British Finn sailor Giles Scott is awarded Gold, after winning the Olympic class with a race to spare
The four-year Olympic cycle is arduous for every athlete, but for Giles Scott it has been an especially long road. When Scott finally stood on the podium tonight, Tuesday, 16 August to collect his Gold medal in the Finn class it was the culmination of two Olympic campaigns and years of waiting.
Many believe Scott would have won a medal on home waters in 2012 if he had been able to compete alongside fellow Briton Ben Ainslie, who went on to score Gold and earn himself a knighthood for becoming the most decorated Olympic sailor of all time. But thanks to ‘one nation one boat’ rule of Olympic sailing, it could only be Scott or Ainslie in Weymouth.
Hard as it may seem to believe now, but Ainslie’s place at the 2012 Games was far from guaranteed. Scott, then just 23, beat the reigning Gold medallist at the Miami Olympic regatta in 2011 and went on to take the Finn world championship in Perth that year, after Ainslie was penalised for a fracas with a media boat. The pair pushed each other as hard as any Olympic final in their selection battle, but ultimately Scott was forced to watch from the sidelines.
Every regatta counts
When Ainslie stepped aside from Finn campaigning, Scott, who stands at 6ft 6ins, was perfectly positioned to begin his domination of the 2016 Olympic cycle. He and his coach Matt Howard’s policy was to treat every regatta as if it counted – and they won almost every single one, including both Aquece Rio test events.
“When we put the campaign together after London, Matt, my coach and I we decided that we wanted to campaign flat out,” said Scott after securing his Gold. “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.”
He approached the 2016 Games as firm favourite, but pressure is something Scott is used to – this is a man who threw himself in the way of Ainslie’s bid to make sailing history. It is a mark of both men’s characters that Ainslie recruited Scott to Land Rover BAR, Ainslie’s British America’s Cup challenge, describing his appointment in 2014 as ‘a no-brainer’.
However, Scott accepted the position with the clear understanding that the Olympics would come first, and for the final two years of his Olympic campaign he balanced domination of the Finn class as world No.1 with helping the new Cup team rise to the top of the America’s Cup World Series leaderboard, only stepping down from the tactician role in the last few months of Olympic campaigning in 2016.
The pressure cranked up yet further on the first day of Scott’s Games, when he finished a surprising 17th. However, having ‘got the discard out of the way early’, Scott went on to score seven podium finishes in the ten race series on Rio’s variable waters.
Scott commented today: “It’s not often you can say you’ve won an Olympic Games before the Medal Race. We knew coming into Rio that the racing wasn’t going to be easy and regardless of form, it was always going to be a hard week, and it certainly was that.
“It’s incredibly good to be in a situation where we can look back and say now all the decisions we made back then all came good and were the correct decisions to make.
“I had a particularly shaky start to the regatta start but managed to pull through with some good consistency. To win it the way I have, I couldn’t ask for it any other way.”
Having secured the gold medal with a race to spare, for Scott the final wait was a 48-hour delay before he could sail out onto the Pão de Açucar (Sugarloaf Mountain) course and claim his Gold. He continues a 16-year British dominance in the Finn class, the ‘heavyweight’ singlehanded dinghy, which began with Iain Percy and included Ainslie’s three Golds.
His parents were watching from Grafham Water SC, having been forced to miss out on watching their son’s long-deserved Medal Race and cancel their travel plans to Rio when his father injured his knee. The Cambridgeshire reservoir is where Scott and his brothers were introduced to the sport, initially sailing in Optimists attached to the shore by a long line. Giles, the middle of three boys, says he was initially coaxed into racing with the promise of chocolate bars, before the competitive urge kicked in. He moved through the Topper, Radial and Laser fleets before settling in the Finn class, winning the Youth division of the World Championships in 2008.
Next stop Bermuda
Scott will have little time to bask in his Olympic glory. The battle for the America’s Cup is about to hot up, and Land Rover BAR will soon be decamping to Bermuda to ramp up their challenge for the oldest trophy in sport. “Now I’m going off to the America’s Cup,” commented Scott today. “I’d love to be able to help bring that back to the UK and maybe I’ll do another Olympic cycle or maybe I won’t. At the moment I can’t say either way.
“I’m going to have a few weeks off, but then the whip will come out I’m sure.”
The Finn class final placings were decided behind Scott in today’s Medal Race with Vasilij Zbogar (SLO) silver, while Caleb Paine (USA) clinched bronze on the course.
Scott is not the only pre-event favourite to have wrapped up Gold with a race to spare at Rio – the highly anticipated 49er pairing of Peter Burling and Blair Tuke (NZL) have secured the overall win, as have the 2012 women’s 470 silver medalists Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark (GBR).