Shaw digs deep for bronze but Dempsey falls short

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The Independent Online

The medal charge by Britain's sailors tripped up today, but not before Bryony Shaw had lifted the tally to five when winning a hard-fought bronze in a windsurfer class in which the host country won its first ever sailing gold medal.

Nick Dempsey, who already has bronze from Athens, was expected at least to follow suit and was in a position to win gold. But, in a race that was over too quickly for him to recover, he posted a seventh and finished a hugely disappointing fourth overall. A fifth in the final race would have given him a second medal.

"I'm really happy that I did my best," said the 25-year old Shaw, who is already determined to bid for a second crack in four years on waters which are home for parents Brian and Hazel. "The colour of my medal was determined by the way the other girls sailed."

The race was eventually won by the 38-year old Italian Alessandra Sensini, who added the silver to the gold she won in 2000 and bronzes in both 1996 and 2004. She has more sailing medals than any woman in history. But nothing was going to stop the classically-featured Jian Yin, silver in 2004, whose third was enough to secure the top spot.

Shaw, watched by Sir Clive Woodward, had to dig deep on reserves of strength which had been sapped by 10 previous races and a double round of physically pumping the sail. It was brutal. "You are always digging deep, and it was a medal race," she said afterwards adding: "It's my job."

Dempsey, who is engaged to marry Yngling double gold medallist Sarah Ayton in October, said: "At the end of the day, you can't get it right all the time and that's racing. It's difficult when it comes down to one race and one lap. Now we are getting married, so life's not all bad." The couple plans a honeymoon in Scotland "Sarah's getting a dog, and then we've got Weymouth in four years' time."

The final medal races are due tomorrow for the Tornado catamaran, in which Britain's Leigh McMillan and Will Howden are out of the running despite making the top 10 double points run-off, and in the Star class there is everything to play for.

Three medals should be shared between the top four. Britain's Iain Percy, Finn gold medallist in 2000, and Andrew 'Bart' Simpson are second. Against them are the pair which has led the series almost from day one, Sweden's Freddy Loof and Anders Ekstrom, chasing them are Robert Scheidt and Bruno Prada of Brazil and the French pair of Xavier Rohart and Pascal Rambeau.

All four are former world champions, all four already have Olympic medals. "We hope we are getting better and we try to keep calm," said Simpson after a tricky final day of three fleet races which netted a first, a second and a sixth. "But it's tough on the brain and tough mentally trying to keep fighting.

"The only game plan we have for the final race is to win it. If we win the race, we've got gold. Anything else and you have to start looking round. You have to keep focussed on what you can do. We want to win."

The bronze from Shaw meant that Britain has surpassed its own target of four medals and that for three successive Olympic Games it has taken five home and been top of the medal table. One more tomorrow would mean a record. Something to celebrate, something to add extra pressure when it comes to defending a proud Olympic record on home waters.