After the depredations of its oarsmen, the host nation had hoped to give new lustre to its maritime heritage by taking both the first gold medals at the regatta in Weymouth yesterday. But they have been doing this kind of thing for a fair while in Scandinavia, too, as Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson were reminded in a heart-breaking denouement to the Star series.
Eight points clear of Brazil entering the medal race, the Beijing champions needed only a top-four finish to guarantee gold. But while they soon had their main rivals under control, they were set an unnerving new challenge as Sweden, third at the start of proceedings, separated at the start and bolted into a carefree lead.
Even then, sixth would have been enough for Percy and Simpson, and they were still fifth at the final mark.
Suddenly, however, the cheering spectators on the Nothe began to wonder whether the home boat might pay for what seemed a conservative strategy.
As it happens, their own convenience was probably as much to blame, the course having been laid out in the lee of the peninsula. Either way, they looked on aghast as Percy and Simpson slipped to eighth in the final yards.
Initially uncertain as to their fate, Percy hung his head in his hands as their doom was officially confirmed.
Both men seemed exasperated that so momentous a race had been staged with such fitful traction. "We had to sail in ridiculous conditions at the end," Percy said. Primarily, though, they were aggrieved to have disappointed such an enthusiastic crowd.
"We're hurting so much inside but getting those roars from the crowd is about the only thing which can put a smile back on my face," Percy said. "It was really sweet. They were so kind. We felt we had let everyone down. It does feel devastating right now. We got it wrong.
"It is gutting but we sailed well all week. In hindsight, we made too many mistakes in terms of reading the wind-shift. We have to take it on the chin.
"There's a big luck element. We can't blame anyone but ourselves, but at the same time we were really proud."
Sweden's Fredrik Loof and Max Salminen, having endured a similar ambush in Beijing, claimed redress with due alacrity. "We knew the other guys were under more pressure and stress than us," Loof said. "So we really had nothing to lose."Reuse content