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Tuesday Tokyo medal rush for Team GB sailors

by Will Carson, RYA 3 Aug 23:56 NZST 25 July - 4 August 2021

It was a massive day for the Team GB sailors with two golds, one silver and another medal guaranteed at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Sailing Competition, with four medals in total confirmed.

Enoshima saw another light wind day with a 6-10 knot Southerly wind, enough for all racing to go ahead.

Dylan Fletcher and Stu Bithell take gold in the 49er in the very last metre of the medal race. They beat Germany across the line which meant they had not only won the medal race but put the boat they needed between them and former Olympic champions Peter Burling and Blair Tuke (NZL) to secure gold.

Giles Scott also had a tense finish coming back from a tentative start in the Finn. In fear of being disqualified for a false start he re-crossed the line to start again which left him at the back of the fleet. He fought back to fourth in the dying stages to confirm the gold.

John Gimson & Anna Burnet took silver in the foiling Nacra 17 class after finishing fifth. They needed to beat their Italian rivals with boats between them to take gold, but could only finish one place ahead. A spectacular silver after Gimson's 20-year Olympic journey.

Hannah Mills and Eilidh McIntyre secured a medal in the Women's 470 and will aim to make that gold in the final race of Tokyo 2020. A third and ninth leaves them 14 points ahead of second place and 27 points clear of fourth.

Luke Patience and Chris Grube maintain a medal hope with another two top ten finishes. They sit fifth, nine points from the podium places.

The men's 470 medal race will be at 6.33am BST tomorrow followed by the final race of the Olympic Sailing Competition with Mills/McIntyre going for gold at 7.33am BST.

What they said:

Finn

Giles Scott, 34, from Huntingdon, Cambs, said:

"Stressful, I didn't make it easy for myself, did I.

"I don't think I was over. I think that was the wrong call, but I played it super safe because I always had it in the back of my mind that that's the only way that I can really, really mess things up. So I made that call to go back and from there I had quite a lot on.

"I made it literally by the skin of my teeth. It is was down to last leeward mark, last reach, it was properly to the wire.

"It was really quite tight. I just got around the outside of the group at the bottom and from there I just had to make sure. I tried to stay vaguely relaxed on that final reach and not pick up a penalty. I've certainly not been involved in any former boat race that was a close as that.

"It is always difficult, and it was mine to lose. It absolutely was. It's the balance that you're playing risk out there. And if it had been any other race, there is no way I would have gone back. I could see that the Argentinian was advanced on me, but if there was two of us over it may very well have been me, so that was what made me make a snap decision to go back.

"Yeah, I saw that [Dylan Fletcher and Stu Bithell win gold]. I'd made a point at not looking at them celebrate, I'm going to be honest. I couldn't. I mean I'm so happy for them, they've absolutely nailed it this week and they thoroughly deserve it but it's not what you need to see five minutes before you start your own race. So I kept my head down and got on with it, but awesome work for those boys. Two gold medals today, amazing effort.

"I've come back since the [America's] Cup and I've been sailing for 3 and a bit months.Finished second in the Europeans, ninth at the World's, I've had to really hold on tight to be being on a timed run. And it's something that my coach, Matt Howard and I have really been trying to hold on to, that we're on a trajectory and the target is the Olympics. We've had a few wobbles along the way, but fortunately we've just about hit it where we needed to. It's been a funny old year for everyone, certainly for me and for athletes around the world with covid, but I'm pretty stoked.

"[I thought it had got away from me] until the last leeward mark, all the way. Of course I'd never give up, always kept pushing. But I'm a realist at heart, I can count.

"I knew that down that last run I had to make good headway. I made the call to go down the right-hand side, which was the tricky side to go down because it was down current. But I made a few nice calls and a few well-timed gybes and just, just, just sneaked round that group, which was enough.

"It was absolutely the greatest pressure I've ever felt. Without a doubt. The pressure kind of climbed throughout the race. As soon as the orange flag goes up, I do tend to kind of chill out a little bit and relax, but from then on in it was stressful.

