San San's bold tactics sink rivals

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 July, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 July, 1996, 12:00am

Lee Lai-shan's stirring gold medal-winning performance in the now-historic eighth race had as much to do with her brilliant tactical manoeuvring as physical strength and superior technique.

The wind speed was 8.7 knots, just above the minimum racing speed of eight.

Poland's Dorota Staszewska took the early lead heading towards the first mark with Lee, New Zealand's Barbara Kendall, the eventual silver medal winner, China's Li Ke, Norway's Jorunn Horgen and Italian Alessandra Sensini, the eventual bronze medallist, following close behind in a pack spread out over 150 metres.

Converging on the first mark in about 13 minutes, a fairly slow place, Lee knew she had to stay ahead of Kendall, who, at second place in the overall standings, was her biggest threat for the gold.

Heading towards the second mark, Lee planned on a favourable wind shift and appeared to be leaving Kendall behind.

As they approached the third mark, Kendall made the error of attempting to catch the wind wide to the right of the mark.

Lee chose a narrower route, as did Staszewska while Kendall, without windpower to push her, had to labour her board around almost 270 degrees to round the mark.

It probably cost Kendall the race as Li and Horgen had overtaken her by the time they reached the fourth mark.

Kendall, probably realising the gold medal was now out of reach, dropped a further place to Sensini to finish the race in sixth place.

Lee, who at times needed to pump aggressively to harness power, overtook Staszewska before the third mark in the most crucial part of the race.

'I knew I had the physical power and technique to overtake her,' said Lee. 'When I was lying second, I knew I had to stay there to win the gold medal.

'But I had not yet won a race in the series, so I decided to go for an outright victory.' Appel had planned Lee's assault on Olympic gold with precision. The team arrived in Savannah in mid-June - almost six weeks before the start of competition.

Apart from acclimatising to the conditions, much of the preparations involved getting to know the local weather. Much time was spent literally staring out to sea, checking the wave movements to get an idea of the general wind movements.

Savannah is known for its flash thunderstorms, characterised by a period of light winds which get increasing stronger as the storm approaches. So Lee had a pile of information tucked away in her head as she started competition last week. And as all of Hong Kong now knows, she used her knowledge to stunning effect.