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Tunnicliffe Wins Gold After a Come-From-Behind Finish

Aug. 19, 2008, 8:35 a.m. (ET)

In a race that was marked by lead changes and a nail biting finish, Laser Radial sailor Anna Tunnicliffe, 25, of Plantation, FL showed her true grit today after a slight wind shift propelled her from the back of the fleet to a gold medal.

With strong currents and the wind blowing from eight to 15 knots, Tunnicliffe found herself in ninth place out of 10 boats on the second leg of today's medal race. The wind was blowing out of the west, with shifty and puffy conditions, when Tunnicliffe spotted a shift before the rest of the fleet on the third leg. In a fantastic comeback, she moved from nearly last to second place, finishing 11 seconds behind Ginatre Volungevicuite of Lithuania with enough total points after 10 races to win the gold medal. The Lithuanian sailor, who won today's medal race, went on to take the silver medal while China's Xu Lijia took the bronze.

While Tunnicliffe was ranked as the number one Laser Radial sailor by the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) going into the Olympics, her motto of preparation and training kept her medal chances alive throughout the grueling regatta. "I have the confidence going forward and physically and mentally I am ready," Tunnicliffe said going into the Olympics. One of the tougher decisions prior to the Olympics, was the issue of weight as many of the U.S. Sailors dropped up to 20 pounds anticipating a light air battle. Tunnicliffe said at the time  that "I don't want to be too light because the Laser Radial becomes so overpowered in heavy air so although I am training for a light air race, I need to be ready for heavy air, too." As it turned out, the Qingdao venue offered up both 20 knot winds and 4 knots of breeze and Tunnicliffe prepared well for both.

For Tunnicliffe, her consistency over the long regatta gave her the gold. She said after the race that "This is phenomenal. It is absolutely unbelievable. This is my first Olympics and first medal. I've been wanting this for many years. It's a dream come true."

Born in England, Tunnicliffe moved to the United States when she was a young girl and learned to sail on the lakes around her home in Ohio. "I think that learning to sail on a lake teaches you a lot of patience," she said. "It teaches you to notice a slight change in the wind." As it turned out, that keen ability to spot a wind shift before the rest of the fleet was as good as gold.

Due to the fading, light westerly winds, the Tornado and Star fleets did not have their final three races of their opening series and will sail tomorrow instead. In the Star fleet, American John Dane III (Gulfport, MI) and his son-in-law Austin Sperry (Gulfport, MI) are currently in 12th place. In the Tornado fleet, Americans and Athens silver medalist Charlie Ogletree (Kemah, TX) and John Lovell (New Orleans, LA) are in the middle of the fleet and out of medal contention.

"After three years of training here in China we embraced the almost universal belief that this would be a light air venue. The big negative is that we simply made the wrong choice in choosing to race with our light-air gennaker, based on a weather forecast that never happened," Ogletree said. "Today we learned over and over and over again, a lesson that we've already learned a million times - no two regattas are ever the same and it's never like you think it's going to be."


Laurie Fullerton is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This feature was not subject to the approval of the United States Olympic Committee or any National Governing Bodies.