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Tactical brilliance brings Burton gold

AAP logoAAP 16/08/2016 By Paul Mulvey

From Rio's Flamengo Beach, where his family and supporters watched hundreds of metres away among the flags and umbrellas, the gold medal winning move was a speck in the distance.

Out on Guanabara Bay, Burton had just out-smarted and out-sailed Croatia's Tonci Stipanovic at his own game.

Burton went into the Laser medals race needing to finish five places ahead of fleet leader Stipanovic to clinch the gold.

After 10 preliminary races over the past week, he had enough points to guarantee himself a bronze and was likely to win silver.

But he wanted gold, even if he rated his chances "one out of 10".

Stipanovic made it clear at the pre-start he was planning to remove Burton as a challenge and attacked the Australian as they jockeyed for position.

Burton wasn't going to engage initially, but saw his opportunity, nicked inside the Croatian and forced him to touch boats.

The ensuing penalty left the leader a long way off the back of the fleet as they crossed the start line.

Burton was second last but in touch with the rest of the fleet and suddenly one in 10 became a "possibility".

"It couldn't have come off any better, it was perfection, nearly," Burton said.

"The percentage chance I could pull it of was pretty slim.

"For the one move that I needed to come off, to come off, was critical to the race."

Match race sailing in a single handed boat has been likened to playing chess while running a marathon.

Mind and body are working full tilt.

Burton was counting off boats and looking back to check on Stipanovic, while his thighs were burning as he leant out the boat, then ducked back in, shifted sides and worked the sail.

All this while looking out for wind shifts, waves and the rest of the fleet as his heart rate reached levels similar to a cyclist on a hill climb.

At the first of four marks, he was still second last but half a minute clear of Stipanovic and only 12 seconds from fourth.

One by one he ticked off the boats he needed to pass as Stipanovic drifted further behind in ninth place in his desperation to try different, but ultimately wrong, angles to make up ground.

"Right before the bottom mark, I knew I was four ahead of him," Burton said.

One leg to go, one boat to pass.

He passed two, just to make sure of it.

"I could sense it, but I didn't want to look," he said of the last downwind leg.

He ended up third, with Stipanovic languishing back in ninth ruing his decision to take on the Australian.

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