"The Olympic Finn is out now. As a nation we've won every gold since 2000. It started in Sydney with Iain Percy, then Ben Ainslie and now myself, so yeah we own it.

"Sailing is, we're so dependent on the wind obviously. When the wind is in, it is super exciting regardless of the set-up of the points and in those light conditions it just gets super close and it's just a mind game. It comes down to centimetres and inches. Hopefully it provided a little bit of entertainment around the world.

"I'm so, so proud. There's such amazing heritage in the Finn, it's such a shame it is leaving the games. And to follow legends like Ben Ainslie and Iain Percy, they were my heroes growing up, so yeah, it's a good moment.

"Yeah I'll stop for a little bit. I've been pretty flat out for the last five years, so I'll have a week off or so."

470 Women

Hannah Mills, 33, from Cardiff, Wales, said:

"We are in a great place. We are 14 points ahead of second place and I think guaranteed a medal, and that's amazing, but we have come here to win.

"Anything can happen in the final race. It's worth double points, there's more on the line, we just have to stay focussed and put in a good race tomorrow."

Eilidh McIntyre, 27, from Hayling Island, Hants, said: "I think now it feels like a nice comfort blanket we've got but the job is not done. We know we can go out there and sail a clean race and try and stay in control. We don't have to set the world alight in the race, we just need to be in it and on top of it.

"Nothing is done until the medal race is done, but sure, it's nice to have that gap."

470 Men

Luke Patience, 34, from Rhu, Scotland, said:

"Today was too steady and it wasn't good enough really for having a comfortable race tomorrow.

"In all honesty we were just too slow upwind. We were against three boats, and a handful more, that are really good in that breeze and wind strength. And you never say this in the cycle building up, but when it doesn't matter anymore, they were just quicker than us.

"We've put a lot of effort in trying to get fast in that condition, but they are just quicker than us. So we were hanging on for dear life. Painful, painful. But you know, what do you do, that was the forecast we had and we always knew we were going to be up against it.

"The madness [of the medal races] plays into our hands. As a boat ahead you don't want madness you want order, and there's a boat behind you wanting madness because it opens up opportunities.

"So the style of the medal race is definitely nail biting until the end on the final downwind. We know the boats that are near us that we want to put hurt on. And the attitude will be to go out and win the race and to get as few points as possible.

"Plan A is win the race, but it's pending. It's always plan A pending due to what others do in those moments as well.

"We're quite confident for the medal race, we're comfortable in that part of the competition and we know that there are a few around us that are not as confident as we are, so that's a good thing. That will play in to our hands.

"So standing here today we can win an Olympic medal tomorrow."

Chris Grube, 36, from Chester, Cheshire, said:

"I don't think it matters to be honest [which day you race on]. Ultimately, we're ready to race in whatever conditions we get, mentally you just prepare yourself for that. And yeah we've missed out on a day off but to be honest it doesn't really matter.

"It's how we position ourselves on the racecourse, it's how well we sail the boat and ultimately we've done a good job of that. It's just we haven't been quite fast enough and that's just made it tricky for us to make decisions and to pass boats upwind. We're plenty quick downwind, you know we're fast.

"Tricky day, but we're close enough to have a shot at it tomorrow. We'll just keep pushing on, as we have all week."

49erFX

Charlotte Dobson, 35, from Rhu, Scotland, said:

"That was some morning I think I've had. The end of our campaign and our medal hopes, but amazing to watch Dylan and Stu win their gold medal.

"They've been amazing supporters of ours the whole way through this cycle and this morning optimises to me the ying and yang of sport - with amazing results someone has to lose. That's kind of what we know when you get into this world. You risk feeling terrible for the moment to be able to feel how Dylan and Stu feel right now.

"I'm sure this gold medal [Dylan Fletcher's] is going to follow me around. It will be on our dining table I'm sure for the foreseeable future, but I'm just really, really, really proud of him and the team that has been around both Dylan and Stu, and Sas and I. The support we've got, the help we've had from the National Lottery to even be here, is just second to none.

"Sometimes this campaign when it got difficult, certainly with covid, you look around at the support around you, you think if you can't do it with these guys around you, you probably don't deserve to. And I mean the support we've had has been incredible.

