On Tuesday, Finn sailor Giles Scott took to the podium to receive Great Britain‘s seventeenth Gold medal of Rio 2016.
But this was no close call. This result was never in doubt. In fact, the four time World Champion didn’t even have to turn up to the last race of his Games. Even with the points available in the double scoring medal race – usually the dramatic climax of a long week of competition – nobody in the world could catch him.
Instead, Scott’s final race was simply a triumphant procession for the Brit. A victory lap. A chance to celebrate his achievement in front of the crowds of British supporters who had gathered at Guanabara Bay to watch their champion.
Heartbreak Healed as Giles Scott Shines
Giles Scott, once again at the top of the world, unbeatable, as he has been for the last three years. Three successive world titles, to add to the honour he won in 2011, and now the Olympic Champion.
So why have you never heard his name? Why is the twenty nine year old an Olympic debutant?
Three words: Sir Ben Ainslie.
Sir Ben, arguably the greatest sailor to ever take to the water. With ten world titles to his name, Ben has dominated the world of British sailing since he burst onto the scene in Atlanta 1996, when he took home the silver in the laser class. Four years later, he upgraded to a Gold in Sydney, before changing to the larger Finn class to take Gold once again in Athens, Beijing and then London in 2012. Four golds catapulted Ben into the record books: the most successful Olympic sailor of all time, and one of only four athletes in history to win four consecutive gold medals in individual events.
When it came to qualifying for the home Olympics, the defending Olympic champion in the Finn class returned to his dinghy from the heights of Americas Cup racing, to narrowly edge out his closest rival. Fellow Brit Giles Scott – the defending World Champion – was left unable to qualify for the games. For Giles Scott, the Gold medal match would not be in Weymouth in June 2012 with the rest of the world. For Scott, the Gold was lost at the Sail for Gold regatta back in 2011, against his countryman.
You would not see such brutal qualification in many other sports. We’ve watched this week as multiple Brits have taken to the podium alongside each other. Louis Smith and Max Whitlock taking Silver and Gold in the pommel; Jason Kenny and Callum Skinner occupying the top of the podium in the Men’s Individual Sprint; the Brownlee brothers dominating the world of triathlon. But the sailors will never have that chance. Only one boat per nation will qualify for the Olympics. And for Britain, one of the best sailing nations in the world, it won’t matter how good our second placed sailor is. Only one will get the chance to represent their country at the Olympic Games.
And it’s not just the qualification that’s brutal. The racing itself is challenging with competitors facing eleven races in total – ten of which are raced against the whole fleet, whilst the top ten then go through to a double points medal race to decide the final results. In Rio, that translated to over a week of racing in tough conditions, with strong winds and huge waves.
All that racing, but only one competitor per nation. Only one chance.
No Room for Error
Simone Biles walks away from these Games with five medals – four Gold, one Bronze. Take nothing away from the ten time world Champion – the nineteen year old is something very special. But her fall in the final of the beam competition, which left her disappointed with only a Bronze medal, will soon be forgotten amongst her other Olympic successes.
In the pool, Michael Phelps has cemented himself as the best Olympian in history, with an incredible collection of twenty three gold medals – five of which have come from his time in Rio. But his tie on the podium with South Africa’s Chad Le Clos and Hungary’s László Cseh will only be remembered due to the rarity of a dead heat.
Jason Kenny has had an incredible games. His medals in the Individual Sprint, Team Sprint and Keirin catapulted him to the top of the all time most successful British Olympians, tying with Sir Chris Hoy at six golds apiece. Three events, Six Golds, but all achieved in the space of two Olympics.
The sailors won’t ever have that opportunity. One race; one chance; one medal.
This time, Giles Scott took that chance. His prize; an Olympic Gold medal. Gold for Scott is the prize of years of hard work, determination and disappointment; his one chance taken; his heartbreak finally healed.
And, amazingly, he wasn’t the only one. Earlier in the week, the British 470 pairing of Hannah Mills and Saskia Clarke, in the words of Shirley Robertson, also “did a Giles”. They too secured a Gold Medal before the competition was even over, and yesterday, the girls took to the water for their Victory lap; a wonderful conclusion four years after their own heartbreak of watching an olympic gold snatched from their grasp in the dying seconds of London 2012. They weren’t going to let that happen this time.
With Nick Dempsey‘s also finding success in the RS:X class over the weekend, Great Britain will return home from Guanabara Bay with a three medal haul. The 470 girl’s medal meant Britain held off rivals New Zealand to top the medal haul from the water. Once again, Great Britain have proved they rule the waves.
So when you’re counting up our medal tally, don’t forget how much those medals from the water really mean. Celebrate the Usain Bolt‘s, the Laura Trott‘s, and the Max Whitlock‘s, who have all achieved incredible feats over the last two weeks. But remember that sometimes, it’s not all about the number.
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