Giles by miles. That was the script. It didn’t work out that way but at the very death it was golden glory for both Giles Scott and the amazing 49er duo of Dylan Fletcher & Stu Bithell who proved the racing sailor’s mantra of ‘never give up’ to both scoop Gold medals and cast British sailing as the stand-out performers of Tokyo 2020.
Rarely have I seen two races in my life where the gambit of emotions ran so raw. It was early morning in the UK and emergency services were in danger of being called out to remove my heart from my mouth. Fletcher & Bithell were the first to bring on the anxiety – banging out way left off the start-line whilst the brilliance that is found in the Kiwi pair, the elective gold medallists by all of Pete Burling & Blair Tuke, filtered out hard right.
As the fleet came together it was nip and tuck but thankfully the Brits held a handy lead with the Kiwis in touch. Two legs later, and with the gold seemingly going to the land of the long white cloud, Erik Heil from Germany popped up down the final run and sailed through the Kiwis. Fletcher hung far left and kamikaze’d in to the finish line on port gybe whilst Heil was determined to ruin the party, charging across on starboard. Remember that Ineos/Prada cross in the Cup? It was even better than that. Apologies to the neighbours for the screaming. The dog thinks he’s in trouble and disappeared to the garage.
But at the death, Fletcher & Bithell executed THE perfect gybe and put their bowsprit over millimetres ahead of the Germans and with Burling & Tuke in third, that one boat gap was enough for a fabulous, scintillating, unexpected, genius Gold medal, the stuff of which legends are made. It was a pleasure – an absolute delight – to watch, to cheer, to witness. Gold in the 49er’s – Wow.
A cup of tea later and half an hour to get the palpitations under control, we settled into the cakewalk, the procession, the march to glory that was surely Giles Scott’s to enact and inflict on this final ever Finn fleet at an Olympic Games. The Discovery+ coverage flicked from women’s boxing (good match btw) to 24 seconds before the start of the Finn medal race and panned in on the Brit who was dicing mid line and looked a tadge early. At the double gun, our worst fears were confirmed but quick as a flash Giles dialled away to re-cross. “Not in the medal race, no!” The pressure was unbearable. Hungary’s Zsombor Berecz was off to the races with the young Spaniard Joan Cordona Mendez and it looked horrible for the cursing Brit, unable to out-muscle the kids in the light winds.
But if you want to see what ‘never give up’ looks like then play the tape. By the first mark, Giles was up to fourth having found pressure and tide out left and the most perfect layline you could wish for. Laylines are critical in the Games and so many of the fleets get it way wrong. Giles was bang on and took out four boats in an instant, a blink of the eye. But with the ‘O’ flag staying resolutely down, the canny Finn sailors went on a gybing spree downwind, unable to pump like Gods but still able to project their dated vessels kinetically and by the bottom mark the fleet had concertinaed with the big winner being Josh Junior and the big loser being Scott down in seventh.
Looking up that final work, Giles had it all on and you could almost see the mathematical calculations going through his brain from the onboard camera shots. A flick off to clear wind and within a minute he was ahead of Mendez – that was good enough for silver – but Gold is what he wanted and it was looking unlikely. Berecz was having the race of his life, duking it out with Nicholas Heiner from the Netherlands and by the final run it wasn’t looking good for Scott who sat wallowing in sixth, or was it seventh, with just a leeward mark to round and a short run to the finish.
But this is where genius played out. The perfect mark rounding meant Giles came off with pace and a penalty was called on Josh Junior as the two boats touched. The door opened for the Gold medal and in he crashed. Fourth place was enough to take the title and write his name in the history books, retaining Britain’s utter dominance in the Finn fleet since Iain Percy in 2000, through Ben Ainslie in 2004, 2008 and 2012 and on to Scott in 2016 and now the most precious of Golds in 2020. It’s legendary. It’s utterly incredible. Magnificent. Heart-stopping.
What Giles has done here is announce himself on the world stage. This guy is Britain’s secret weapon in the America’s Cup and that final race showed what a gutsy, out-and-out winner he is. It’s been an electric performance by an athlete at the very peak of his powers but what impresses me most, just like so many of the truly great sportsmen of any discipline or era, is his sheer will to win. From utter despair to un-filtered glory in 45 minutes. Giles Scott is the real deal and more. Fabulous win. Other-worldly and befitting of the Finn Class’s final hurrah as an Olympic boat.
And the news just got better from Tokyo with John Gimson & Anna Burnet securing the silver medal in the Nacra 17 fleet after a match-race with the stand-out Italian duo of Ruggero Tita & Caterina Banti. The Brits aced them in that final Medal Race but it was enough for the Italians to win by 10 points. So near yet so far but a stunning silver medal that has been theirs throughout the regatta.
So British sailing is basking in glory tonight and we’re certainly not done yet. Hannah Mills & Eilidh McIntyre go into the medal race in the Women’s 470 an absolute country mile ahead of the fleet. Gold is theirs, mark my words. And what a glory that will be when it happens. Luke Patience however has faded in the Men’s 470 in a tough regatta having shone so brightly early on. Tough for Luke but my goodness, still utterly respectable – let’s see what he can do in the Medal Race.
One more day of nerve jangling action in Enoshima but Britain is flying the flag and ruling the waves. The Finn gold was special. The 49er Gold was electric. The Women’s 470 Gold will be the icing on a delicious cake. What a performance by our fabulous Olympians.
I’m off to find the dog…