05 August 2012 19:23

 WEYMOUTH - Cypriot sailor Pavlos Kontides is set to become the country's first Olympic medal winner next week after guaranteeing himself at least silver in the single-handed Laser class.

The 22-year-old shipping science student was ecstatic as he came ashore after the two final races in the pre-medal series.

"This has been the greatest day of my life," a beaming Kontides said on Saturday after scoring second position overall in the 10 races, behind Australian favourite Tom Slingsby.

Kontides, who took a two-year break from his studies at Southampton University, has a big enough gap over his nearest rival to ensure he takes home silver.

He is due to compete in the 10-boat deciding medal race on Monday and still hopes he can make his country's first medal as an independent sporting nation a gold.

"Mathematically, gold is still possible. I have to try," he said, adding that he would use Sunday's rest day to recuperate and focus on tactics.

A medal is no longer on the cards for Olympic Laser champion Paul Goodison who is in sixth position. With a points tally of 87 has no chance of repeating his success of four years ago. The Briton has been on painkillers due to a back injury.

One of the sailors battling for the bronze medal in the final race will Kontides' friend Tonci Stipanovic of Croatia, who will be out to beat Sweden's Rasmus Myrgren to make it a real celebration for the training partners.

In the medal race, which will last about 30 minutes, sailors are awarded double points. Slingsby goes into the final race with 25 points and Kontides with 39.

"He (Slingsby) needs to be in the top seven and keep me out of the top three," Kontides said.

As a result, the Cypriot sailor thinks his Australian rival may try to "match race" him - the sailing equivalent of a duel - on the tricky Nothe course, where the winds are fluky but spectators get a great view of the sailing.

"He (Kontides) has sailed so well all week. He's had some great comebacks and you can't count him out," said Slingsby.

Asked if he felt any pressure to win gold after a disappointing medals showing so far for Australia in the Games, Slingsby said: "I am not just trying to win it for Australia, it is for myself. To win a gold medal would be a huge relief."

Kontides, whose family are due to join him in Weymouth on Saturday ahead of the medal race, has made huge strides since landing a 13th position in 2008 in Qingdao.

He said he relishes the stronger winds that dominated racing during the early stages of this Olympic competition, but was not phased by the forecast of lighter breezes.

Kontides made the most of the local knowledge he has gained from living in Weymouth during the run up to the Games and from sparring with Stipanovic, with whom he shares a trainer.

The Cyprus Olympic Committee became a recognised Authority in 1978 and joined the International Olympic Committee in 1979.

The country sent its first team to Moscow in 1980, but it has yet to win an Olympic medal and had set a goal of taking one home in 2012. The 13-strong team includes four in athletics, two sailors, a cyclist, a gymnast, three in the shooting team (skeet), a swimmer and a tennis player.

In the women's Laser Radial the field is more open going into the class medal race on Monday, with China's Lijia Xu leading on equal points with Dutch sailor Marit Bouwmeester and only one point ahead of early fleet leader Annalise Murphy of Ireland and Belgium's Evi Van Acker.
(Reuters)


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