It might be remembered as one of the most stressful medal races ever – for the competitors and the viewers – yet the top three in the Finn class maintained their positions with Giles Scott (GBR) taking home the gold.
But it could have been very different.
Hungary’s Zsombor Berecz won the medal race to secure the silver while Spain’s Joan Cardona did just enough to hang on to the bronze.
Where can you even start to tell the story of the day with all its twists and turns and near calamities? It was a roller coaster to watch, never mind compete in.
Scott won the gold in possibly the hardest way imaginable. He mistakenly returned to the start thinking he was over, and restarted last, sailing the whole race playing catch up. For while it looked all over for him, but one thing we have learned about Scott is that it’s never over until it’s over. He doesn’t give up and often finds a way back.
He didn’t think he was over, but “I made the call to go back and then I had quite a lot on. I made it by the skin of my teeth, it was properly to the wire; it was really tight. I tried to stay relaxed. It was mine to lose, if it had been any other race there was no way I’d go back.”
All week it’s been about the far right and far left. Most of the fleet headed right, but with a lot of work to do, Scott headed left. He needed a big change to happen, and it did. A left shift moved him up to fourth at the top and the race was back on.
However he then dropped back to seventh at the gate and was still a distant sixth at the top mark again. The gold medal was going to Hungary unless he moved up.
At the end of the run he was still sixth, with barely 100 metres of race track left and still a lot of work to be done. But he made a clean inside rounding and picked off two more places before the finish.
“I knew down the last run I had to make good headway, but I made a few good calls and a few well times gybes, and just sneaked round that group. I just got round the outside of the group at the bottom and tried to stay relaxed down that final reach and not pick up a penalty.
“I thought I had messed it up all the way to the finish, but of course I never gave up, always kept pushing. I’m a realist at heart, but I can count.”
He crossed in fourth to win gold by three points.
“I’ve certainly not been involved in any boat race as close as that.”
For silver medallist Berecz, there was certainly less drama.
“It was very hard for me not to go back after the start. I saw Giles was going back and I was not sure because I had a pretty good start also. But I know that this was the only chance for me to take the gold. Of course I wanted to win the race but the focus for me was on getting a medal.”
Berecz rounded the first mark in second behind Australia’s Jake Lilley, who led until the final downwind. Then The Netherland’s Nicholas Heiner came through downwind to lead at the final mark, before Berecz slid past to take the race win.
Meanwhile Cardona had a lot on to hang onto the bronze.
“I wanted to cover Josh [Junior] a bit and secure the medal as I knew he was the one closest to me. He went far right, so I just stayed on top of him. In the end the left paid better and then I was not trying to win the race, I was just trying to hold my position and if possible win the silver.”
“On the last upwind I lost some control, and when I rounded second last before the last downwind, I said to myself, just send it, go as fast as you can and let’s see what happens. It’s probably my last downwind in the Finn and I have to perform at my best.”
He moved up to seventh at the gate and crossed the finish in sixth to win the bronze.
“I think the medal race showed how close the Finn fleet is, and how competitive it is. We were pushing until the end. It was a really nice last downwind for me. I managed to climb back to the medal position so I am super happy.”
Cardona explained what the medal meant to him.
“It’s amazing. I don’t know how to describe it in words. I see how much I have made people happy who believed in me, and so many people back in Spain are cheering for me.
“I think not many people thought I could come here and win a medal and I proved I could. People were saying the pressure would get too much, but I just came here as probably my last chance in the Olympics and I had to give it all, and I am stoked with the results.”
Berecz now becomes the most successful Hungarian Olympic sailor in history.
“In Hungary we don’t get many medals. The last one was 41 years ago and so I know I had big pressure, as I believed it will change sailing in Hungary. I will be in the first line to help the new generation to show that even without the sea we can succeed even though we only have lakes.”
He also goes down in history as being the winner of the last Olympic Finn race.
“It’s a great moment but on the other had it’s also quite sad to see that our class is now out from the Games. I think this is a sad moment for the class, but I believe the class without the Olympics is still going to be strong. It’s such a nice family and you’ll never get that in the Olympics any more.”
Scott concluded, “I’ve been sailing again for three and bit months, and I’ve been on something of a timed run and it’s something my coach Matt Howard and I have really been trying to hold on to, that we are on a trajectory and that the target is the Olympics. We’ve had a few wobbles along the way but we’ve done it when we needed to.
“That was the greatest pressure of my career. It climbed throughout the race – that was full on.”
British sailors have now won the past six Finn gold medals at the Olympic Games, from Iain Percy in 2000, through Ben Ainslie from 2004-2012 and Scott in 2016.
“I’m so proud, there is such heritage in the Finn and it’s a shame it’s leaving the Games. To follow legends like Iain Percy and Ben Ainslie, they were my heroes growing up. This continues our domination and closes it out, we’ve won every gold since 2000; we own it.”
It was perhaps the end of an era on Tuesday in Enoshima as while the medalists celebrated their achievement, it was tempered with the knowledge that there will be no more Finn racing at the Olympics.
As the last boat crossed the finish line, the Finn class’s near 70-year era as the greatest and longest continuous Olympic class was over. Long live the Finn.
For the full results, see: https://tokyo2020.sailing.org/results-centre