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Tokyo Olympics: Team GB win double sailing gold and a silver in medal rush on Day 11

·4-min read
Dylan Fletcher (R) and Stuart Bithell of Team Great Britain celebrate as they win gold in the Men’s Skiff 49er class (Getty Images)
Dylan Fletcher (R) and Stuart Bithell of Team Great Britain celebrate as they win gold in the Men’s Skiff 49er class (Getty Images)

It was the golden hour - or more precisely 57 minutes - in which Britain snuck two sailing gold medals which had both looked in danger of sinking without a trace.

In the greatest advert for Olympic sailing imaginable, Dylan Fletcher and Stuart Bithell won their medal race by a matter of centimetres for the gold.

And in the very next race, Giles Scott, who had intentionally avoided watching his teammates’ post-race celebrations on the water to keep his focus, won gold in even more dramatic fashion.

Needing to finish within five places of Hungary’s Zsombor Berecz he had been seventh down the home straight but just snuck fourth in a near blanket finish for the lower places as Berecz took the win. Such are the margins between gold and silver.

In the last race of the day there was a silver lining for John Gimson, making his Olympic debut at the age of 38 after so many near misses, and Anna Burnet in the Nacra class.

Fletcher is no stranger to drama. His parents were both dancers with the Royal Ballet, his father also appearing as Mr Mistoffelees in the musical Cats. For mum and dad, it must have been an agonising watch.

Afterwards, he said: “It’s been super close all week in racing and today showed off what it’s been like. It was an intense race but it’s mindblowing to be sat here now being Olympic champions.”

It was a mixed day on the water for the Fletcher household with Charlotte Dobson finishing outside the medals with Saskia Tidey. Fletcher and Dobson tie the knot in three weeks in Portland at a Gothic castle overlooking the sea.

Such have been their preparations for Tokyo that the wedding planning has been minimal – they still have not sorted out their invites or Fletcher’s suit. On the suggestion of a golden one, he admitted that would be up to his bride to be.

For Bithell, the journey to gold has been particularly lengthy. He won silver at London 2012 and missed out of selection for Rio before teaming up with Fletcher on a whim. Fletcher’s technical skills and more fiery character gelled with Bithell’s physical, calmer presence in the boat.

They faced the ultimate test on the water in Enoshima Harbour against the pair generally regarded as the best sailors in the world in Pete Burling and Blair Tuke, who were the defending Olympic champions and had recently won the America’s Cup for Team New Zealand.

The British duo needed to finish with a boat between them and the Kiwis and they did just that, edging out German pairing Erik Heil and Thomas Ploessel by a fraction.

Reliving the moment, Bithell said he could pick out the exact moment the gold was theirs: “It was the very last gibe at the end. They gibed and we gibed almost simultaneously and I could just see the bow coming out and we were on a little bit of a wave and we got a little bit of a surge on and I was like that’s the one. It popped us over.”

Barely had there been time to recover from the drama when Scott, like Burling and Tuke straight from the America’s Cup to Tokyo, took to the water. It was, he said afterwards “his race to lose” and he very nearly did.

Fearing he had crossed the startline too early, he began again to leave him at the back of the field and with a dramatic catch-up operation. He admitted he thought the gold had gone but his competitive mindset was to keep pushing to the line. Only across the line was the fourth sealed and, with it, the gold.

“That’s the greatest pressure of my career,” he said. “That was full 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.”

It continued Britain’s remarkable record in the Finn class. Starting with Iain Percy and followed by Sir Ben Ainslie and now Scott, they have won it at every Olympics since 2000. Scott’s gold, though, was, as he put it, “the end of an era”, with the Finn scrapped at Olympic level for 2024.

The silver that followed took Britain up to four sailing medals in Japan, already achieving their pre-Games target with two more potentially to follow tomorrow.

As for Fletcher, it had fulfilled a pre-Games dream he’d had of winning gold he’d kept to himself. In his dream though, it hadn’t been that tight.

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