"We had another light wind and choppy medal race. Just as the breeze was starting to pick up, we were on first. We didn't have the best start and lane hold, and then we got a bit dictated to by that time, so really the race was kind of out of hands in that light wind stuff and it's really important to be in control of your race.

"We kind of did come back into it right at the end, so that was really nice to do that last little bit with the kite up past the rest of our team. To be honest a large part of the damage was done in the last two days in the lighter winds.

"At this level you can't expect to win medals with holes in your performance and unfortunately we kind of got found out this week in these lighter winds, which is frustrating because in the past we've dealt with that weakness. But yeah, really disappointing.

"We fought for every place we could around the medal race, the spirit was really good all the way up to the end so we have that to be proud of.

"It's been amazing [to watch Dylan win gold]. Very, very stressful, I feel really bad for what we have done to our parents and friends and family over the last couple of weeks, but really, really proud. This morning he just seemed so on it and so ready. When I saw the split from the kiwis, I was really proud of him, like he was backing himself and he was really confident. And he and Stu are such an incredible team together, they bring the best out in each other. I can't really be more happy for him to be honest.

"[The wedding is planned for] 26th August, so not too long to even out the tan lines! No [the preparations aren't done] in the slightest, but time and pressure will make us organised. I'm sure we'll just be decisive. The wedding is in Portland which is where we live.

"Quite often it does happen like that [a close finish], but not usually for gold and silver, that will probably be one of the moments of the sailing games I would have thought. It's just amazing for that to be broadcast to our friends and family at home and all the people who have really put us here, buying lottery tickets, supporting sports, so thank you National Lottery we hope we gave you a good show this summer."

Saskia Tidey, 28, from Portland, Dorset, said:

"It was a week of two halves. We started off with some pretty glamour conditions here in Japan, a lot more what of what we were expecting, real skiff conditions and we started off on the right foot. And the second half of the week we lost wind which is pretty challenging in our boats. But you know we fought through it and we pushed hard and tried to fight for every inch and it hasn't gone our way.

"But in saying all that, we've put together a campaign over five years and it's been an honour to sail with Charlotte and to be part of this team. Now it's about cheering on everyone else and being part of the rest of the experience."

49er

Dylan Fletcher, 33, from Thames Ditton, Surrey, said:

"It's been super close all week in racing and today just showed off what it's been like. It was intense, it was close, but it was my aim to be sat here now as Olympic champion.

"I thought we had it [coming towards the finish line] to be honest, but I knew it was super touch and go and the other guys had right of way of us, so we had to be careful not to get a penalty and time everything just right. But Stu did an incredible job of making the boat go fast and we just nicked it at the end.

"The moment the Germans gybed out, that was an opportunity for us. We're quite fast, but it was probably 2/3rds of the way down on the port, I thought this is seriously on now.

"Last week, just a few days before racing [I dreamt about winning], but I thought don't engage don't tell anyone, but it was amazing to have that dream come true.

"We haven't raced against them [the New Zealand team] since pre covid down in Australia where we were selected early and we had to set about our campaign all around the gold medal. So there was a bit of nerves, for everyone I'm sure, not being able to race them. But to come here and deliver is just a huge testament to all of our team behind the scenes to make this happen, so I'm incredibly proud of the whole team.

"It is the start of a big month. The wedding [to Charlotte Dobson] is in 2-3 weeks, we haven't even invited everyone, there are so many things that most people would already have sorted out. But hopefully, maybe Charlotte will do it, she's deciding most of the details.

"[The partnership with Stu came about], we were joking around after the Olympics in 2016 and we were sailing our moths, which are these little small boats that we sail, and joking 'what are you doing for the next four years? Do you fancy having a go?' And that was it.

"Then we went to our first event in January 2017 and won it with some 20 points to clear and thought wow, there's something here you know.

"I think it's important in a double hander how you respond to pressure and how you want to handle that, and we're kind of similar and thrive on that pressure when it comes on and enjoy it. That makes it easier to have those difficult conversations, or perform like we have done today out there. I think that is exactly what our team is about."

