British sailing pairs sign off with silvers in Weymouth
Patience and Bithell, and Mills and Clark earn medals to crown successful campaign
A brace of silver medals in the summer sun of Weymouth yesterday capped a solid performance by Britain's Olympic sailing squad.
For a bubbling, delighted Luke Patience and Stuart Bithell it meant an Olympic medal at their first attempt in the 470 dinghy and a promise to be back hunting gold in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
For a visibly more subdued Hannah Mills, also making her debut, and her more experienced crew, Saskia Clark, it meant a first ever medal in the women's division but a commitment to each other on the way in from the race to launch a new four-year campaign to go one better in 2016.
Patience, originally from Aberdeen, had performed a somersault into the bay to celebrate. "I had just been enjoying the race," he said. "I love the tightness, the pressure. I was just loving it. It was great."
Added Bithell, who hails from Rochdale: "We had just gone through our usual routine and then when the five-minute gun sounded the Australians came for us and though we were prepared for that it was when the nerves started kicking in. We just had to switch on our brains a little bit more. It was bit like 'whoa, here we go'."
"You don't have many races in your life like that," said Patience, but the British pair needed not only to beat the Australians but beat them by two places and on a course under the grandstand on the Nothe, which had failed to supply enough wind to race at all the previous day and was light and difficult, the Australians always had the measure of them.
Afterwards they paid tribute to the British pair as what is also the current world-champion pairing in the class sailed their last Olympic race together. Helmsman Mathew Belcher will continue but crew Malcolm Page, who also won gold with Nathan Wilmot in China, has decided that, at 40, his Olympic campaigning days are over.
Both knew before the last medal-deciding race that they had done enough in the qualifying 10 races to be sure at least of silver. The job of converting that to gold was slightly tougher for Patience and Bithell; Mills and Clark, with equal points, had only to beat the Kiwi partnership of Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie. The incentive for the New Zealanders was to win the first gold medal in a boat, rather than on a windsurfer, since 1984.
Because Mills and Clark had done such a good job of harassing them in the pre-start manoeuvres, the New Zealanders were forced on to the right-hand side of the course, which proved the best place to be, as Mills and Clark were trapped on the left in a softening breeze.
"A quarter of the race through we knew the gold was gone," said the talent-packed but tiny Mills from Dinas Powys in the Vale of Glamorgan. "We're so, so happy to have won the silver medal but right now I'm feeling a bit raw. We made one mistake and were punished for that and there was no way back into the race. We are both absolutely gutted and kind of feel we have let everyone down."
That was not the view of the Royal Yachting Association's Olympic manager, Stephen Park. A gold and four silvers from the 10 events was a good hit rate: they had exceeded their target of four medals, and had been close to matching the China haul of four golds, a silver, and a bronze.
"You have to be happy winning medals in half your opportunities," he said. "Hopefully that will secure funding for the next cycle."
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