boat — or about 16 feet — is based on the Aussie 18s, or ”eyedeens” as they call them.

”To finally secure the medal is great for not just us, but the whole of Australia in general,” said Outteridge, who is skipper of Team Korea in the America’s Cup World Series.

In the women’s Laser Radial, Xu Lijia of China won the gold medal Monday despite having to do a penalty turn on the first downwind leg for rocking the boat. She was the bronze medalist in Beijing.

Xu finished nine seconds ahead of Marit Bouwmeester of the Netherlands, who took silver.

Evi Van Acker of Belgium took third for the bronze. Ireland’s Annalise Murphy finished fourth and failed to win a medal after winning the first four races, including three in which she led at every mark.

”I am proud of the gold, especially as I am in Britain, because Britain and European countries are good and I want to take this experience back to China so more can experience the beauty of this sailing,” Xu said.