In a race battle to the end, stepping away victorious from the medal race with 2019 470 World Championship Gold medals are Mathew Belcher/Will Ryan (AUS) and Hannah Mills/Eilidh McIntyre (GBR).
Eleven races over the five preceding days of intensely physical and mentally demanding racing today culminated in today’s double-points medal race. The air was thick with expectation as teams prepared their boats under the eyes of hordes of Japanese media gathered around the medal race quarantine zone at Enoshima Yacht Harbour, the venue for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Sailing Competition.
In the 470 Men, the gold and silver medal contenders were clear cut, as series leaders Jordi Xammar/Nicolas Rodriguez (ESP) and second-placed Mathew Belcher/Will Ryan (AUS) were guaranteed medals, with only the colour to be decided. Behind, the three teams in the mix to make their assault on bronze were Panagiotis Mantis/Pavlos Kagialis (GRE), Sweden’s Anton Dahlberg/Fredrik Bergstrom and 2018 World Champions Kevin Peponnet/Jeremie Mion (FRA).
Virtually the same scenario in the 470 Women, with Hannah Mills/Eilidh McIntyre (GBR) one point ahead of Japan’s defending World Champions Ai Kondo Yoshida/Miho Yoshioka, but the medal permutations were not as clear cut as the men. Whilst the stage seemed set for a gold/silver medal battle between the British and Japanese, there was an outside chance of France’s Camille Lecointre/Aloïse Retornaz stepping up to gold if the leading two teams finished at the back of the pack. Behind the French, Italy’s Elena Berta/Bianca Caruso and Spain’s Silvia Mas/Patricia Cantero also had a points window to seize bronze.
With the medals decided, the prize giving and closing ceremony took place outside the Yacht House, with the proximity of the 1964 Olympic torch serving as a close reminder of what awaits next year. After presentations, the medallists let loose with euphoria, popping the corks on magnums of champagne and fire-hosing it across themselves and the watching crowd in true winners’ style.
With less than a year to go until Tokyo 2020, the success of the 2019 470 Worlds was a small preview of the outstanding environment provided for 470 Class racing on Enoshima Bay and the profile that 470 racing will bring to the 2020 Olympic Sailing Competition.
The 470 Men got off first for their short, sharp twenty-five minute windward/ leeward race, but the gold medal hunt was over before it had begun.
Whilst Australia’s Mat Belcher/Will Ryan crossed the finish in third place and wrapped up gold, the eighth World Championship victory for Belcher and the fifth in partnership with Ryan, the Spaniards were out of the race.
The gold medal duel between Jordi Xammar/Nicolas Rodriguez and the Aussies didn’t unfold, as the Spanish were taken off the course at the windward mark for being over the starting line early, along with Hippolyte Machetti/Sidoine Dantès and Keiju Okada/Jumpei Hokazono (JPN).
Guessing they were over too, the Australians returned to re-cross the start line by which time the rest of the fleet were well ahead. They worked hard, not knowing at this point that their Spanish gold medal rivals were about to be called off the track at the windward mark.
Mat explained the start, saying, “We thought we were really close coming into the line and everyone was racking up super early, and we did talk about it and we said ‘hey look, this could be an individual, do we go back or not?'" The team made the right call and re-crossed the start.
“We identified it really early and fortunately for us and unfortunately for Jordi that was our race. We were pretty confident in those conditions that if we made an early decision we could come back and race the race, and then for us to win at the top mark was fantastic. We have worked pretty hard and we are happy with that.”
Speaking on the gold medal battle that didn’t unfold, Belcher commented, “It is a really high-pressure situation and they are decisions that you make and most medal races come down to one or two decisions."
“I guess we have a bit of experience in that situation,” he said in reference to their decision to go back whilst the Spanish kept going.
Even for someone as massively experienced as Belcher, the medal race expectation and pressure cannot be underestimated. “I think if you wake up and you are not nervous in a situation like today, then it is most probably time to call it day. I said to my wife, ‘I feel a bit nervous, it is exciting’. It’s been a great battle and that is why I still want to do it. For me it has always been about that. It is not necessarily about what you have won, it is about the partnership, the journey, to be with Will and Victor and to have the opportunity to keep doing what I am doing. I love it.”
Ryan added, “I am really happy. These are the Olympic waters in a year to come, so any experience we get here is good and if it goes our way, even better. I am really happy, but it has been a tough week.”
