George Gautrey thought his Laser world championships might have been over three days ago when he dislocated his knee but today claimed a bronze medal in a tense finish to a dramatic week.
It rounded off a fantastic regatta for the New Zealand squad, with three finishing in the top 10 - Sam Meech was fourth and Tom Saunders 10th. There was a distinct Antipodean flavour to the leaderboard, with Australian duo Tom Burton and Matt Wearn finishing first and second respectively.
Gautrey's bronze medal is his first at a major senior regatta and follows on from the promise he showed as a youngster when he won silver at the 2015 youth sailing world championships. But it very nearly ended prematurely when the 21-year-old dislocated his knee during a "bad tack" and needed to pop it back in three days ago.
"I considered it might have been over when I dislocated my knee but I got in and spoke to the physio and she was pretty confident," Gautrey said. "After having a day off hiking with a couple of light-wind days, it felt good today when I tried to hike on it. I think if it had been breezy for the last three days it could have been different.
"To come away with a medal is pretty awesome but, for me, it's more about building from this and taking what I have learned to the next regatta. By no means is this the end goal.
"To win a medal here against the world's best is pretty awesome but when you look at the results on the last day I think about 15 boats could have medalled. To put myself under pressure and come out on top is pretty exciting."
It was all on the line in the final race after Meech won the penultimate race and Gautrey was second. Burton had effectively sewn up gold but only two points separated the next four sailors, which included the two Kiwis.
Wearn quickly staked a claim for silver, eventually finishing fifth in the final race, leaving Gautrey and Meech to battle it out for bronze.
"I came out today and had a really good first race and in the second race was about ninth around the top mark and looking good for third overall but George came out of nowhere and caught me on the run and passed me on the second beat, which is fantastic for him to get on the podium," Meech said. "I'm a bit disappointed to get another fourth but my consistency is still there and, if fourth is the worst regatta I'm going to have over the next two years, I'll be pretty happy.
"I had an up-and-down regatta. I had some really good moments in qualifying and then had fantastic starts in all of the gold fleet races, I just couldn't convert them into good races. I was actually falling back in the races, something I'm not used to. Hopefully I will be feeling it a bit more at the Olympic test event [next month] and go a little better."
Saunders has had a difficult year by his standards but is feeling more optimistic about his future despite struggling on the final day with a 32nd and 17th.
"Yeah, that hurts," he said. "It just wasn't my day today. From a personal stand point I’m gutted but to have three Kiwis in the top 10 and George on the podium is pretty cool. It shows the depth to our squad and awesome support team behind us here in Japan and back home.
"I thought I had the right game plan today and put myself in what I thought was a good position in the first race but it just wasn’t to be. I’m excited for the future. I feel like I’m starting to sail well again and the confidence is back so I’ll go home, reset and keep working hard."
Results and standings after day 6 of the Laser world championships in Sakaiminato, Japan, yesterday (156 boats):
1st: Tom Burton (AUS) 2 (21) 4 4 3 4 8 2 5 13 14 (51) - 59 points
2nd: Matt Wearn (AUS) (13) 7 3 1 2 1 19 18 (30) 1 6 5 - 63 pts
3rd: George Gautrey (NZL) 2 2 3 7 4 (53 BFD) 4 (38) 13 23 2 9 - 69 pts
4th: Sam Meech (NZL) (12) 7 2 2 1 1 17 8 (39) 21 1 12 - 72 pts
10th: Tom Saunders (NZL) (21) 5 10 7 3 4 15 11 18 6 (32) 17 - 96 pts
83rd: Josh Armit (NZL) (38) 27 18 26 32 22 32 21 24 23 10 (39) - 235 pts
143rd: Luke Deegan (NZL) (47) 40 36 33 43 35 37 (50) 36 39 37 - 371 pts
- Pic: George Gautrey's ninth in the last race was good enough to claim the bronze medal at the Laser world championships in Japan. Photo: Junichi Hirai / Bulkhead Magazine.