Iain Percy’s four-year campaign to defend his Olympic sailing title ended in what must have seemed the blink of an eye, the gold medal slipping through his fingers just moments from the finish.
The Hayling Island Sailing Club ace and his crew Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson were in gold-medal position at the final turning mark of their Star class medal race decider, cheered on by thousands of spectators lining the Nothe shoreside in Weymouth.
But the tricky wind conditions were to prove fateful.
Having successfully fended off the threat from their closest challenger for gold – the Brazilian duo Robert Scheidt and Bruno Prada – the British pair knew they could not let the third-placed Swedish team put more than five other yachts between them on the water.
The Swedes, Fredrik Loof and Max Salminen, had led from the start and as Percy helmed his boat around the upwind mark for the third and final time, with only the four-minute run to the finish, he was in sixth place and on course for his third Olympic gold.
Then an increase in wind pressure on the other side of the course pushed two more boats ahead of them, dropping them to eighth and a silver medal behind the delirious Swedes.
Percy, who used to live in Emsworth, said: ‘It can be cruel – it feels it at the moment.’
Clearly unimpressed with the arbitrary windshifts on the Nothe course, he added: ‘That’s the problem, you end up racing in ridiculous conditions but we got it wrong.
‘It’s pretty gutting, we feel a bit robbed but we will have to take it on the chin.’
Despite the last-gasp disappointment, the British pair were cheered and applauded as they sailed past the viewing area.
‘Just going past the spectators, we were hurting so much inside,’ said Percy.
‘So to feel they are still happy for us, it will be one of the highlights of my life and the only thing that could put a smile on my face.’
Ben Ainslie, meanwhile, faced similar challenge in his Finn class medal race.
And he secured gold – his fourth along with a silver – to make him the most successful Olympic sailor of all time. The Hampshire ace also faced two opponents who could have spoiled the party.
But he aggressively pursued his main threat – Denmark’s Jonas Hogh-Christensen – and kept him under control throughout.
Pieter-Jan Postma of the Netherlands, however, was at one point up to a gold medal-winning position before slipping back.
France’s Jonathan Lobert took bronze. Ainslie, who announced this would be his last Finn campaign, was thankful to have come out on top.
Elsewhere, the 49er duo of Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes are third with two races to go before their medal race.
Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark lead the 470 Women’s class with six out of 10 races sailed and their male counterparts Luke Patience and Stuart Bithell are second at the same stage.
Windsurfer Nick Dempsey lies second ahead of his medal race tomorrow, while Bryony Shaw is seventh with a shot at silver.
Paul Goodison is out of contention for a medal ahead of his Laser medal race today, as is Alison Young in the Laser Radial.
Britain’s match racing trio face Russia in their quarter-final pairing.