Thrilling gold lifts GB to new heights

Britain started the best, with two gold medal victories, and finished the best by making it three in a row as top Olympic sailing nation. And Team GB bagged its fourth sailing gold medal of the XXIXth Olympiad when Iain Percy finally nailed his second Olympic gold, this time with his great buddy Andrew 'Bart' Simpson, in the Star, two-man keelboat.

Back at the dock, the rest of the team, including the man who started the gold rush, Ben Ainslie, was there to greet them, and throw them in the water, along with Olympic manager Stephen Park, who has guided the whole operation.

Both Percy and Simpson, who have sailed with and against each other since they were seven, were understandably in exuberant mood with even the normally laconic Percy close to tears after a thrilling final race, one of the best in Olympic memory, in which fortunes swung hot and cold.

No more so than for the Swedish pair of Freddy Loof and Anders Ekstrom, who started the race in the gold medal position, finished it last of the 10 and not only conceded the gold but were pipped for the silver by Brazil's Robert Scheidt and Bruno Prada on an equal points tie-breaker.

Scheidt's girlfriend, Gintare Volungeviciute of Lithuania also won silver in the Laser Radial.

"I don't know how many times the overall winner changed today, but we knew we could do it," said Percy. "This is the big one, this is the one that matters, so there was no fun and games. It's been like that all week, absolutely head down. We came here to do a job, we knew we could do it, we've known all along because I think we've got more talent onboard than anyone else, especially with this fellow next to me."

Percy paid full tribute to the contribution Simpson had made to the success. "This guy's been at the last two Olympics supporting me, giving up all his time for free. And he's done the same for Ben. To do it here with your best mate of 25 years means that, compared to the last medal, which was the most important moment of my life, it pales into insignificance. Just doing it with the big fellow here is everything."

Waking up to the wind and rain had been good. "We're Brits and we're built for that stuff. We just wanted to get out there," said Percy who added: "As for 2012, we'll be there, we'll be there."

The total haul of six exactly replicates the tally 100 years ago, when Britain also won four golds, a silver and a bronze, hosting the 1908 London Olympic Games sailing on the Solent. Then, though, Britain had more than one boat per class and so won more than one in a couple of classes.

The four golds, one silver, one bronze are a modern era record and edges even higher the success rate which brought five medals in both 2000 and 2004. "The secret is the people," said Park, always known as Sparky. "If you've got good people who are driven to win and you've got adequate funding to do it then there's no reason why you shouldn't succeed." Now, he added, it was time to get ourselves in our house, close the doors and let our hair down a little.

What might be the last time they are seen in an Olympic final was a nostalgic affair for the Tornado catamaran. They were introduced to the Olympic Games in 1976, when the boat's designer and builder, Reg White, won the gold medal.

As sailing was told it had to reduce its medal events from 11 to 10 for 2012 there was a massive political fight ahead of the decision to drop the catamaran. The decision was met around the world with a mixture of dismay and disdain and Britain's Royal Yachting Association has been one of those leading the fight to keep catamaran sailing in the Olympics.

The final decision will be made at the International Sailing Federation's annual general meeting in Madrid in November and one of the flanking moves would see the restoration of the 11th medal event.

The British duo of Leigh McMillan and Will Howden went into the medal race knowing that they had already blown their chances. An earlier 12th 13th and 14th had made that mathematically impossible. But they went out in style, winning handsomely in the blustery conditions and lifting themselves three places to a respectable, if still disappointing, sixth overall.

The Spanish, with Fernando Echavarri, who now moves on to skipper one of the movistar boats in the Volvo Ocean Race, and Anton Paz sailed carefully to give no chance to the Australian silver medallists Darren Bundock and Glenn Ashby to spoil their party while the Argentinians, Santiago Lange and Carlos Espinosa were fortunate to hang on to the bronze when Germany's Johannes Polgar and Florian Spateholz were ahead but hit a lump of floating wood, smashed a rudder, and capsized.

The Tornados also featured the only mixed crew in the race, but Carolijn Brouwer and Sebastien Godefroid did not make the cut. Representing Brouwer's native Holland was the Spain-based Australian Mitch Booth. With Pim Nieuwhuis as crew, he came fifth.

Listen to Olympic competition manager Qu Chun tell Stuart Alexander of a big future for sailing in China