This is what it looks like to win an Olympic Gold Medal in Sailing with a day to spare. Giles Scott has done the almost unthinkable and ensured the medal race in the Finn class is, as far as the gold medal is concerned, a mere formality.
The double-points final medal race between the top 10 ranked boats at the end of the initial series of races was introduced in the Olympic Sailing competition to try to ensure that the final race was the one where the medals were decided. In some cases this has worked as it was intended - the women's RS:X windsurfing competition saw seven sailors in with a chance of gold. But Britain's Giles Scott doesn't simply go into the medal race in gold medal position, he has such a huge 24-point lead over his closest rival that he is assured of gold, whatever happens. After a number of disappointments in the early stages of the Olympic competition for the British Sailing team (offset a bit by Nick Dempsey's amazing performance to take silver in the men's RS:X windsurfing competition), it was great to see at least one of my medal predictions was spot on.
Even Giles Scott had a slightly shaky first day, he had to battle hard to finish a mere 17th in the first race of the event, but he soon settled in to the task in hand. Despite Rio's challenging conditions is was soon business as usual as far as Scott, who has dominated the Finn class in recent years, was concerned. In the rest of the series he posted seven top three finishes and just one more score outside the top 10. To win the Finn class by such a margin is no mean feat and shows just how strong both the British team is in the class, and Scott's amazing talent. To win a first Olympic Games in such style is remarkable, unless you think back to how closely Scott pushed Ben Ainslie in qualifying for the last Games. Sadly we will never know how many medals he could have won if more than one sailor from each country could compete in the sailing classes.
Asked what it meant to him to win the Olympic title, a normally unemotional Scott said, “I know what it meant to me because of the way it made me feel towards the last stages of that final race. I just found myself welling up and in tingles as it slowly dawned on me what I'd done. I wouldn't put myself down as the emotional sort but I had a little cry to myself, which I like to think I don't do that often. Just the emotions that come out of you in that situation you can't prepare yourself for. It's been amazing.”
He told Finn class reporter Robert Deaves: "If you'd have asked me, would I have won the Olympic Games before the Medal Race? I'd have said absolutely not because of the venue that it is. It's such a privileged situation to be in because for everybody else is going to be fighting it out for those medals; it's going to be incredibly stressful and to be able to say I'm not going to have to go through that is pretty nice.”
He added: "When we put the campaign together after London, Matt [Howard], my coach and I we decided that we wanted to campaign flat out. We weren't going to go soft in any regattas and everything we went to, we wanted to win and win it in style.”
That approach is great but it does put a target on your back. Especially two or three years out that target inevitably gets closer as everybody ups their game. To have been able to maintain that gap enough into the Olympics with a race to spare - it gives great justification to those decisions earlier on.”
The Finn medal race
Going into Tuesday's medal race, second-placed Vasilij Zbogar from Slovenia was almost sure of a medal (as long as he didn't finish last). Croatia's Kljakovic Gaspic was lying third, is just five points ahead of the USA's Caleb Paine and Sweden's Max Salminen, so the bronze could have been anybody's, especially with Rio's trick conditions.
In the event, the Finn medal race was sailed in a reasonably solid 10 knots. While most sailors favoured the left side of the upwind, the USA's Caleb Paine saw some pressure to the right and was rewarded with a monster shift into the first mark that gave him a 30 second jump on the fleet. He cruised away to an easy victory and with both Gaspic and Salminen in the second half of the fleet, he had one hand on the bronze by the first mark. As he came into the finish, looking back to count the places, the realisation of what he had done dawned on him and his smile got bigger and bigger, until he crossed the finish with a whoop of joy, fist in the air.
Afterwards, Paine explained how he was feeling. "It's pretty awesome, it's been a pretty tough regatta and to be able to come away with a medal at the end is a great feeling. It was a tough push and a hard medal race but fortunately enough it makes it easier when you hit the right shifts off the bat and I just had to make sure I didn't mess it up.
"It's been a tough battle for me even to get to the Olympics. We never stopped fighting until the end and we're fortunate enough to get a medal in the end. I've been sailing for a very long time so being able to get things to come together at the right time is what it's all about."
With Paine leading the race, Zbogar had to make sure he was not last, otherwise he would drop to bronze. He rounded the top mark in eighth, close on Gaspic’s stern, but passed him downwind to eventually cross the finish in sixth to take the silver. As he crossed the finish he looked as if he was not quite sure what he had done and how to react to the achievement. In winning the Finn silver medal in Rio he joins an elite group of sailors who have won three or more Olympic medals.
Scott's casual, demeanour was back for the medal race, after the uncharacteristic emotion he had displayed on Sunday. He rounded the top mark fourth, was soon up to third, then second, chasing Paine down the final run. A wave of acknowledgement as he crossed the finish line marked the end of his Olympics and the affirmation of the gold medal. He said, "It was great to be able to go out and enjoy that race. Winning four World Championships is great, but this is one that everyone wants and everyone remembers, so now to have an Olympic gold is a great feeling.”
Overall Results: Finn Class Olympic Games 2016
1. Giles Scott (GBR) 36 points
2. Caleb Paine (USA) 68 points
3. Vasilij Zbogar (SLO) 76 points