- 20 August 2008 | Windsurfing
Tom ASHLEY, also the reigning World Champion, sailed a near flawless Medal Race, finishing third to win a tight three-way contest for gold. It is the first Olympic gold medal in sailing won by New Zealand since Barbara KENDALL’s victory in the Women’s Windsurfer event at Barcelona 1992. Frenchman Julien BONTEMPS finished one place behind ASHLEY in today’s Medal Race to take silver, whilst Israel’s Shahar ZUBARI edged out Nick DEMPSEY (GBR) to win bronze, winning the first medal for Israel at this Olympic Games.
Since finishing 10th in Athens as a 20 year old, ASHLEY has matured into a world beater on the windsurfing scene, a status he confirmed earlier this year with World Championship success on his home waters in New Zealand. In a fleet in which many competitors have a big performance differential in different wind conditions, his all-round ability has proved crucial this week and brought him the Olympic gold medal.
"I've done it! It's the most incredible feeling and I can't begin to tell you how I feel right now," ASHLEY commented on returning to the boat park. ASHLEY, who is coached by Grant BECK (NZL), an instrumental figure the three previous medal wins of KENDALL, added that his Olympic success is the end of a long road, "I’ve been working toward this for so many years. It was an insanely tough Medal Race," he said. "The weather had a little bit of everything. I tried to sail as consistently as I could."
Yesterday ASHLEY had had his worst race of the regatta after getting caught on the wrong side of a big wind shift and finishing down in the 32nd place. That had dropped him from first to third overall, although he was still just one point off the lead and knew that if he could finish ahead of BONTEMPS and DEMPSEY today and not let ZUBARI get too far ahead, the gold medal would be his.
In a 7 knot southeasterly breeze, Hong Kong’s light wind specialist King Yin CHAN lead around the course with ASHLEY close behind him. ZUBARI didn’t get the best of start but revelled in the lighter shifty airs and flat seas - sailing conditions he loves. The young star, showed why he got the better of Athens gold medallist Gal FRIDMAN (ISR) in the Israeli selection trials for Qingdao, overhauling ASHLEY to finish second in the Medal Race and secure the bronze medal as DEMPSEY struggled further back.
"I feel so happy. I‘m only 20 and I feel like a superstar. I was lucky to have the wind on my side today. When I finished, I counted back and realised I had won bronze. I was crazy with joy," ZUBARI said.
BONTEMPS, who held the overall lead going into the race, didn’t get the best of starts, but unlike ZUBARI failed to pull through the fleet. However by maintaining a steady mid-fleet position and eventually crossing the line in fourth place he ensured the silver medal was his.
DEMPSEY meanwhile never recovered from a poor start and eventually crossing the line in seventh, dropping from second overall to fourth and out of the medals.