For the fifth Olympic Games in a row, Great Britain has won the gold medal in the Finn class, with Giles Scott (GBR) already securing gold before Tuesday’s medal race. Vasilij Zbogar (SLO) crossed in sixth to claim the silver, his third Olympic medal, while the story of the final day was Caleb Paine (USA), running away with the race to take the win and the bronze medal.
The Sugarloaf course in Guanabara Bay was where it started one week ago. Renowned for tricky, unpredictable conditions, the medal race was no different, though perhaps slightly less unpredictable, sailed in a reasonably solid 10 knots, with Oscar flag flying for free pumping conditions.
Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic (CRO) went into the medal race in third overall, but both Paine and Max Salminen (SWE) were close enough to be a problem. While most sailors favoured the left side of the upwind, Paine saw some pressure to the right and was rewarded with a monster shift into the first mark that gave him a 30 second jump on the fleet. He cruised away to an easy victory and with both Gaspic and Salminen in the second half of the fleet, he had one hand on the bronze by the first mark. As he came into the finish, looking back to count the places, the realisation of what he had done dawned on him and his smile got bigger and bigger, until he crossed the finish with a whoop of joy, fist in the air.
Afterwards, Paine explained how he was feeling. "It's pretty awesome, it's been a pretty tough regatta and to be able to come away with a medal at the end is a great feeling. It was a tough push and a hard medal race but fortunately enough it makes it easier when you hit the right shifts off the bat and I just had to make sure I didn't mess it up.”
“I knew if I got ahead and won the race things would become a lot easier. I was fortunate to establish a lead right ahead of time and let everyone else make mistakes and I sailed the best race I could.”
“My initial plan was actually to go a bit left but I but saw quite a bit of pressure coming down the right side of the course so I looked for the duck on Giles and hitched up and was fortunate to catch the pressure all the way and was continuously playing that right side up the beat. I would sail out of it and then tack to sail back into it. On a couple of the courses here in Rio it actually pays to overstand just because it shifts so much and being in the pressure pays so much.”
"It's been a tough battle for me even to get to the Olympics. We never stopped fighting until the end and we're fortunate enough to get a medal in the end. I've been sailing for a very long time so being able to get things to come together at the right time is what it's all about. I'm just happy to come away with a third, but I look forward to maybe down the line coming back again and going for gold.”
With Paine leading the race, Zbogar had to make sure he was not last, otherwise he would drop to bronze position. He rounded the top mark in eighth, close on Gaspic’s stern, but passed him downwind to eventually cross the finish in sixth to take the bronze. His emotion was intense. As he crossed the finish he looked as if he was not quite sure what he had done and how to react to the achievement. But soon the emotion, relief and joy overcame him.
In winning the Finn silver medal in Rio he joins an elite group of sailors who have won three or more Olympic medals.
Zbogar commented, "I feel relieved. I feel relieved that it's over. It just went well. I was only dreaming of it one week ago. I feel very happy because it's in a different class. The first two were in a Laser, this is in Finn. I am by far the oldest sailor in the Finn and this result is even more meaningful. My body is a bit old and I was struggling over the last few years and I continue pushing all the time. Fortunately, my mind is still 20 years old and I pushed every race as much as I could.”
"I managed to survive the week and I just wanted to be in with a challenge of a medal. I had nothing to gain in the race, I had everything to lose, as Giles had gold. There was a small chance I could lose it. I knew I couldn't push too much but I did anyway. Second place for me is something unbelievable.”
"I'm just very tired. The week was very hard and of course I'm very happy that everything is finished in a good way with second place, which for me is a dream. I'm extremely proud and happy to be able to sail very consistent all week, to get a medal. That's my last one, I'm finished now."
"There were a lot of sacrifices, especially the last two years. I didn't do anything except focus on sailing and try to improve day by day and I left everything; my family, things I would like to do because when you focus on training and achievement you need to rest and train. I've been doing that for the past two years and to be able to come out of that with a good result of course is extremely rewarding."
He said the key to surviving the week was to sail as smart as possible. “I was trying to just survive. I did survive and I just wanted to on the last day challenge for the medals. I knew I had to be careful on the starting line, I could only lose, I had nothing to gain.”
Speaking about the spectators cheering from the beach. He added, "It was good for the public to see that the Finn is a really tough class."
Scott was back to his normal, casual, demeanour after Sunday's emotional rollercoaster, but enjoying the occasion with no pressure at all. He rounded the top mark fourth, was soon up to third, then second and was chasing, and catching, Paine down the final run. A wave of acknowledgement as he crossed the finish line marked the end of his Olympics and the affirmation of the gold medal. The job was done.
Scott said, "It was great to be able to go out and enjoy that race today. The 17th place on day one on the Sugarloaf course was not the way I wanted to start the regatta and it wasn't until day three or four that I started to believe that the gold was in my grasp. Winning four World Championships is great, but this is one that everyone wants and everyone remembers, so now to have an Olympic gold is a great feeling.”
“I've been trying to get to the Olympic Games for at least two cycles so to qualify for Rio firstly was a huge deal for me and then obviously to come here and win is just fantastic and I'm just so thankful for all the decisions that were made early on in the campaign."
"A lot of people say that there's a lot of sacrifices, but in all honesty we all very much enjoy what we do and they're not seen as sacrifices. Yes it's hard work, but there's a lot of enjoyment in there so it doesn't feel like I've sacrificed a great deal."
He has lived with the fact that he will be Olympic champion for the past two days. "It's been a huge luxury. There's not many that can say, I've won the Olympics before the medal race. The end of race 10 was really the big moment where it really hit me hard, especially then I just had time to stay and think about what I'd done, and look back over the last three years."
It has been a tough, challenging week in Rio for the Finn class. Most of the ‘favourites’ failed to live up to expectations and many failed to even make the medal race. This speaks volumes both about Rio as a venue, but more importantly about the competitive depth with the Finn class at the moment. The racing has been as tight as the class has ever seen, the complex conditions stretching every sailor through the light days and the epic, monumental days at sea with the monster waves. But all along, one man was perhaps destined to dominate and come away with the gold medal.
For the time being Giles Scott’s legacy and achievements in the Finn class end in Rio, but as sure as everyone was about his victory here, is the surety that at some point he will return to defend in Tokyo in four years time.
For Vasilij Zbogar, it is the end of the road as far as Olympic campaigns are concerned, but for Caleb Paine, it is perhaps the start of an exciting new chapter in the life of a young sailor who has achieved his ultimate dream. And how many people can say that?
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Results can be found here.