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History was made on the waters of the Saronic Gulf on Wednesday as an Israeli, whose first name means “wave” in Hebrew, won his country's first ever Olympic gold medal. Gal Fridman triumphed in the windsurfing class in which Britain's Nick Dempsey secured an unlikely bronze.

Fridman was the toast of Israel after a thrilling final Mistral race elevated him to first place as the challenge of Brazilian Ricardo Santos, who led throughout most of the competition, suffered a catastrophic final race that cost him a medal.

Fridman, who finished second in the final race behind Dempsey to earn gold, was congratulated by President Moshe Katsav before being hailed as “Israel's greatest ever athlete” by his coach.

“I simply felt a whole country standing behind me, pushing me,” Fridman told Israel Army Radio. “It's an incredible feeling and one I have never felt before.”

Feeling only slightly less elated was Dempsey, who had begun the race knowing his medal chances were slim, and even finished it believing that his win a third in a five-race sequence that catapulted him up the rankings from sixth at the halfway mark had not been enough. Dempsey won race 11 by 32 seconds and after watching Fridman and Nikolaos Kaklamanakis of Greece sail in just behind him to secure gold and silver he believed that Santos, who started 15 points ahead of him, had done enough to secure bronze.

It was not until he had sailed back to the Aghios Kosmas sailing centre that he realised he had won Britain's fourth medal of a hugely successful regatta.

“Halfway through the race I remember looking back and seeing Ricardo in about ninth place so I was sure that he was secure in bronze. I just carried on thinking that all I could do was sail the best I've ever sailed and try to win the race,” he said.

But Santos actually trailed past the finishing line in 17th, 16 places behind Dempsey, the exact number the shocked Briton needed to overhaul the Brazilian's seemingly unassailable lead.

“I was just in complete shock, it was a very strange feeling. Suddenly all the photographers were crowding around me and I didn't realise that I'd won a medal. Then a friend came up to me with the results and there it was in black and white, a bronze medal, amazing,” he said.

The medal means a double celebration for Dempsey he is engaged to Sarah Ayton, who won gold as one of Britain's Yngling crew.

Elsewhere, Britain fared poorly in the sailing with Iain Percy and Steve Mitchell finishing 16th and fifth in Wednesday's two races in the highly competitive Star class to lie sixth overall with just three races left to sail.

Leigh Macmillan and Mark Bulkeley, in the Tornado catamaran class, are 13th overall, while Natasha Sturges ended her regatta in the women's windsurfing class in ninth place.

Britain are guaranteed another sailing medal today as Chris Draper and Simon Hiscocks complete the 49er class event with a bronze in the bag and silver within reach if they can overhaul the Ukrainian pair two points ahead of them.

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