Australia wins 3rd gold in Olympic sailing, still well short of expectations

Dennis Passa, The Associated Press

LONDON - After winning just one gold medal in the first week of the London Games, Australia is starting to show some of the form expected of the team from Down Under.

Except that most of its Olympic gold medals are coming from competition on the water, not in it.

On Friday, Mathew Belcher and Malcolm Page of Australia held off their British rivals to win the men's 470 class, the country's third on the English Channel at Weymouth, ensuring that the Australians will finish with more sailing golds than Britain.

"I suppose I am an old man now," the 40-year-old Page said. "I have been campaigning in 470s for 15 years. To go out like this is incredible."

Sailing is just about the only place where Australia is excelling, particularly over the host country. After surprisingly winning just one gold medal in the swimming pool — in a women's relay — the games were an early disappointment for a team hoping to finish in the top five in the gold medal race.

They won't achieve that, but gold medals to 100-meter hurdler Sally Pearson and cyclist Anna Meares, along with the triple gold performance from its sailors in the past five days have taken some of the sting out of what has been an under-par games for Australia.

Most depressingly for Australia, its seven gold medals overall have been dwarfed by the 25 — and counting — won by their traditional and often bitter sporting rivals from Britain.

In a later race at Weymouth, Australia's trans-Tasman neighbour New Zealand won gold in the women's 470 class. Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie clinched the Kiwis' second sailing medal and fourth overall.

At a murky Serpentine Lake in London's Hyde Park, Ous Mellouli showed his versatility in the water, winning the 10-kilometre open water race less than a week after taking bronze in the 1,500 in the Aquatic Centre pool, the first swimmer to achieve that feat at the same Olympics.

Mellouli had a time of 1 hour, 49 minutes, 55.1 seconds. It was the second gold of Mellouli's Olympic career, having won the 1,500 at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Under sunny skies and another glorious weather day in the English capital, officials from organizing committee LOCOG also had bright news. The 210,000 who attended events at Olympic Park in east London on Thursday brought the total games attendance to 7.3 million overall, including 2.3 million at Olympic Park.

In doping news, the IOC says French runner Hassan Hirt has been sent home by his team.

French daily L'Equipe reported that Hirt tested positive for the blood-booster EPO in a urine sample taken during training in France on Aug. 3. Hirt was eliminated from the men's 5,000 metres on Wednesday when he finished 11th in a first-round heat.

International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams says it did not have details of any doping offence.

And the IOC formally stripped American cyclist Tyler Hamilton of his gold from the 2004 Athens Olympics and reassigned the medals after his admission of doping. Adams says the executive board notified Hamilton on Friday that he has been disqualified from his victory in the road race time trial.

His gold medal will now go to Russian rider Viatcheslav Ekimov. American Bobby Julich will be moved up from bronze to silver, and Michael Rogers of Australia from fourth to bronze.

Later on the Olympic track, a night after Usain Bolt and David Rudisha thrilled 80,000 at the Olympic Stadium, Tirunesh Dibaba will try to do the same.

On Thursday, Rudisha lowered the 800-meter world record and Bolt completed the 100-200 sprint double for the second straight Olympics. Now Dibaba can repeat her Beijing long-distance double by adding the 5,000 gold medal to the 10,000 title she won a week ago.

The world record holder from Ethiopia's most likely challenger is Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya, who was third in the 10,000 last Friday and is ranked No. 1 in the world this year over 5,000 metres.

Jamaica's 4x100-meter relay team will run in the heats, likely without Bolt, but its women's team can add to the tiny Caribbean nation's medal tally in the final of the sprint relay.

Double amputee runner Oscar Pistorius finishes his landmark first Olympics in the men's 4x400-meter relay, a race he feared he had missed out on when a Kenyan runner knocked over South Africa's Ofentse Mogawane on the final bend in the second leg of the race.

The women's field hockey final features the world's top two teams, defending champion the Netherlands and world champion Argentina. The match at the Riverbank Arena comes on Argentinean captain Luciana Aymar's 35th birthday and she says it will be her last match before retirement.

BMX finishes its short but explosive Olympic program with the finals for men and women and plenty of crashes expected on the bumpy track if Thursday's mass-start heats are anything to go by.

"I know our sport and we race so close to each other," said Raymon van der Biezen, the Dutch rider who established himself as gold medal favourite by winning all three of his heat races. "I am glad that I did not crash today, but that could have been the case as well, because you've got to be a little lucky."


Mike Corder contributed to this report.