Two outcomes were expected out of this Olympics: that Giles Scott would win the Finn gold medal and that the unexpected would happen. Well both have already happened and we still have the final day to go.
While Tuesday’s medal race, if the wind decides to cooperate, will decide where the silver and bronze medals will go, Giles Scott (GBR) has the privilege to enjoy the occasion, and savour the moment. “If you’d have asked me, would I have won the Olympic Games before the Medal Race? I’d have said absolutely not because of the venue that it is. It’s such a privileged situation to be in because for everybody else is going to be fighting it out for those medals; it’s going to be incredibly stressful and to be able to say I’m not going to have to go through that is pretty nice.”
“The venue that it is,” has proved tricky and unpredictable in the extremes and even caught out Scott on a number of occasions, most notably in the opening race when he had a fight on just to finish in 17th place. Since then it has been sublime sailing for the four-time world champion, with just one more race outside the top 10, and seven times in the top three. Even if all the predictions were for him to win, it is still a surprise, even to him, to have managed to achieve it in quite that manner. Even his predecessor, Ben Ainslie, always managed to spin it out to the final moments before claiming victory. Perhaps this is an accurate reflection of Scott’s usually calm and casual style: no stress, no drama, just get the job done in the most efficient way.
Vasilij Zbogar’s dream is to end his remarkable Olympic career with a third medal. Vasilij Zbogar (SLO) is the oldest Finn sailor in Rio and will be the oldest in the medal race by some six years. He has felt the demands of Rio on his body more than most of the fleet, but his experience has paid off and he goes into the medal race with an 18 point buffer on fourth place.
After two medals in the Laser class, a third medal here in Rio seems almost certain, but, “You know about medal races, anything can happen and we need to keep our eyes open and fight as much as possible. I cannot go into a match race; that would be impossible, so I need to talk with the team how I will manage the race.”
Perhaps more than anyone else out there, Zbogar is a fighter. He never gives up. He has podiumed in numerous events in the past four years since finishing sixth at London 2012, and the conditions in Rio, while taxing him physically, have suited his sailing style, proven by the fact that he has been first or second overall all week long.
Third placed Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic (CRO) is at his third Games and still without a medal. He has won three European Championships and countless medals at other events, but an Olympic medal continued to elude him. Consistency was always going to be key in Rio, and he is in the bronze medal position with only one top-three race result. That is something unusual, though even Zbogar has only finished in the top three in two races.
After a reasonably consistent start, Gaspic started to rack up a few top places, more than his main rivals, to put himself into a great position for the medal race. While he will have one eye on silver, he will also have an eye on the sailors very close behind him and challenging for the bronze.
That includes Caleb Paine (USA), who is just five points back. Gaspic protested him in race 6 for a port-starboard incident on the start line, claiming to have borne away to avoid a collision. Paine later received new video evidence and the jury dismissed the protest and reinstated Paine in second place in the race. On the importance of getting reinstated into race 6, Paine said, “It’s huge. It was one of those things, but it was great that it got righted and I got the position that I earned.”
Paine has had a very inconsistent week, counting results from second to 17th, but finished strongly on Sunday to put himself back into contention for a medal. “There have been a lot of ups and downs but it’s always good to finish on a great day. There is still a lot of racing to be had in the medal race and I’m just looking forward to finishing it off and hopefully getting a medal in the end.”
He feels he now has a good shot at a medal. “I feel great. I always come from behind and I never stop fighting regardless of the situation I am in. I’ve thought it through and know how to deal with it and hopefully we’ll get it done.”
On equal points with Paine is Max Salminen (SWE). Like many he started slowing and then began to make ground mid-regatta and finished strongly to make the medal race cut. “Slow start and catching up? Yes, that’s me unfortunately. They call me the diesel engine.”
“We expected mixed conditions and we got very mixed conditions. Maybe surprisingly mixed actually but all in all, a little bit like we expected.”
“I am happy with my progress through the week. It took a while to get into it and really find a focus and drive in the boat. Since then it’s only gone better and better. The years training here have certainly helped, especially on Saturday and Sunday where we got conditions that we were more expecting.”
On his chances in the medal race, “The first thing to say is that I am really happy just to be here and competing for a medal after a quite long way, and progressing after four years. It’s cool to be here. I just need to tie the bag up [apparently that’s a Swedish expression for wrap it up] and finish on a good note.”
One of the sailors who has been notably quiet this week is Josh Junior (NZL). Predicted by many to be a sure fire medal prospect, and perhaps even topple Scott, he has struggled all week, but a late surge now sees him in the medal race and with an outside chance of medalling.
“I’m pretty stoked to make the medal race. A few days ago it was going to be a struggle just to make the medal race and now I am in the medal race with a shot at a medal. It’s just a great opportunity.”
“It was very frustrating not to be able to hit my groove from the start, but you live and you learn.” He added that it was not so much about getting to grips with the conditions, but “I think it’s just me sailing better and executing what I knew how to do.”
Junior is in seventh, 15 points off bronze. A medal is perhaps a bit of a stretch, but not impossible. Of the others in with a chance of the medal, Jorge Zarif is sixth, 11 points from bronze. A former world champion, and sailing on his home waters, he has been flummoxed by the conditions as much as his competitors.
At the bottom of the top 10, Facundo Olezza (ARG), Pieter-Jan Postma (NED) and Jake Lilley (AUS) are all 18 points off bronze. While mathematically possible, a medal is pretty unlikely.
Olezza is at his first Olympics and the youngest sailor in the fleet. He excelled in the lighter winds, winning two races, but struggled in the big breeze and big waves outside Guanabara Bay. “It feels weird. I work a lot but I’m new to the class so I was not expecting too much from this. I don’t know how I’m feeling. This is new for me. This feels great, but it’s weird.”
We will finish with some more words from Giles Scott. He has been through a lot to get to this point and in the eyes of the fleet deserves this medal more than most. His elation, and relief, is palpable, a testimony to the hard hours that have preceded an amazing victory.
“It’s been a dream of mine for so long. I can’t quite believe that I’ve managed to put together the regatta I have, to come away and win the Olympics with a race to spare.”
“It’s been a long road. I campaigned properly for London, missed out on the qualification for that and was bitterly disappointed. Watching all of my friends racing at the Olympics and get medals wasn’t easy, but the amazing thing that came off the back of it was a desire to right the wrongs I felt I made, and to put together a campaign I could be proud of.”
On Sunday, “Coming down the last reach in that last race, I didn’t quite know what to make of it. I’m not the emotional sort, but started crying. It’s such a weird, but amazing thing to go through.”