Spain won the women’s match racing gold on Saturday after Australia lost their skipper overboard in the most dramatic racing conditions of the two-week Olympic sailing regatta.
Olivia Price, 20, slipped from the back during a tacking maneuver in winds of up to 27 knots during the third of five head-to-head races with Spain, costing Nina Curtis and Lucinda Whitty valuable minutes as they hauled her back on board.
In any other Olympic class, Australia’s mishap would have meant a capsize, but the heavy 6m Elliot keelboat stayed upright.
Last year’s European champions — Tamara Echegoyen Dominguez, Sofia Toro Prieto Puga and Angela Pumariega Menendez — won the deciding fifth race for Spain by a clear 100m for a gripping 3-2 finale to the sailing competition.
Spain went into the tournament unheralded, but finished third in the qualifying round-robin series then won their semi-final against Russia on Friday.
The 28-year-old Echegoyen Dominguez had predicted a tough five-race tussle with Australia.
“I think all the races will be close,” she said.
Explaining her success against more experienced teams, she said: “I think the secret is that we have sailed with great concentration and calm, and I think the favorites have the pressure.”
Their coach Toni Otero told his team to “treat it as a training day” as they prepared for the fifth race.
They led throughout the decider to bring home Spain’s second sailing gold. Their first came in the women’s windsurfing RS:X class last week.
The women’s match racing was the only event in which each nation raced against the other in a round-robin series to decide the top eight qualifying boats for the knockout final rounds.
Twelve countries took part in the 66-match series, with Australia winning all 11 of their opening matches.
The women’s Elliott 6m high-performance keelboat was making its last appearance as an Olympic class.
The women will take up the 49er FX, a comparable boat to the men’s 49er, at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.