LONDON: After winning just one gold medal in the first week of the London Games, Australia is starting to show some of the form expected of the team from Down Under. Except that most of its Olympic gold medals are coming from competition on the water, not in it.
Friday, Mathew Belcher and Malcolm Page of Australia held off their British rivals to win the men’s 470 class, the country’s third on the English Channel at Weymouth, ensuring that the Australians will finish with more sailing golds than Britain.
“I suppose I am an old man now,” the 40-year-old Page said. “I have been campaigning in 470s for 15 years. To go out like this is incredible.”
Sailing is just about the only place where Australia is excelling, particularly over the host country. After surprisingly winning just one gold medal in the swimming pool – in a women’s relay – the games were an early disappointment for a team hoping to finish in the top five in the gold medal race.
They won’t achieve that, but gold medals to 100-meter hurdler Sally Pearson and cyclist Anna Meares, along with the triple gold performance from its sailors in the past five days have taken some of the sting out of what has been an under-par games for Australia.
Most depressingly for Australia, its seven gold medals overall have been dwarfed by the 25 – and counting – won by their traditional and often bitter sporting rivals from Britain. New Zealand’s Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie won the Olympic gold medal in the women’s 470 Friday, the Kiwis’ second sailing medal of the London Games.
Aleh and Powrie came into the medals race tied on points with the British crew of Hannah Mills and Saski Clark. The New Zealanders won the race while the British finished ninth and took the silver.
It’s the first gold medal for New Zealand in a boat with a rudder since 1984, when Russell Coutts topped the Finn fleet and Rex Sellers and Christopher Timms won the Tornado class. Coutts went on to become the most dominant skipper in the America’s Cup history.
The New Zealanders have been strong in windsurfing in recent Olympics, but until these games, they hadn’t won any medals in boats with rudders since 1992.
Aleh was inspired to get into sailing by Team New Zealand’s win over Dennis Conner in the 1995 America’s Cup, the first of three straight victories for Coutts. Coutts was CEO of BMW Oracle Racing when it beat Alinghi in 2010 to bring the America’s Cup back to the United States.
In the women’s 470 medals race, the British forced the Kiwis to the right side of the course because they liked the left side, but then the wind shifted. That put New Zealand solidly in the lead.