British sailors asserted their dominance in the first Tokyo 2020 test.
For Britain’s Olympic class athletes, 2018 concluded with the biggest test of the year – the world’s best facing off on the very waters that will play host to the Tokyo 2020 sailing competition.
After several weeks of training in Enoshima, the chosen venue for Tokyo 2020, the Brits had all but mastered the strong onshore winds and big waves that seemed to characterise the Olympic waters.
Naturally, when the time came to go into battle at World Cup Series Enoshima, the wind gods decided to play with the sailors. Wind and waves were replaced with flat calm seas and light, fluky breeze blowing off the land, causing shifts of up to 60 degrees.
Nevertheless, the British Sailing Team’s 38-strong contingent were prepared to hit the ground running and deal with whatever was thrown at them.
49er pair James Peters and Fynn Sterritt led the charge, taking an early lead which they held right the way through to the final day’s double-points medal race. It was not to be easy-going, though, as they went into the finale tied on points with Poland’s Lukasz Przybytek and Pawel Kolodzinski, and only four points ahead of third-placed Kiwi duo Logan Dunning-Beck.
Despite the obvious pressure, James was steadfast in his determination going into the medal race.
“We know we can win – we have got this,” he declared prior to hitting the water. And win they did, in the most stylish manner.
The duo led off the line, picked the shifts perfectly and stretched out a comfortable advantage downwind. From the mid-point of the race, all they had to do was defend. Crossing the finish line with a huge lead, victory was theirs.
It was a key moment in the pair’s campaign to make it to Tokyo 2020 – they were forced to sit out of much of the 2018 season after Fynn injured his knee, but the win announced their return as serious contenders for the one British 49er spot.
“We are over the moon – ecstatic,” said Fynn. “It was an up-and-down week. We were really consistent early on in the regatta then struggled a bit, but to win is such a great feeling.”
James added: “This result shows we can perform in the venue that will host the Olympics in two years’ time, and that is a real positive.”
James and Fynn were not the only ones to enjoy success in Enoshima. Gold also went to Elliot Hanson in a super-competitive Laser fleet that included three British sailors in the top 10.
Elliot was so dominant that he had the regatta wrapped up a day early with a huge points lead, meaning the final day medal race was just a formality.
“It is amazing to win on Olympic waters – there is a real history of those who can perform in the venue in the years running up to the Games going on to have great success,” said Elliot, 24, from Macclesfield.
“That is a great confidence boost going into the next two years. As a British squad we are so strong and it is going to be tough just to qualify for the Games. This result certainly is not the be all and end all but it is a great boost.”
It was a bittersweet finish for British Finn sailors Giles Scott and Ed Wright, who launched for their medal race in second and third overall with a tiny points gap to first. But with just a few knots blowing over the course the race officials decided they could not hold a fair contest, and so both were denied their shots at gold.
Still, silver and bronze medals from a fleet packed with champions demonstrates the strength in depth the British Finn contingent has to offer.
“To come here and race against the top guys and come away with a silver medal is great,” said Giles, the reigning Olympic champion.
“The reason I was so keen to come out was to see what the Olympic venue has to offer, and it seemingly has an awful lot to offer. I have been away from the Finn a little while now, and it is probably about time to start ramping it up again.”
It was not all plain sailing in Enoshima though. A start line battle with China’s Peina Chen did not pay off for Bryony Shaw in the women’s RS:X, and a ninth saw her slip from second to fourth overall.
A similar fate befell Charlotte Dobson and Saskia Tidey, who crossed the 49er FX line in eighth. They too slipped from the silver medal position to end the regatta in fourth.
The lack of breeze not only affected the Finns but also both 470 fleets, preventing Hannah Mills and Eilidh McIntyre from improving on their fifth position.
“It was a really tough week – we really were not firing on all cylinders – but it has been great to be here,” said Hannah.
“It is my first time in Japan and at the Olympic venue so it has been great to get a feel for the place so we can learn and prepare for Tokyo 2020.
“It is frustrating not to have a medal race – we clawed our way into a position where we could attack and at least try for a medal, and to be denied that chance is really disappointing.”
Eilidh, from Hayling Island, added: “It is not the result we came for but we will learn and come back stronger next time we are here.”
The British Sailing Team will now enjoy a well-earned break until the 2019 season kicks off in Miami in January.