After a glorious victory for Israel in the men's event, the women's fleet got underway at 14.22, and was set to be every bit as tense as the preceding men’s final race 11.
Sailing a windward/leeward course of two laps, all eyes were on the leading three contenders of Alessandra SENSINI (ITA), Faustine MERRET (FRA) and Yin JIAN (CHN) in the 26 nation fleet as the fought for the medals.
The battle opened on the start line, with the contenders keeping close, starting at the committee boat end. Hong Kong and France were sticking together, with Italy taking an excellent start staying to windward and keeping clear air, with a watchful eye on China, France and Hong Kong.
An early lead to Yin saw her lead the pack up to the first mark, with a narrow margin over Faustine, with Alessandra sitting tight to windward in eighth, keeping her eye on the others. At the first mark, Norway and Argentina were taken out for an OCS.
At this point, France had the gold, with Italy and China tied on 33 points. However, on countback the silver would end up in the hands of China. Going into the first downwind leg, the fleet went left, with China retaining and extending her lead. Sensini turned on the pressure moved up a place overtaking Lanee BEASHEL (USA) and had her name on the silver medal. For Sensini she needed to jump up the fleet further to have a chance at the gold, and with just a one point deficit on Faustine, Sensini needed to move up another place, put herself in fourth to be on equal points with France, and take the gold on countback. But Sensini just couldn’t improve on her position, and as the remaining two legs of the race unfolded she dropped down the pack.
Faustine kept the pressure on, and whilst Yin continued to extend her lead over Faustine, so Faustine did over the rest of the fleet.
Going into the second windward leg, Yin still led, followed by Faustine and Lee Lai, with Alessandra down into seventh. The top three procession kept on right through to the gun, with Faustine MERRET (FRA) claiming the gold medal, Yin JIAN (CHN) the silver and Alessandra SENSINI (ITA) the bronze. How the positions had changed compared to this morning.
Whilst there was no doubt these three would take the medals, the colours were not determined. A race of a lifetime for Faustine who has become the first woman to ever win an Olympic medal in a woman’s sailing event for France. Ranked number one in the world and 26 years of age, the 2004 Olympic Sailing Competition was Faustine's first appearance at the Olympics and to walk away with a medal is an amazing result.
Yin JIAN (CHN) came into the 2004 Olympic Sailing Competition marked 25 in the world, and her silver medal is only the second Olympic medal in sailing claimed by China. Roll back 12 years, and the 1992 Olympic Games marked China’s first appearance on the medal podium when Xiaodong ZHANG claimed the silver.
A fantastic achievement for Alessandra to take the bronze, on what she has hinted is possibly her final appearance at the Olympics, but she will be disappointed to have let the Gold slip out of her hands. As defending gold medallist, Alessandra’s goal was the yellow disc – but there was still a smile on her face as she crossed the line to take the bronze.