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Phenomenal day for Great Britain’s sailors with golds in Finn and men’s 49er

Vivian and Leslie Bithell watch their son Stuart Bithell and his helm Dylan Fletcher win a gold medal in the 49er medal race during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, at Bithell's home club, Hollingworth Lake Sailing Club, near Rochdale. Picture date: Tuesday August 3, 2021.

By Eleanor Crooks, PA, Tokyo
A golden day for Great Britain’s sailors in Tokyo saw Giles Scott recover from a nightmare start to successfully defend his Finn title while Dylan Fletcher and Stuart Bithell claimed the narrowest of victories in the 49er.

There was also a silver medal for John Gimson and Anna Burnet in the mixed Nacra class, with Hannah Mills and Eilidh McIntyre poised for gold in the women’s 470 on Wednesday.

Scott was Britain’s banker on the waters of Enoshima on Tuesday, which thankfully were raceable after the previous day’s hiatus due to a lack of wind.

The 34-year-old held a nine-point lead going into the medal race, meaning he only needed to finish in the top five to secure gold, but he was left playing catch-up having feared he had started too early, prompting him to circle back across the line.

With his only real rival, Hungary’s Zsombor Berecz, winning the race, it looked like Scott had left himself too much to do, but a desperate lunge for the line paid dividends as he crossed in fourth.

Scott’s victory means Britain have claimed six successive titles in the Finn dating back to Iain Percy’s success in Sydney 21 years ago. Ben Ainslie then won three consecutive titles before Scott clinched his first gold in Rio.

He said: “I don’t think I was over at the start but I played it super safe because that was the only way I could mess things up. I made the call to go quick and then I had quite a lot on.

“I made it by the skin of my teeth, it was properly to the wire, it was really tight. I tried to stay relaxed but I’ve never been involved in a boat race as close as that. That’s the greatest pressure of my career.”

Scott was also part of Ainslie’s America’s Cup team and only fully turned his attentions to Tokyo after the conclusion of that campaign in February.

He said: “It’s special. Since the America’s Cup, I’ve been sailing for three and a bit months. I was second at the Europeans and ninth at the worlds but the target was the Olympics. We’ve had a few wobbles along the way but we’ve done it when we needed to.”

The Finn class will not be included in the regatta at the 2024 Olympics, making this gold extra special.

“This continues our domination and closes it out,” said Scott. “We’ve won every gold since 2000; we own it.

“I’m so proud, there is such heritage in the Finn and it’s a shame it’s leaving the Games. To follow legends like Iain Percy and Ben Ainslie, they were my heroes growing up.”

Fletcher and Bithell were outsiders for gold, needing to make up four points on New Zealanders Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, which they managed by the slimmest of margins, edging across the line to win just centimetres ahead of Germany with Burling and Tuke in third.

Fletcher said: “I thought we had it to be honest but I knew it was super touch and go. The other guys had right of way over us so we had to be careful to not get a penalty and time everything just right but Stu did an incredible job of making the boat go fast and we just nicked it at the end.

“I think it’s been super close all week and today showed off what it’s been like. It was an intense race but it’s mind-blowing to be sat here now being Olympic champions.”

Fletcher revealed afterwards that he had a dream about winning gold, saying: “It was last week a few days before racing. I was like, don’t engage, don’t tell anyone that, but yeah it was amazing to feel that dream come true. It wasn’t quite that close in my dream.”

This is not Fletcher’s only big date in August, with the 33-year-old due to marry fellow skiff sailor Charlotte Dobson, who was cheering him on from the shore, at the end of the month.

They had hoped to make it a double medal celebration but Dobson and Saskia Tidey had to settle for sixth place.

Fletcher admitted they have a lot still to do, saying: “We haven’t even invited everyone, we haven’t done suits, there’s so many things that most people sort out that hopefully maybe Charlotte will do.”

Silver behind the Italian pair of Ruggero Tita and Caterina Banti looked by some way the most likely outcome for Gimson and Burnet and so it proved in a far less dramatic race.

It was a hugely emotional moment for 38-year-old Gimson, for whom this was a long-awaited Olympic debut.

He said: “Twice my discipline got dropped as a class. The second time I’d sold my house and had literally no money and at that point I was questioning my life decisions but it was all worth it, all of it.”

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