Joy for Britain's 470 sailors Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark after they finally claim gold, while Brazil's Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze clinch 49erFX gold by just two seconds.
The Rio 2016 Olympic sailing competition rose to a dramatic crescendo, with the home nation winning a gold medal in the women’s 49erFX skiff by a two-second margin yesterday.
Silver would have been great, but gold for Brazil has set off a party that will last for days. In the men’s 470 dinghy class, Croatia won its first ever gold medal in Olympic sailing.
Women’s two-person 470 dinghy
After postponements due to a lack of wind the previous afternoon, the final day delivered perfect 14-knot breezes for the finale. The four medal races kept the crowds on Flamengo Beach entertained all afternoon. It started with an ever-shifting battle for silver and bronze in the women’s 470.
With Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark (GBR) having already won the Women’s 470 gold medal, the battle for silver and bronze came down to a six-way fight between New Zealand, USA, France, Japan, the Netherlands and Slovenia.
The 2012 Olympic Champions Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie (NZL) claimed silver, while the reigning World Champions Camille Lecointre and Hélène de France (FRA) claimed bronze by a single point from the Netherlands crew, Afrodite Zegers and Anneloes van Veen.
With a 20-point advantage and knowing they had to avoid disqualification or race retirement to win gold, Mills and Clark sailed a safety first medal race, not getting involved in any start line positional jostling and sailing behind the fleet to move clear away from the line.
Staying out of the pack was a tactic they continued employing for the whole race, and as they crossed the line in eighth place and came ashore without incident the emotions started to pour.
Mills said: ‘We ran down the beach. I just wanted to see my mum, she’s been here the whole time supporting me, along with my family back at home. It is just such an amazing moment to be able to share with everyone. When you’re out on the water you’re doing it on your own and it was nice to be able to come in and see everyone.’
She added: ‘We’re totally overwhelmed right now. Obviously we knew we’d kind of clinched it but I did so many boat checks this morning because we still had to finish the race. That felt like such a lot of pressure to finish one 20-minute race. We were desperate to race yesterday but we are actually quite glad we didn’t as it was a cracking sailing day for our medal race with sunshine, wind and waves.
‘It all overwhelms you at once – especially when you see your family and friends who have come all this way to support you and have been with you every step of the way and to be able to share this special moment with them was very overwhelming.’
This is 28-year-old Mills’ second Olympics while Clark, who celebrates her 37th birthday next Tuesday, 23 August, is competing at her third Games having finished sixth at Beijing 2008 with Christina Bassadone.
Saskia said: ‘I can’t stop smiling. It’s been amazing winning a medal with one of my best mates and Joe (Glanfield), our coach is an absolute legend. We’re going to have some drinks with our friends, our families and the whole British Sailing Team who have been here the whole way, we wouldn’t be here without them, so it’ll be nice to have a few quiet drinks with the rest of the team.’
Men’s two-person 470 dinghy
Sime Fantela and Igor Marenic won Croatia’s first ever gold medal in Olympic sailing. The Croatians sailed a controlled race, making sure they stayed ahead of their rivals Australia and Greece. However, Mat Belcher and Will Ryan (AUS) were much concerned about protecting the silver medal and engaged Panagiotis Mantis and Pavlos Kagialis (GRE) in a match race before the start.
With the Aussies and Greeks caught up in their own duel, Croatia’s job of defending gold became straightforward.
Meanwhile, Brits Luke Patience and Chris Grube ended their Rio 2016 on a high with a third in the 470 Men’s medal race seeing them end the event fifth overall.
It was an impressive end to a full-on eight months for the pair who only started sailing together again after Elliot Willis, who Patience had campaigned with for the Rio Olympic cycle, was diagnosed with cancer in late 2015.
Patience said: ‘I know today’s race wasn’t for medals but we treated it like it was and showed our true qualities because we had a bad start and we fought and fought. I’m happy, it’s been such a pleasure to sail with Chris over the last eight months.’
Grube, who has a toddler son, Edward, added: ‘I am really proud of what we have achieved and thanks to Luke for giving me the opportunity to sail with him again, I have loved every moment. That last race sums it up for me, I really enjoyed the racing, it’s been so much fun. My little boy has been cheering us on all week.’
Men’s 49er skiff
There was medal race disappointment for Dylan Fletcher and Alain Sign in the 49er after a second lap capsize ended their chances of finishing their first Olympics on the podium, as they crossed the line in 10th spot to finish the event sixth overall.
