Great Britain sail away with Olympic gold medals in Finn and men’s 49er at Tokyo 2020

Dylan Fletcher and Stuart Bithell claimed glory before Giles Scott added another gold within an hour of Team GB’s first success

James Toney
Enoshima
Tuesday 03 August 2021 15:29
James Guy after winning a silver and two gold medals in men's Olympic swimming

Sailing is not supposed to be a game of inches but here on Sagami Bay, on a race course measured in miles not metres, fractions mattered.

And in the space of just 57 minutes, Team GB claimed double gold in two of the most dramatic races in the history of Olympic sailing.

This regatta largely goes unnoticed for the first week of the Games, races are staged, often interrupted by weather delays, points are accumulated and bad results discarded.

But medal races, worth double points, add tension and jeopardy and, it seems, drama undiluted.

Stuart Bithell and Dylan Fletcher, racing in the 49er skiff, needed to finish two positions clear of New Zealander’s Peter Burling and Blair Tuke – and did by centimetres.

Teammate Giles Scott required a top-five finish to guarantee gold and the defence of his Rio title but a horror start left him frantically racing through the fleet as the finish line loomed ever closer.

He crossed the line in fifth again by a margin almost invisible to the naked eye.

And still Team GB sailors were not done, John Gimson and Anna Burnet taking silver in the mixed Nacra 17.

“Dreams come true kids,” said Bithell. “I’ve certainly never seen a race that close in the Olympics, it must have been thrilling to watch, it was terrible to be in.

“This is my last Games, almost certainly, and to have this medal, that’s been the dream since I was so little.”

Stuart Bithell and Dylan Fletcher claimed a dramatic gold medal

There were storylines galore, almost too many to write.

Bithell, one of the characters of the British team, nearly called time on his career when he was pipped to Rio selection by his fellow gold medallist.

Fletcher was cheered to victory by teammate Charlotte Dobson, they get married in three weeks and planning is “behind schedule”.

Gimson and Burnet, partners on and off the water, have overcome a succession of personal setbacks to make this team, the former selling his house in a bid to give it one last shot.

And then there is Scott, the world’s finest tactical sailor, whose victory secures a sixth consecutive British gold in sailing’s heavyweight dinghy, 21 unbroken years of high seas hegemony.

Scott’s lead over his rivals meant he could sail a conservative race and bank the gold but, like his mentor Ben Ainslie, he doesn’t do conservative and his aggression on the start line forced him to call a penalty on himself when he thought he’d crossed the line early.

“I tried to stay relaxed but I’ve never been involved in a boat race as close as that,” he said, the relief rolling over him like a wave, with sailing action live on Eurosport and  discovery+.

Giles Scott claimed gold on the water once again

“I never gave up and always kept pushing but I’m a realist and I can count, I knew I was running out of time.

“I hoped on the last run I could make good headway, I made a few nice calls and a few well-timed gybes and just sneaked it on the line. It was just enough, just.

“That’s the greatest pressure of my career. It climbed throughout the race, that was full on.

“Sailing is so dependent on the wind, when the wind is in it’s super exciting but in light conditions like that it’s super close and a mind game, it comes down to centimetres and inches. Hopefully it provided some entertainment.”

The sun didn’t need much encouragement over the yardarm for celebrations to begin here in Enoshima, with potentially more to follow on Wednesday, Hannah Mills and Eilidh McIntyre carry a commanding advantage into the final race of the women’s 470 class.

Stream every unmissable moment of Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 live on discovery+, The Streaming Home of the Olympics