Sailing at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games has reached its conclusion, with a fantastic day of racing and, thanks to the previous day's postponements, four spectacular medal races.
For the British Sailing Team there must have been some disappointment, just three medals to its name, after so many years of being used to more. However, the golds from Giles Scott in the Finn and Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark in the Women's 470, plus a silver from Nick Dempsey were enough to ensure that once again the British team topped the overall sailing medal chart (something it failed to do in 2012, but had done in 2008, 2004 and 2000). However, both the Australian and New Zealand teams managed to win four medals apiece (a gold and three silvers for Australia and a gold, two silvers and a bronze for the Kiwis). Once can sense that the British 'best in the world' crown has slipped slightly. Or perhaps things are simply getting tighter? Let's look at things class-by-class.
RS:X Men and RS:X Women: The Netherlands and France star
Nick Dempsey might have been a veteran of five Olympic Games, but he went out of the starting blocks flying with two firsts in the opening races. However gold was to go to The Netherlands, just as it did in 2012. Dorien van Rijsselberghe raised his game after the first day to ensure gold was his once again, and Dempsey too repeated his silver of 2012. France's Pierre Le Coq took bronze.
In the women's discipline, however, Britain's Bryony Shaw had a disappointing Games, never really finding her form. The medal race delivered a thrilling finale, with seven of the 10 competitors in the hunt for gold.
One of the leading contenders, Stefaniya Elfutina (RUS), had a shocking start, being given a penalty turn for infringing Bryony Shaw (GBR) at the start line. Meanwhile France's Charline Picon had not made the best of starts either, but she was in second place by the first mark. She held on in the light winds to the finish to secure the Olympic title, with China's Chen Piena having to settle for silver. Despite her poor start Russia's Stefania Elfutina rallied to finish seventh place and just edged out the medal race winner Lillian de Geus from The Netherlands for the bronze.
For the 31-year-old Picon, the Olympic title is the culmination of a long campaign in the RS:X class. Eighth at London 2012, she won the 2014 World Championships and had marked herself out as one of the favourites for gold in Rio. She dominated the first day of competition and was always in the hunt. There was no doubting what the victory meant to her. "So many feelings and emotions at the finish line! It has been a really difficult week. Yesterday I counted all the points I lost because things didn't go as I wanted, I had some complicated moments. So winning the gold medal like this in this exciting medal race and with this Hollywood scenario, it's just incredible.
"After London, it has been four years of preparation, and we were fighting for three medals. Here I knew it could be my time, I believed it from the beginning but this morning I was absolutely stressed. I worked with my psychologist on making the stress work in my favour. I have come a long way since London. Winning the gold medal in the Medal Race on the finish line is....” Words failed her.
Laser: Brazilian legend just falls short and Australia takes gold
The British team went into the Games with high hopes in both the Standard Laser and the smaller Laser Radial. Their representatives, Nick Thompson and Alison Young were both the current world champions in their respective classes.
In the Laser Nick Thompson never really found his feet, although he qualified for the medal race with an outside chance of a podium finish. However, after crossing the line in eighth he maintained the final overall position of sixth. Rio was the 30-year-old’s first Olympics, having narrowly missed out on London 2012 selection to Beijing 2008 Laser champion, Paul Goodison, but he admits he didn’t meet his own expectations on his Games debut.
Thompson said: “It's tough to sum these Games up. I came here with bigger expectations, I was certainly looking to medal and trying to fight it out for the win but I never really got into the regatta. There's no one reason I didn’t settle into the regatta, I just wasn't on fire. Coming into this event I always knew that if I was going to have a chance of winning I was going to have to be 100 per cent and I just never got into that rhythm."
He added: "The nature of our class is that the person who turns up and is on fire that week is going to come out on top. We had good battles all the way through and I'm still proud of how I sailed, but I'm just a bit disappointed at the moment."
Many eyes were on Brazil's Robert Scheidt, who had dominated the class for so long before switching to the Star class in 2012 (he moved back to the Laser after the Star was dropped for the 2016 Games). However, the veteran sailor, who had previously won five Olympic medals including two golds, fell short of a medal on his home waters, winning the medal race to finish in fourth place overall, four points short of the medals. Gold went to Australia's Tom Burton, silver to Croatia, just two points behind and bronze to New Zealand.
Laser Radial: tight battle won by The Netherlands
In the Laser Radial it was a similar story for GBR's Alison Young. She insisted there were “no excuses” after refusing to blame a broken ankle in the build up to the Olympics for her Laser Radial performance in Rio. After the final medal race, Young revealed she suffered a broken ankle in a training accident eight weeks out from the Games, and has undergone an intensive rehab programme to get her onto the Olympic start line. But she was adamant that injury had not hindered her performance in Rio.
She said: “Four weeks out from the Games I couldn't sail but it's been a fantastic effort from the team to get me into a really good shape to race here. It altered my preparation but it hasn't affected my performance here. There are no excuses I just failed to perform under pressure.
“A week out I was in good shape sailing well and I was sure I was going to be competitive here. It’s doubly disappointing to have performed so poorly for most of the regatta, and to have left down those guys and not reflect the efforts they've put in to get me to the start line over the last eight weeks and the last four years.”
Young endured a tough first four races, posting no score better than 12th, before finding her form at the back end of the opening series, including a penultimate race first, to secure her position in the top 10 to qualify for the Medal Race.
In the medal race she recovered from getting a pumping penalty and doing turns on the downwind leg, and rounding mark two in seventh, to stage an impressive comeback in the upwind leg to lead the pack by mark three and hold her position to win.
