ENOSHIMA, Japan (Reuters) - Denmark's Anne-Marie Rindom looked to be cruising to Olympic gold in the women's Laser Radial class but a bump with a competitor and her confusion over the rules saw her lead drastically cut ahead of Sunday's medal race.
Rindom, who took bronze at the Rio Games in 2016, was disqualified when she was shown a second yellow flag as her dinghy touched that of Dutch racer and nearest rival Marit Bouwmeester in the last of the 10 opening series races.
The Dane thought she was entitled to continue when a general restart was announced but, uncertain of the rules, she subsequently pulled out of the race for fear of being disqualified from the whole competition.
That resulted in 45 points being added to her total in a sport where the lowest score wins.
"Obviously that was wrong, and I can only blame myself because I should have known the rule. But again, I've never been in this situation in my whole sailing career," a tearful Rindom told reporters.
As a result, her 26 point-lead over second-placed Bouwmeester going into the final qualifying race ahead of Sunday's medal decider has been cut to seven points, with Sweden's Josefin Olsson three points further back.
"Obviously I'm super-sad about my performance today, it just feels like I wasn't present and I just did so many stupid things. I'm just devastated right now, it's hard to be in my own body," the 30-year-old said.
Rindom's woes overshadowed what is shaping up to be a thrilling competition in the men's 49er class, with five points separating the top four teams after nine of the 12 opening series races.
Britons Dylan Fletcher and Stuart Bithell are top of the leaderboard on 34 points, separated from reigning Olympic champions Peter Burling and Blair Tuke of New Zealand in second thanks to their superior placings in the previous races.
Spaniards Diego Botin Le Chever and Iago Lopez Marra are one point further back in third, with the Danish pairing of Jakob Precht Jensen and Jonas Warrer in fourth on 39 points, leaving no margin for error in the remaining races.
The men's Laser competition continues on Friday afternoon, with three races also due in the women's 49er class.
The first sailing medals will be handed out on Saturday when the windsurfing competitions reach their climax.
(Reporting by Philip O'Connor; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)