Australians v Brits in the 470 class promised to be a close one and turned out to be just that
The weather might have changed but the strategy for the British 470 pair hadn’t. To win Gold they had to beat the Australians as well as putting a place between them. Tricky but possible.
The action kicked off just 15 seconds before the gun had gone after Patience and Bithell tried to gain a penalty on the Australians Belcher and Page. The tactic nearly worked but no matter, the Brits still managed to get a good start and tacked off onto port before slipping back to starboard.
The breeze was light, sub 10 knots
Within a few minutes the Brits had squeezed out a very narrow lead. This beat would be crucial as the SE breeze looked steady out to sea where the windward mark was placed, a stark contrast to the conditions that the medal race has frequently produced so far.
Half way up the beat the Brits were in Gold.
At the first windward mark Brits led, Croatians in second and the Australians third – this is what the Brits needed but it was early days.
Meanwhile behind them the battle for Bronze was between Italy and Argentina.
Downwind the Brits lost out a bit on the left hand side of the course and gybed across to get back in contention with the Australians. The breeze had dropped slightly making for an even more tense as the Australians slipped three boat lengths ahead.
Now the game had changed for Bithell and Patience, they needed to drag Belcher and Page back into the fleet to mix things up.
As the lead three boats approached the leeward gate the Brits and Croatians gybed for the gate, the Australians pressed on. As they rounded the marks the Australians took the right hand mark in the lead, the Brits around the left hand mark in third. In such light conditions a puff on either side of the course could change the order in seconds.
A few minutes later and the left appeared to have paid off as Patience and Bithell climbed back into contention, coming head to head with the Australians and bouncing Belcher and Page back to the right hand side of the course. The Brits had re-engaged and the possibility of dragging the Australians back into the pack was alive again.
On the next head to head, the Australians had gained and a tacking duel kicked off. This short burst of action dragged the private battle back towards the fleet.
By the windward mark the Australians rounded in second, the Brits in fourth.
Then crisis for the Brits as they were given a penalty for pumping. With a few hundred metres to go an Australian victory seemed assured. And so it was, minutes later it was as Malcolm Page and Matthew Belcher crossed the line in second to take the Gold medal. Argentina was third securing their Bronze medal.
A superb battle between Australia and Britain, reflected in the two team’s actions as the crossed the line. Both capsized their boats and swam to congratulate each other. This may have been a crushing blow for British supporters but it was a superb sporting moment.
Ashore on the Nothe, the sailors’ Aussie and British dads were hugging each other in celebration.
“They sailed a fantastic race and are worthy champions,” said Stuart Bithell. “But we got a silver medal!”
Bubbling with excitement, this pair have delivered their promise at the start of laughing their way through the Games. Expect to see plenty more of them in the future.
“It’s been four years hard work, it’s not a Gold but we’re young guys and there’s plenty more time,” said Patience.
“It was a really tough battle all week and we had to work really hard for it,” Malcolm Page. “We knew we had the potential to do it and our sailing team has been going from strength to strength.”
“Us and the Aussie’s seemed to have jets on this week. We sheeted on and we were gone, much to our annoyance,” said Patience. “We were thinking, can’t we have some boats around to mix it up? It didn’t help that we both went way out in front. We try to slow it up with the match racing when Argentina came into the mix.
“One thing’s certain for me and Stuart, Sas and Hannah, our lives will never be the same again,” said Patience. “We’ve gone and achieved so much as youngsters. You live and breathe the sport and wake up every morning with these demons in your head that you might not be on the Olympic podium.”
But their efforts during the week had guaranteed that place. They had been forced to wait an extra day for it too as the breeze refused to play ball yesterday. But after the long wait they were no less excited than when they had secured their place three days ago.
The weather might have changed but the colour of their medals hadn’t.