Out in the middle of the Olympic course, Paul Cayard felt like he was back in the cutthroat America's Cup.
The U.S. skipper lost his lead in the Star class with a bad afternoon on the Saronic Gulf yesterday, finishing 15th and 10th to tumble to seventh place.
He admittedly made some bad decisions, but wasn't happy about having to make two momentum-killing, 720-degree penalty turns in the span of just a few minutes in the first race. In the time it took to spin the four circles, he dropped from third to last and never recovered.
The Star has always had a reputation for being a gentlemanly class, but things apparently change when medals are on the line. Skippers from Ireland and Britain claimed the American skipper sailed too close to them, which brought on the penalties.
Cayard didn't see it that way.
"I just thought they were both a little petty," said Cayard, 45, who's in his first Olympics after distinguishing himself during five America's Cup campaigns and winning an around-the-world race. "Some people are in the do-anything-to-win mode. So you have to be aware of that, though. That's part of the game, and you have to stay clear of that."
John Lovell and Charlie Ogletree had a much better day aboard their Tornado catamaran. They finished first and sixth to take sole possession of first place, two points ahead of defending gold medalists Roman Hagra and Hans Peter Steinacher of Austria after four of 11 races.
The U.S. 49er crew, Tim Wadlow and Pete Spaulding, dropped from third to sixth with finishes of 13th and eighth. There are five races left in the 16-race series.
Also, two more gold medals were awarded. Brazil's Robert Scheidt won the Laser class, giving him three straight Olympic medals to go with an unprecedented seven world championships. He won the gold in 1996 and the silver in 2000.
Norway's Siren Sundby won the Europe class for her first Olympic gold medal.
Cayard is now among the skippers chasing Brazil's Torben Grael, who has won four Olympic medals in two classes, including the Star gold in 1996. Grael also was tactician aboard Italy's Luna Rossa, which eliminated Cayard's AmericaOne from the challenger finals in the 2003 America's Cup. Grael won both races yesterday to take a nine-point lead with four of 11 races sailed.
Grael has a nine-point lead over Denmark's Nicklas Holm, who was charged with manslaughter a week earlier after he struck and killed a British pedestrian while speeding in his car on the way to see his country's handball team play.
Cayard is 11 points out of third.
If the patchy, shifty wind wasn't trouble enough, Cayard was done in by two encounters at the windward mark at the end of the first leg of the day's first race. Cayard sailed in on port and tried to turn into a line of boats approaching the buoy on right-of-way starboard tack.
"I tacked under the Irish guy and he started screaming and yelling that I fouled them," Cayard said. "I didn't think I fouled them, but anyway, you do the 720 so you make sure there are no protests."
While he was turning those two circles, British skipper Iain Percy, still sailing windward, claimed Cayard got in his way.
Skippers can usually recover from one 720, but not two.
"It's not the normal Star class here," said Cayard, who won the world championship in 1988. His crew, Phil Trinter, won it in 1993 with skipper Joe Londrigan.
Back on shore, Cayard said he thanked the Austrian skipper after making a close but clean cross on port tack. "He goes, 'With me, you don't have to worry about that.' "
Later in the day's first race, Cayard and Trinter thought the breeze was going to build on the right side of the course, but it shifted left and they sailed into a wind hole.
"Short story is, we should have been a little more heads up," Cayard said. "Maybe we were hoping and praying because we were so far back, and it didn't work."
Japan earned the top seed in the medal round by defeating Greece, 6-1, and Cuba beat Italy, 5-0, to complete group play. The Cubans lost to the Japanese earlier, the difference in the seedings.
Canada routed Australia to earn the No. 3 seed in the semifinals, where it will face Cuba. Australia, which beat Japan, 9-4, on Wednesday, will face the Japanese again in the other semifinal.
World champion Sarah Ulmer of New Zealand continued her dominance in the 3,000-meter pursuit, breaking her own world record to win the gold medal.
Ulmer finished in 3 minutes 24.537 seconds, nearly two seconds faster than her world record set in Friday's qualifying. Australia's Katie Mactier won silver while retiring Leontien Zijlaard-van Moorsel of the Netherlands got bronze -- her sixth and final Olympic medal.
French fencers earned their third gold medal in Athens, defeating Hungary, 43-32, in the men's team epee final. The United States placed sixth.
France's Brice Guyart won the individual foil gold earlier, as did the French men's sabre team. France has won six total fencing medals.
Germany beat Russia to take the bronze on the last day of fencing competition. The Germans' other fencing medal came in women's team epee.
Germany won its fifth gold medal in women's quadruple sculls, and has won the event in all five Olympics since it was added to the Games. Britain won the silver and Ukraine got the bronze.
Russia won men's quadruple sculls in 5:56.86, followed by the Czech Republic and Ukraine.
Romanians Constanta Burcica and Angela Alupei erased a two-second deficit in the last half of their 2,000-meter race to defend their Olympic lightweight double sculls title. Germany won silver and the Netherlands took bronze.
In men's lightweight double sculls, Poland held off France for the gold, while Vasileios Plymeros and Nikolaos Skiathitis gave Greece its first Olympic rowing medal, the bronze.
Denmark won the men's lightweight four, followed by Australia and Italy.
China's Zhang Yining won her second gold medal of the Games, beating surprise finalist Kim Hyang Mi of North Korea, 4-0, in the women's singles final.
Top-seeded Zhang dominated for a 11-8, 11-7, 11-2, 11-2 victory. South Korea's Kim Kyung Ah won bronze with a 9-11, 11-8, 11-7, 11-5, 11-8 win over Li Jia Wei of Singapore.
Tania di Mario scored three goals in Italy's 8-5 victory over Hungary, advancing to the semifinals against the United States and setting up a rematch of the last world championship game.
Greece upset third-ranked Russia, 7-4, and next faces defending Olympic champion Australia.