Having to put four boats between themselves and Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen (AUS), to stay in medal contention, and having edged themselves ahead of the Aussies approaching the second downwind mark, the Brits lost control of the boat dropping the kite and also had to do penalty turns.
Nevertheless, Fletcher and Sign will take positives from their Rio show.
Fletcher said: ‘It’s been a week of two halves. The first two days were really bad, we weren’t sailing too good and then we turned it around in the last two days of fleet racing and we are really happy with how we did that to bring us back into contention. Ultimately it didn’t work out for us on the day.’
For Peter Burling and Blair Tuke (NZL), the medal race was a victory lap, the Kiwis having won the 49er men’s gold medal with two races to spare after dominating the 20-boat fleet at Rio 2016 over the past week.
Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen (AUS), the 2012 Olympic Champions did enough to stay ahead of their rivals and won silver for Australia, while German sailors Erik Heil and Thomas Ploessel took bronze.
Women’s Skiff – 49erFX
The crowd on Flamengo Beach went wild as Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze (BRA) won gold by just two seconds from Alex Maloney and Molly Meech (NZL) in a nailbiting final run to the finish. New Zealand took silver and bronze went to Denmark’s Jena Hansen and Katja Salskov-Iversen.
Grael’s victory continues a great family tradition, her father Torben having won five Olympic medals for Brazil. Torben was watching from a coach boat and was one of the first to congratulate his daughter.
Martine said: ‘To receive the medals here in Rio with all our friends and family is indescribable. But I didn’t think about the fact the Brazilian sailing team had no medals. I was just focused on the race, nothing else.’
Kunze said: ‘Before starting the medal race we hugged each other and said, ‘Let’s give our best and no matter what the result it’s going to be fine.’ We were already happy to be among the first four teams, that was already an excellent result. And it’s incredible to compete at home with these amazing fans. We hope to influence more girls to compete in sailing and to make our sport grow.’
It was a tough day in the office for Britain’s Charlotte Dobson and Sophie Ainsworth in the 49erFX medal race after a start line penalty and a mid-race capsize saw them cross the line in 10th to end their debut Games in eighth overall. The duo admit it has been four years they will never forget.
Dobson said: ‘It has been a magical experience, from start to finish, way more than I expected it to be. It’s amazing to be part of such a strong, supportive GB team. It’s been really nice to share in all the success and hopefully one day that might be us.’
Ainsworth added: ‘We had some fantastic racing so we can hold onto that, there are some positive to take home.’
British Sailing Team success
Two golds for Giles Scott (Finn) and Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark (470 Women) plus Nick Dempsey’s RS:X windsurfing silver ensured Britain has topped the best sailing nation table for four of the last five Olympics.
It means Britain has reclaimed the top sailing nation title back, after losing it to Australia at the London 2012 Games.
With 17 countries claiming the 30 medals from 10 events between them, Park thinks Rio lived up to its reputation as one of the most difficult places in the world to sail. At London 2012 the same number of medals was spread between 15 countries.
Park said: ‘It has been a challenging regatta and it has been fantastic one. We are very lucky to be part of an incredible sport at what has been an incredible sporting event at a very challenging and iconic sailing venue.
‘There have been some great performances and history made in terms of Nick becoming the most successful male windsurfer ever, winning the women’s double handed 470 gold medal for the first time with Hannah and Saskia and Giles keeping that Finn gold medal within Team GB for 20 years.
‘The spread of medals just shows the diversity, challenge and level of competition we have seen here. Roughly in half the events the medals changed in the Medal Race, so it has not just been tough for the Brits it has been tough for everybody.
‘But our team have pulled together well, the coaches and support staff have done an absolutely excellent job, everyone has stuck together right until the very end and they absolutely deserve to go home as the top nation in the medal table.’
Several of the British Sailing Team support staff will return to Rio in a couple of weeks for the Paralympic sailing regatta, which takes place between 12-17 September.
But for everyone else all eyes start to turn to Tokyo 2020 and preparing for the next Olympic regatta in Enoshima Yacht Harbor in the coastal city of Fujisawa.
Park added: ‘I think the sailing itself in Tokyo is going to be, on the face of it, far more simple than in Rio. It is not as difficult a venue to race in, it is predominantly a moderate to strong wind venue and, as a country, we are traditionally good in those conditions. I feel very confident in our opportunities we will have for Tokyo.
‘A lot of our Podium and Podium Potential podium athletes are already working on that task and getting themselves in the frame to be competitive in time to be selected for Team GB in four years time.
‘That four years is going to run away very, very quickly and I’m sure when we get there it will only seem like it was a blink of an eye we were stood here in Rio.’
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