Olympics: Australia, Britain win gold as Games regatta closes

Matthew Belcher and Will Ryan of Australia after winning the men's 470 sailing class at the Tokyo Olympics on Aug 4, 2021.
Matthew Belcher and Will Ryan of Australia after winning the men's 470 sailing class at the Tokyo Olympics on Aug 4, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS

ENOSHIMA, Japan (REUTERS) - Matthew Belcher and Will Ryan of Australia stormed to Olympic gold for Australia in the men’s 470 sailing class on Wednesday (Aug 4), with Britain’s Hannah Mills and Eilidh McIntyre winning the women’s competition to close the regatta.

After a thrilling battle for silver, Sweden’s Anton Dahlberg and Fredrik Bergstrom came out on top as Jordi Xammar and Nicolas Rodriguez Garcia-Paz picked up the bronze for Spain.

Poland’s Agnieszka Skrzypulec and Jolanta Ogar took silver in the women’s category with a storming performance in the medal race to pass the French pair of Camille Lecointre and Aloise Retornaz who ended up with bronze.

Belcher and Ryan performed brilliantly in the opening series, winning three races and finishing in the top five in nine of the 10 preliminaries to set themselves up for a cruise to gold in a medal race staged in blazing sunshine.

“It’s a crazy position to be in going into a medal race, where all you’ve got to do is just not make any mistakes,” Belcher, who with two golds and one silver is now the most successful Australian Olympic sailor of all time, told reporters.

The 2016 runners-up avoided the tussle behind them as crews from Sweden, Spain, New Zealand and Britain battled it out.

The Swedes kept pace with the Australians as they made their break, coming out on top in their battle with the Spaniards to finish second in the medal race as well as in the overall standings to take silver.

There was high drama in the women’s race as Britain’s Mills, racing with a new partner in McIntyre, successfully defended the Olympic title she won in Rio as Poland edged the French team in the race for second in the overall standings.

Mills became the most successful female sailor with Wednesday's victory.

She has won two gold medals and one silver over the last three Olympics, and though she faces an uncertain future with the 470 class switching to mixed, she is delighted that she found her fire again.

“I think when you get older, your priorities change a little bit and there’s other things in life beyond just your sport, and that creates its own challenges,” Mills told reporters following the medal ceremony.

“It can sometimes be hard to find the grit and determination that is required to win a gold medal, and that’s been challenging at times. But this last year with Covid, the privilege we felt as athletes to train and carry on almost as normal has spurred us on so much.”

The British pairing kept out of trouble in the medal race to take the gold ahead of Poland’s Agnieszka Skrzypulec and Jolanta Ogar in second and Camille Lecointre and Aloise Retornaz in third, and Mills later revealed how tough the competition had been.

“It’s been one of the hardest weeks of my life. I’m sure for Eilidh as well, just every day, not being able to eat, just nerves building up, the emotion of just we’ve done it,” Mills explained.

McIntyre was equally emotional, referencing her father Mike’s win in the Star class at the 1988 Games.

She said: “To be honest I just couldn’t believe it. I can’t believe that this has happened. I’ve dreamt about it my entire life with my dad, and it’s just such an amazing feeling.” 

McIntyre said she will be back for Paris 2024, and though Mills was non-committal about her future, she may yet return.

“The Olympic Games is like nothing else when it comes to bringing out that competitive edge,” she said.