Australia pockets Olympic Gold medals

  • Mon, 6 Aug 2012

Wins today by Tom Slingsby and Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen have made sailing Australia's best Olympic sport

Outteridge and Jensen

Yesterday was Britain's biggest day of triumph in the sailing Olympics, but today was Australia Day.

First, Tom Slingsby clinched his Gold medal in the Lasers, making up for all the hurt of Beijing four years ago when he sank to 22nd place. You can't jump in a Laser so Slingsby capsized his boat for joy instead.

His emotion was mirrored up on Slingsby Slope (so recently extinguished as Murphy's Mound), where the Australian supporters had gathered for what is turning out to be their country's most successful Olympic sport.

Then to crown the day Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen marmalised their opponents in the 49ers. It wasn't a medal race for them, but they were poised so many points ahead of their nearest competition that all they had to do was finish ahead of the New Zealand crew. And they did.

The pair can go into Wednesday's finale with a Gold medal assured simply by turning up and cruising round the course, should they so choose.

With the pressure off, Outteridge (26) and Jensen (24), boyhood mates who have raced together since they were nippers, sailed up into to Newton's Cove and grandstanded for their families.

Outteridge's Mum, Jasmine, Dad Tony, sister Haylee and brother Beau, together with Jensen's mother, Margaret, and other family stood on the shoreline and yelled. It was gone 5pm, the spectators had dwindled away and Newton's Cove had gone quiet again until Nathan's and Iain's folks filled the bay with their elation.

Theirs is a story of small town friends who are about to become Australian national sporting heroes. The pair grew up sailing from Wangi Wangi on Lake Macquarie, north of Sydney, and won their first national championship together in Flying 11s when Outteridge was 12 and Jensen just 10.

The families got used to travelling together. "I never had a Christmas holiday other than at nationals," says Jensen's mother. "And they were all long distance: Perth, Adelaide, Queensland."

Outerridge has been an all-rounder: he has won nationals in 29ers, Laser Radials as a youth and was 420 youth world champion when he had a car accident that nearly killed him in 2005. He might well have been a national competitor to Slingsby had he not had a serious accident as an 18-year-old.

He was driving from Sydney to Melbourne when he hit a tree. "The air bag saved him, but it burst his vertebrae and he was airlifted to hospital. He had extended surgery and he had to wear a back brace for six months. At first we didn't know if he would walk again," his father says with obvious emotion.

"He has three vertebrae fused together so he has restricted movement. The doctor said he couldn't sail Lasers any more."

The 49er, a twin trapeze boat, doesn't involve the kind of twisting, pumping style of hiking that's necessary in the Laser - think back to poor Paul Goodison's agonising back problems last week. So he and Jensen got back in partnership again and moved towards this Olympic campaign.

Theirs will be the most conclusive win of the sailing Olympics. They will be the only team so far, or maybe at all, to go into the nerve-jangling, soul-destroying medal race with Gold in their pockets.

What a day it will be on Wednesday for the 30-40 people from Wangi Wangi who have flown to the UK with such high hopes. "The town's empty," says Tony Outteridge. "They're all here."

It will be Australia's third Gold medal and it will make sailing, of all things, the country's most successful Olympic sport.

And still there may be more to come in the men's 470s and the women's match racing.

So should we be making this Australia Week?