In one of the cheapest shots I’ve seen in sailing, the Women’s 470 team from France of Camille Lecointre & Aloise Retornaz unbelievably protested a final leeward gate rounding by Britain’s Hannah Mills & Eilidh McIntyre that allowed the Polish crew through and denied the French a silver medal. The allegation of ‘team-racing’ was farcical and momentarily cast shade on a dominant British victory that is the crowning moment of Mills and McIntyre’s lives. Bloody French.
And what’s more, with the threat of a protest (and as we all know, these things can be 50/50 at best), the un-classy French Federation and supporting sailors celebrated like Gold was theirs, lifting Lecointre and Retornaz high in the air whilst sitting in the boat as they came ashore. No friends were won. A bitter taste sits in the mouth. It shouldn’t be this way. The cheapest of cheap shots.
Nothing should detract from the Gold medallists on this day. Mills & McIntyre were pure class from the ‘B’ of the Bang. Starting down at the committee boat end they quickly established the lead they needed over the French and the Poles and it was all about big-time Olympic Medal Race sailing, covering the opposition and doing enough to win.
By the top mark Team GBR were second and sailing like demons. Mills was aggressive, cajoling, determined – a switch had been flicked and the onboard chat was fascinating: “Sheet on.” “Pump now.” “Right is paying.” “Ease Eilidh…ease.” The instructions to her young crew, daughter of 1988 Olympic Star Gold Medallist Mike McIntyre, were crisp, commanding, totally in control. A better sailor at these Games would be hard to find.
But after a couple of laps it all came down to the final run and the final leeward gate port rounding with the short reach into the finish. Team GBR set up for a cruise into the layline on port – always a risk when the fleet is tight – and it was a weak choice. The Brits had preferred the right down the run (looking down the course) whilst the Swiss leaders had gone left with Israel and Poland meaning they could gybe onto the mark, having come down into the entry box on starboard. The Israelis and Poles elected to do the same and Hannah was the chump on the outside, forced to keep clear whilst letting the Poles, who started the race in the bronze position, through and into silver. With the French team one place back, Team GBR were the meat in the sandwich with the fate of the medal positions in their hands.
Poland crossed the line in third place, Mills fourth, the French fifth and it was time for wild scenes of celebration but something wasn’t quite right. Yes they did the customary leap into the harbour and waved the flag but there was a foreboding sense in Enoshima that the story wasn’t done yet. The French sailed over to the jury and gesticulated wildly, sore at their bronze medal and determined that Mills had conspired with Agnieszka Skrzypulec & Jolantar Ogar – I mean come on – and took the decision shoreside.
It was lame. It was desperate. It was pathetic if truth be told. And any racing sailor could see that Hannah & Eilidh were simply avoiding any doubt on the last mark of the last ever Women’s 470 regatta in the Olympics and securing their Gold medal. After deliberation, and I can’t believe that it was anything more than a five minute hearing at best, the French got their just rewards in bronze whilst the rest of the world should remind them of the famous Paul Elvstrom quote that “you haven’t won the race, if in winning the race you have lost the respect of your competitors.” The French certainly lost that and the mood shoreside was dark.
For Hannah Mills it’s a victory that elevates her to the most decorated female sailing Olympian of all time – one Silver in 2012, a Gold in Rio 2016 and now a Gold in Tokyo 2020. What a result. What a sailor. And in the McIntyre household, well you really can’t say fairer than both father and daughter sharing bragging rights at the kitchen table replete with matching medals. What an incredible story – and at her very first Olympic Games too. As the French may say ‘incroyable’ but the story was all Britain today and these two absolutely outstanding Olympians performed when it mattered.
We sign off from the Olympics with three golds, a silver and a bronze – utterly astonishing and as team efforts go, from top to bottom the Royal Yachting Association has delivered. For the coaches, the parents, the family and friends who have sacrificed so much for their charges, this is a moment to savour. The athletes performed right through the fleets and the medal haul is just desserts set against difficult, challenging global circumstances.
Ian Walker, the Performance Director of the RYA, has led this team in his inimitable style and rightly should bask in every honour coming his way. Delivery at the Olympics is the ultimate test and as national pride goes, the sailors delivered.
Britannia rules the waves with a new generation. Fabulous. Monumental. Outstanding. Congratulations to our magnificent Olympic Team at Tokyo 2020.