Well what a week it’s been for the British Sailing Team at the Olympic Games and what an incredible few days we have coming up. Giles Scott in the Finn and the dynamic duo of John Gimson and Anna Burnet in the Nacra 17 are mathematically secure to medal whilst Hannah Mills overhauled the Polish early front-runners to sit within striking distance of Gold in the Women’s 470 fleet. Luke Patience is in contention meanwhile in the Men’s 470 and quite rightly, GBR’s performance director Ian Walker, is wearing a grin as wide as a Cheshire Cat. It’s monumental and magnificent. British sailing is doing the nation proud and delivering on its promise and continued investment with a generation of sailors even better than their storied predecessors.
Giles Scott scored another bullet to take his race-win tally to an incredible six and goes into the medal race a country mile, nine points, ahead of Hungary’s Zsombor Berecz and 11 points clear of Spain’s Joan Cordona Mendez. This is history being written. It’s a performance from the Gods.
Comparisons with the very greatest Finn sailors of all time are fitting. Scott would have the beating of Elvstrom, Coutts, Ainslie, Mankin, Schumann, Kusnierewicz or Doreste in their prime. This is a big-time display right when it matters and is perhaps the greatest Olympic sailing performance of all time. Name a better one? It’s been tough but in six races Giles has come up smelling of roses, occupying a rarefied stratosphere that is the stuff of legend. He will win Gold at a canter and everything changes now. So long in Ainslie’s shadow, Scott is a commodity whose time has come. Whisper it but you’d hang an America’s Cup campaign around him now if you had the Ineos cheque book.
Equally, and that’s saying something, Hannah Mills is on a golden path to a very bright future. As gender equality becomes recognised at the apex of the sport, Hannah is the ambassador that will change the dial. She’s rapidly become the signature everyone wants and her brand is cool, can-do and utterly brilliant. A Gold in Tokyo will do nicely, thank you very much, and as spring-boards go, this is the launchpad for Hannah to change the sport for good, for the better. A more popular medallist would be hard to find across any discipline, as not only standard bearer for Team GB but a be-medalled goliath in world sport.
Supporting Hannah in the future of British yachting will be Anna Burnet, crewing for John Gimson in the Nacra 17 who are now guaranteed to medal. The smart money is on these two taking silver and what a magnificent achievement, gained quietly in the multihulls that have largely been an almost ghost-like fleet at the Tokyo Games. Gimson & Burnet have clinically gone about their business whilst the headlines were written elsewhere, trading blows and sharing race wins with the remarkable Ruggero Tita and Caterina Banti from Italy. It’s the Italians’ medal to lose now with a 12 point gap to the Brits and as we have seen elsewhere, medal races are largely farcical processions to decide the lesser medals.
And so it proved in the Laser Radial fleet with Anne-Marie Rindom from Denmark managing to keep her cool and claim Gold, three points clear of the Swede Josefin Olsson with the Dutch genius that is Marit Bouwmeester in bronze. And in the Men’s fleet, despite Gold already in the bag, Matty Wearn showed up for the Medal Race, came second, and showed everyone that his talent is very, very real. A dominant performance from the Aussie who just oozes class, has technique to a tee and boatspeed to burn. Watching Wearn downwind is something to behold and I can feel my stomach muscles clenching in sympathy upwind. Get the Games video if you can and watch it.
Over the coming days, British sailing will change. A new order will emerge. What we are seeing is athletes stepping out of large shadows and legends created. This has been a Games against the odds. A weird one. But an utter success for the Royal Yachting Association who will secure increased government funding via the lottery to continue this remarkable sailing story with the firepower to uncover the next generations of talent.
The athletes of today, the medallists, are the new superstars of the sport and as spectators we are enriched by their brilliance and their performances when it matters most. The boats will change after this Olympic Games, and if we’re honest, they need to change more. Dinosaurs are everywhere you look and even boats like the 49er look dated. The Laser isn’t right, the 470 is well past its sell by date. Single-handed foilers are unquestionably sailing’s salvation and I have to think that keelboats must have a place in the Olympic conversation. Hate to admit it but Formula Kites are looking like a good move. Sailing in the Games must change or wilt on the vine.
That’s not to detract from the performances we are seeing, just a natural evolution but World Sailing really needs to up the pace and think out of the box to try and force the discipline higher up the Olympic agenda. It’s unlikely that the current incumbents in the hot seats will do it but there are plenty of bright lights in the sport itching to have a go and change sailing for the better.
In the meantime we can sit back and marvel at the next few days of medal races from a British perspective. Rarely have I been this enthused about our sport in the Games. It’s inspirational, brilliant, goose-bump inducing and the plaudits that our fabulous Olympians will earn are thoroughly deserved.
Good luck to them all – go and make history.