On a day of paradoxes, Israel won their first Olympic Gold medal in any sport when Gal FRIDMAN did all that was asked of him in the final race of the series, whilst Nikos KAKALAMANAKIS (GRE), his CAS case going against him, brilliantly claimed the Silver medal.
Racing started on the final day in a light westerly breeze on course area B for the Mistral men. Sailing a simple W2 course so that it was easy for officials to shift if the wind became more unstable, there were only two recorded OCS's as the fleet pumped their way upwind. At the top mark it was Great Britain's Nick DEMPSEY who led the fleet when Italy, Germany and Switzerland were pulled out of the race at the top mark.
Dempsey required almost a miracle to pull into the Bronze medal position, needing one or both of the two sailors immediately in the results to have real shockers in the final race if he was to have any chance of pulling into the medals. Of course all he could do was sail his own race, try to win and hope things went his way in the battle behind him.
As Spain's Ivan PASTOR rounded eight seconds behind, a further three boards rounded before Gal FRIDMAN popped round in fifth place. It was a full 54 seconds before Ricard SANTOS (BRA), regatta leader overnight, rounded the top mark, and for Kaklamanakis, medal hopes were slipping out of his grasp as he rounded way down the fleet in 19 place.
Had the race ended at that point, Fridman was assured of the Gold medal from Santos, who was having a torrid time in the pack. Dempsey would have secured the Bronze medal by a full three points from Kakalamanakis in fourth. But the race didn't end there and down the first of two downwind legs Dempsy pulled out his lead to 12 seconds, but the action was all behind him.
Fridman was sailing in order to make sure of his Gold medal and his physical and mental strength showed through as he pulled up to second by the first leeward Mark. Kakalamakis began his comeback. Putting issues of the last couple of days behind him he set out to do all he could and by the first gate he'd already come back to 13 place. It was still not enough at that point however, and he was still fourth overall by a single point.
Pastor had regained his second place by the final windward ahead of Fridman. Santos dropped to 17 up the beat but it was so close that anything could happen down the final run to the finish, as Dempsey came in with a 30 second lead over Fridman.
That was enough to assure Fridman of a place in history as he claimed the first Olympic Gold medal ever, in any sport for Israel. The first person to congratulate him was Womenâ€™s team mate Lee KORSITZ, who last year became the first World Champion of Israel as she claimed the Mistral class at the ISAF World Championships in Cadiz.
For Fridman, this piece of Olympic history is fitting, he has made a fantastic comeback to top level windsurfing, after he stopped competing due to an illness just before the 2000 Olympic Regatta, instead turning his hand to mountain Biking. He returned to the windsurfing circuit after about twelve months and to his previous winning form, claiming the ultimate prize in December 2002 in the form of a World Championship title.
With only fifteen seconds between Santos and Kakalamanakis at the top mark, it was all to play for down the last run for the Silver and Bronze medals. Dempsey had done all he could and his medal hopes were in the hands of the Greek gods, or more importantly, Nicos Kaklamanakis.
With his almost mythical ability to produce last minute comebacks as the rest of the fleet is starting to fatigue. Kaklamanakis silenced his critics and made the Greek population proud as their ambassador and Olympic torch bearer pulled through to claim the Silver medal. ISAF, 25 August 2004, 13:39