It was a tight competition for the medals in the Radial, with so many boats in with a shout at the end of the preliminary series. In the end, gold went to The Netherlands Marit Bouwmeester, who had won silver in London 2012. Finishing behind her in silver was Ireland's Annalise Murphy, who had sailed so strongly in London 2012, but suffered in the medal race to lose out on a medal. It was Ireland's first sailing medal since 1980. Bronze went to Denmark's Ann-Marie Rindom.
Finn: fifth British gold in a row
Giles Scott went into the regatta as firm favourite and, apart from a shaky first race, his win never really looked in doubt. With a 24-point lead the medal race was a mere formality. It was Britain's fifth Finn gold medal in a row. Silver went to Slovenia, but the story of the medal race was from the USA's Caleb Paine who won the medal race to take bronze, what was to be the USA's only sailing medal from the Games. You can read the full story of Giles Scott's win and the medal race here.
Nacra 17: 56-year-old wins
The new, mixed gender multihull class was refreshing to see and produced the story of the games from a Sailing perspective. Argentina's Santiago Lange and Cecelia Carranza Saroli took gold. Not only is Santiago Lenge the oldest sailor to compete at the 2016 Games at 56, he had fought off cancer to make to to Rio in the first place. The amazing tale is told in the video below. Australia took silver and Austria bronze.
470 Men and 470 Women: Croatia and GBR star
After two silver medals in London 2012, up until the autumn of 2015 things looked on track for the British team to bring back medals in both classes once again. However Luke Patience suffered a sever setback when his partner, Elliot Willis was diagnosed with cancer. He had to find a new crew, and fast. With the pressure back on to qualify again for the team, and less than a year to go to the Games, a medal of any colour was always going to be a big ask. In the event, Luke and his new crew, Chris Grube, did themselves proud and could so easily have ended in the chocolates. Sadly it wasn't to be. They qualified for the medal race and finished third in that, to end up a very respectable fifth overall, just four points behind the USA who took the leather medal. This was a class where all the medal spots were decided by the end of the preliminary series, it was just a question of which colour for which country. In the end Croatia took gold, Australia silver and Greece bronze.
Luke Patience said: “I feel quite emotional because I am so pleased on how we raced this week. Two months ago we were miles off feeling like we could sail at the front of the fleet, we’ve only had eight months to prepare and I am walking away with my head held high. We’ve exceeded what we should be doing with eight months of work.”
In the Women's 470, the British duo of Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark came into the Games looking strong, and in my eyes favourite for gold, although after the disappointment of 2012 when they had to settle for silver, anything could have happened. In the end they sailed a fantastic, solid series and went into the medal race simply needing to finish. They sailed a conservative race onto the top of the podium, keeping out of the way of the other boats and the battle for the remaining medals.
The battle was fully on for silver and bronze, the USA, which had gone into the race in third place, had the misfortune to lose out on the medals with New Zealand eventually taking silver and France bronze in a thrilling finale. Read the full story here.
49er: Kiwi domination
Although the British selection in this class went down to the wire, we went into the Games only with an outside hope of a medal. In the end Dylan Fletcher and Alan Sign fully justified their selection, going into the medal race with an outside chance of bronze, sadly it wasn't to be.
There was no challenge for the top spot, however. The 49er class simply belonged to New Zealand's Peter Burling and Blair Tuke gave a masterclass in pure and absolute domination. The duo had a massive, almost unbelievable 37 point lead going into the medal race. To top it all, they won the medal race in style to finish on 35 points for the regatta ahead of 2012 gold medallists Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen from Australia on 78 points. You have to say that the Kiwi's would scoop 'Performance of the Regatta' if such an award existed. Bronze went to Germany.
49erFX: home gold
The 49erFX was a new class for Rio and it undoubtedly delivered some of the most exciting racing of the Games. Medal hopes from a British perspective were slim and Charlotte Dobson and Sophie Ainsworth admitted their first Olympic Games had been a “magical experience” after ending their Rio 2016 49erFX campaign in eighth overall.
Charlotte Dobson said: “I really believe it has been a magical experience, from start to finish, way more than I expected it to be and it’s amazing to be part of such a strong, supportive GB team. It’s been really nice to share in all the success and hopefully one day that might be us.”
Sophie Ainsworth added: “We had some fantastic racing so we can hold onto that, there are some positives to take home.”
The medal race produced an absolute thriller, with a fabulous downwind sprint to the finish that ultimately saw Brazil’s Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze grab gold ahead of New Zealand's Alex Maloney and Molly Meech by just two seconds. How to delight the home crowd: deliver the country's only sailing medal from the Games in the final race of the final sailing event for 2016 and make it a gold too!
Martine Grael's victory continues a great family tradition, her father Torben having won five Olympic medals for Brazil. Torben was watching from a coach boat and was one of the first to congratulate his daughter. Martine said, "To receive the medals here in Rio with all our friends and family is indescribable. But I didn't think about the fact the Brazilian sailing team had no medals. I was just focused on the race, nothing else.”
Kunze said, "Before starting the Medal Race we hugged each other and said, 'Let's give our best and no matter what the result it's going to be fine.' We were already happy to be among the first four teams, that was already an excellent result. And it's incredible to compete at home with these amazing fans. We hope to influence more girls to compete in sailing and to make our sport grow.”
The bronze medal in the 49erFX went to Jena Hansen and Katja Steen Salskov-Iversen from Denmark.
Overall Sailing medal table 2016 Rio Olympic Games
Country Gold Silver Bronze Total
GBR 2 1 0 3
NED 2 0 0 2
AUS 1 3 0 4
NZL 1 2 1 4
CRO 1 1 0 2
Britain still tops the all-time overall medal table, which again is ranked by the highest number of gold medals. Britain has 27 gold, 19 silver and 11 bronze medals (57 in total) to the USA's 19 gold, 23 silver and 18 bronze (60 in total).