Vengeance on the waters: Sailors Thakkar, Ganapathy land bronze after cheating accusations

You can't swear like a sailor on the high seas. Not unless you want to end up foul of World Racing's Rule 69 that prohibits and potentially bans athletes for abusive behaviour. So very wisely, despite the provocation they were under, Varun Thakkar and KC Ganapathy held their tongue.

Their minds were on overdrive though. "Please Singapore. Don't p*** in it," Ganapathy recalls thinking.

The two Indians were competing in the final of the 49er men's event at the Asian Games. With winds gusting at close to 28kmph in Jakarta Bay, and a constant scanning for the perfect current under grey waves on which to ride and a favourable breeze to set your sail to, the sport requires cool heads and even temperament. But the Indians were anxious and irritated owing to an incident that's happened a day earlier.

The 49er event has 15 races, and sailors are scored on how they finish across races (Quick explainer: the winner of a race gets one point, the second place gets two and so on. The winner are the sailors who total the lowest points across 15 races spread over four days). A day before, Thakkar and Ganapathy had been in second place in the 49er-class sailing events. They had just won what they thought was the fifth race on the 2km circuit on Jakarta Bay out of the 15 and, with a single race to go, were now four points behind leaders Japan.

But even as they exchanged high fives around their boat 'Kom Til Far' (Come to Daddy), disaster.

The two 22-year-olds from Chennai were accused of cheating. All sailors go around a course and those who are sailing into the wind give right of way to a boat on the leeward side, much like a Formula 1 car has the passing rights to avoid the turbulence caused by the exhaust of a slower vehicle.

That's the principle Thakkar and Ganapathy were accused of violating by the Oman team that had finished second in the race. In most cases, this would be a 'he said, he said' situation. It's not really possible to have referees alongside the boats. With winds gusting at 15 knots and the swell of the waves making it impossible for video cameras (at least the ones the Asian Games could afford) to film the race happening a couple of kilometres into the heaving grey sea.

Sitting in the referee room, Thakkar and Ganapathy were confident about their chances until the Japanese pair came into the room and in the same words as the Omani sailors confirmed the Indians had cheated. Four voices against two, the Indians lost their first place and took last. They went from challenging for a gold medal to fourth place behind Oman and out of reach of Japan. That result caused Japan to opt out of the final race, knowing they couldn't be touched.

"Blatant lies," exclaims Ganapathy. "I didn't know why the Japanese guys' views were considered. They obviously had a vested interest." There's pirate-like cursing. But what was done, was done. When the charts for the evening were prepared, the Indians were three points behind the sailors from Oman in the hunt for bronze and 2.5 behind Korea for silver.

And so with a single race remaining, the Indians had to finish at least three places in front of Oman simply to win a medal. A bronze may not seem like much but it's huge for the two Indians. "Our Olympic hopes were on the line," says Thakkar. "Our boat costs some 30,000 euros. When we travel for tournaments, it costs us a lot of money. Our federation and the government provide something but unless you win something you can't really approach sponsors. If we finished fourth we can't really go and say, 'Sir, we got screwed.' A medal immediately opens doors."

It's one thing to determine your own place, it's another to ensure your opponent finishes a certain number of places behind you. It's possible in sailing through a technique known as 'covering'. By heading first into the direction of the wind on Friday, Ganapathy and Thakkar could shield their Oman opponents of energy. Then once they were sufficiently slow enough, the Indians would open their sails to surge ahead.

It's a risky move that pays off, with India placing both Hong Kong and Singapore between themselves and the teams from Oman and Korea. "We beat the crap out of them," says Ganapathy. But then there is another hitch in the plan. Hong Kong, who were between India and both Oman and Korea, capsize. It's now only left to Singapore. "I'm praying. Man, just don't f*** it up for us, don't p*** in it [go into the water]."

Singapore manage to stay afloat. India finish level on points with Oman but take bronze by virtue of having more wins. It isn't the medal they had come to win, but they will take it. "It's a bronze but it's at least something," says Ganapathy. "We're just glad those bums lost."