Stu Bithell, 34, from Rochdale, Greater Manchester, said:

"I think the exact moment [we knew we were going to win] was the very last gybe at the end. They gybe and we gybed almost simultaneously, and I could just see the bow coming up and we were on a little bit of a wave and just got a little bit of surge and I thought that's the one.

"Maybe a few china races, but I've certainly never seen that at the Olympics [winning by a few centimetres], not in the 49er class.

"Dylan talks about it's been a long road since Rio, five years, but for me it's been nine years. I missed out unfortunately in the last cycle to Dylan, so yeah it's been a long part of my career really, chipping away and working hard. This is my last Olympics, almost certainly. As you can image it's so nice to go away with the gold.

"I think [good partnership] is down to any good team. Our super strengths are slightly different and we just jelled well together. Dyl is very technical, he likes the numbers, I'm more of a feel man, so we use a bit of both at different times.

"Again, Dyl is a bit more fiery in the boat, where I'm a bit more calm so I think we just bounce really well off each other and tap into each other's personality and strengths at the right time and it kind of works.

"I mean Giles [Scott] is incredible, he's worked with Ben Ainslie in the London cycle, he's been dominant in the class and doing it alongside other sailing commitments. He's the absolute king of our team, he's the big man, a gold medallist and hopefully has a good race out there today. He's a super chill guy and a very talented sailor, good luck to him."

Nacra 17

John Gimson, 38, from Congleton, Cheshire, said:

"In some ways its good watching the others as you can learn what is happening on the course, but on the other hand you are living it with them and you have that whole emotional rollercoaster to go through yourself after doing it for your teammates before you go out.

"The Italians and us are very close, we train together, and this week we had more days of their conditions than ours. We had one day that suited us and they had three that suited them. We knew in this regatta they would be very hard to beat, but given the conditions we are unbelievably happy with silver.

"The journey has been worth every minute. I've done it for 20 years to get here and an unbelievable amount of people have helped me along the way, and just for them to say thank you, I'm glad we did. A lot of people have invested heavily in us so I'm happy we followed through for them.

"Twice my discipline got dropped as a class. As a youngster just finishing a cycle, getting ready to go and do another campaign. The second time it happened I was questioning my life decisions. When I'd spent all my money and sold my house just to try and do it. But right now, everything was worth it, literally everything was worth it.

"It's been a tough 20 years. I'm just happy for all the people that have helped us over the years so we can follow through and complete it.

"It was hard for us because the Germans could beat us, but the Italians couldn't get a bronze but you know, I think the gaps were big enough. They didn't really need to engage us too much and we didn't really need to engage the Germans. We just needed to make sure we sailed around somewhere in the vicinity of them. It was mentally hard, but the points wasn't too bad.

"We're a team of three with Iain [Percy] as well, but I think performing under pressure is something we really enjoy and I think the fact that we just love the sport so much and enjoy every day on the water makes it super special.

"I've been to many Olympics as a training partner and campaigned for many years but never actually competed and he [Ian Percy], he's bought the Olympic experience we needed to perform at this level. He knew exactly what to expect every day and helped us get in the right mindset.

"Outside of that, we've got amazing boat speed and a lot of that is to do with the work we've done with Artemis Technologies over the last few years."

Anna Burnet, 28, from Shandon, Scotland, said:

"The team has had an incredible day and seeing the 49er guys win a medal just before we went out, well John found it a bit stressful but I found it hugely inspiring. I'm so happy to be a part of this team that is performing so well.

"I'm really tired. It feels incredible, hard to describe.

"John, well he keeps telling everyone he's been doing it [sailing] for 20 years, but honestly there's no one I think in sport deserves a medal in the Olympics more than John Gimson. And I'm so happy I could have helped him to achieve what he really really deserves so it's amazing for me to be part of that.

"It's a huge relief, we've put so much pressure on ourselves and just to pay back all the people that have helped us to get to this point, so to be able to win a medal for all of them is just a massive relief and I hope it's something everyone can be happy about.

"We're super happy."

Full results and the competition schedule can be found here.

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