It was always going to be a big day on the water, but the last day of the 2016 Olympic Games really did deliver something special.
The women’s 470 final started proceedings in a brisk 17 knots – Britons Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark had only to finish to secure Gold, which they did with ease in eighth. The 2012 champions Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie (NZL) finished third, confirming them in silver position, while the French team of Camille Lecointre and Hélène Defrence claimed Bronze by a single point.
Despite their 20-point advantage, it was still possible for the British pair to lose their Gold: a DSQ score could have put paid to their win.
Mills commented: “That last race was really hard. We had to finish the Medal Race, but at the same time there was a massive battle behind us for silver and bronze and we didn’t want to be the boat that tacked on someone, causing them to lose a medal. We honestly just tried to stay out of it, it was the right thing to do.”
Clark added: “It wasn’t a forgone conclusion today; we knew we could have lost the medal. We knew we had to be sensible and just do the same boring routine things that we’ve been doing for the last ten days. The big fear was suffering a breakage, such as the mast breaking, so we couldn’t finish the race.”
But shortly after Tina Mrak and Veronik Macarol (SLO) won the race, Mills and Clark crossed the finish line to secure Gold and finally allow their celebrations to begin.
Mills said: “We ran down the beach. I just wanted to see my mum, she’s been here the whole time supporting me, along with my family back at home. It is just such an amazing moment to be able to share with everyone. When you’re out on the water you’re doing it on your own and it was nice to be able to come in and see everyone.
Saskia said: “I can’t stop smiling. It’s been amazing winning a medal with one of my best mates and Joe (Glanfield), our coach is an absolute legend.”
The men’s 470 race still had potential for a dramatic conclusion, but the Croatian team of Sime Fantela and Igor Marenic (CRO) kept control of the final race, making sure they stayed ahead of their rivals Australia and Greece. However Mat Belcher and Will Ryan (AUS) were much concerned about protecting the silver medal and engaged Panagiotis Mantis and Pavlos Kagialis (GRE) in a match race before the start.
The Swiss team streaked off into the lead, but the three medal contenders were much more interested in covering each other’s moves at the back of the fleet.
Belcher mostly had the best of Mantis until the top of the final windward leg when Ryan lost his footing and briefly fell overboard. The Greeks seized the moment and moved into the lead, but the Australians attacked again on the final run to the finish. They pressured the Greek boat into making a small mistake on a gybe, and the 2012 Olympic Champion Belcher crossed the line just six seconds before their rivals to secure silver for Australia.
Fantela and Marenic’s 470 Men’s gold follows Croatian Tonci Stipanovic’s Laser Men’s silver just two days ago. Croatia had never won an Olympic medal in sailing, now it has two.
Finishing in third place in the medal race were Luke Patience and Chris Grube, taking them to fifth overall. They may have been out of contention for the medals, but the British pair were justly proud of what they have achieved, campaigning together for only eight months after Elliot Willis, Patience’s previous crew, was diagnosed with cancer in late 2015.
Patience said: “We dug so deep and stayed interested in moving up and solving a problem. We approached it with intensity.
“I know it wasn’t for medals but we treated it like it was and showed our true qualities because we had a bad start and we fought and fought. I’m happy, it’s been such a pleasure to sail with Chris over the last eight months, I feel happy, I really do.”
The 49er class belonged to Peter Burling and Blair Tuke of New Zealand. Long before the Games they had stamped their utter domination on the fleet, unbeaten for over 20 events and two years in everything they sailed their 49er, and alternating four world championship wins with a Moth world title for helmsman Burling. They proudly carried their country’s silver fern flag at the Olympic opening ceremony and few sailors set out onto Guanabara Bay with greater expectations on their shoulders.
Even the many variables of Rio failed to break their stride – they started with two wins, and scored no worse than 7th all regatta, sealing their Gold medal with a race to spare. To drive home the point, they then won the Medal Race too.
The laidback Kiwis don’t give much away, although they did allow themselves a spectacular spinnaker capsize on the line as they crossed the finish as victors. It will be back to the day job for both of them soon – the two are lynchpin members of the Emirates Team New Zealand America’s Cup challenge.
Erik Heil and Thomas Ploessel (GER) began the day in silver medal position, but started very badly after a near capsize just 20 seconds before the start. This put the Germans on the back foot and opened the door for Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen (AUS) to seize the advantage. The 2012 Olympic Champions did enough to stay ahead of their rivals and won silver for Australia, Germany taking bronze.
The women’s skiff class rounded off the sailing at the greatest show on earth, and what a show it was with four crews in a straightforward fight to the finish for gold: Tamara Echegoyen and Berta Betanzos (ESP), Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze (BRA), Jena Hansen and Katja Salskov-Iversen (DEN) and Alex Maloney and Molly Meech (NZL).
Maloney and Meech had built a good lead on the first lap but led Brazil by just 13 seconds at the halfway stage of the three-lap race. At the bottom gate, the Kiwis chose the right-hand side and Brazil broke off to the left in search of something different. When they came back together again at the top of the course, Brazil’s tactics had given them a ten-second lead.
On the final run to the finish the Kiwis attacked hard and made up ground on the Brazilians but somehow Grael and Kunze held on to squeeze across the very outer limit of the finish line just two seconds ahead. The crowd on Flamengo Beach exploded.
While New Zealand took silver, bronze went to Denmark’s Jena Hansen and Katja Salskov-Iversen (DEN). The team to miss out on a medal from the four-way battle was the Spanish crew of Tamara Echegoyen and Berta Betanzos (ESP).
Grael’s victory continues a great family tradition, her father Torben having won five Olympic medals for Brazil to become a true national hero. Brazilian spectators carried out the sailing equivalent of a pitch invasion, swimming to the course area to escort the winners in before Grael and Kunze were carried ashore aloft in their 49erFX. The host nation has just got two new superstars, and they just happen to be sailors.
See full results of all fleets at http://www.sailing.org/olympics/rio2016/results_centre.php
On site reporting by Andy Rice/World Sailing and Imogen Stanley/RYA Team GBR