A big disappointment for Xammar/Rodriguez and a big lesson learned, but their silver is an upgrade on last year's bronze medal. The team has performed phenomenally here, continuously managed to dig deep, take control and fight through a fleet whatever size mountain they faced, owning 7 race wins along the way.
“We are very happy. I think we did a really good Championship and to be able to fight with Mat to the medal race is amazing,” said Xammar. “We are proud of how we sailed before the start, we felt really strong and felt we could win and now for sure we are already thinking about next year which is what really counts. We are going to be on a push. Congratulations to Mat and Will, they knew they were over and made the right choice. It was a really hard decision as you never know really the distance to the line and he did better than us on this.”
A significant confidence boost a year out from the Olympics, particularly with the 470 Worlds being held at the same time as the Olympics next year, as Rodriguez added, “For sure now we feel we have improved quite a lot and we feel we have the power to beat them next year. So, in the end, this is really good for us and we feel we can improve quite a lot. I think that we are growing as a team, so I think we are lucky to have one more year to work.”
At the front of the fleet, New Zealand’s Paul Snow-Hansen/Daniel Willcox took the early charge. They were out of medal contention but keen to upgrade their final leaderboard place. Sweden’s Anton Dahlberg/Fredrik Bergström Swedish had the bronze medal on their mind and fought through the fleet to get themselves where they needed, ultimately claiming the medal race win to see off the Greeks and French.
The pair was thrilled, as Bergström commented, “It is amazing. It was tight before the medal race with just 4 points between three boats and we are super happy to be able to pull out this race win which was good enough to get the bronze.”
“We didn’t have such a good start, and we kept on the right side and when we tacked back, to be honest, I felt we had made a small loss and it wasn’t looking that bright from our perspective. You know the sea and waves out there is such a playground for the 470, you have to play it all the time, work it, work it. We then found the speed and we just did our game.”
Dahlberg, who shed tears crossing the finish line, said, “You know all feelings were exponentially more and I am happy to manage to finish off the way we did. This regatta has been special for us because we have been struggling with things we don’t usually struggle with, so it felt extra good to manage to pull it off. I am happy now.”
Men - Final Top 10 Results
1. Mathew BELCHER/Will RYAN (AUS 11) - 30 pts
2. Jordi XAMMAR/Nicolas RODRIGUEZ (ESP 44) - 45 pts
3. Anton Dahlberg DAHLBERG/Fredrik BERGSTRÖM (SWE 349) - 54 pts
4. Panagiotis MANTIS/Pavlos KAGIALIS (GRE 1) - 56 pts
5. Kevin PEPONNET/Jeremie MION (FRA 27) - 58 pts
6. Giacomo FERRARI/Giulio CALABRÒ (ITA 757) - 93 pts
7. Luke PATIENCE/Chris GRUBE (GBR 4) - 95 pts
8. Paul SNOW-HANSEN/Daniel WILLCOX (NZL 1) - 96 pts
9. Keiju OKADA/Jumpei HOKAZONO (JPN 20) - 97 pts
10. Hippolyte MACHETTI/Sidoine DANTÈS (FRA 79) - 101 pts
Gold to Great Britain in a stunning delivery of performance from Hannah Mills/Eilidh McIntyre, as they finished the medal race in 7th place, one spot ahead of Japan’s Ai Kondo Yoshida/Miho Yoshioka. That was all they needed to take their first ever World Championship gold medal together.
Since teaming up they have earned themselves a 470 Worlds silver in 2017 and bronze in 2018, so now complete their team’s podium haul. Mills already owns a Worlds medal set of one gold, two silver and one bronze, earned with her former crew, Saskia Clark, as well as Rio 2016 gold.
“Oh man we have been trying for so long to win a Worlds, so it is so cool to finally do it,” said a super relieved McIntyre.
It was touch and go for a while as the British found themselves right at the back of the pack.
“That was our worst scenario, us in tenth and them winning,” continued McIntyre of that stage in the race which saw the gold medal in the hands of the French team. “We did a cracking job downwind, Han got water at the leeward mark and then we decided to sail a bit more our own race up the second beat. We knew we could sail fast, but the pressure was coming in from behind the whole time, and we just had to match every move the Japanese made.
“We have been chasing a World Championship gold for so long, and every time we didn’t execute well enough and felt we had thrown it away,” McIntyre continued in reference to their previous silver and bronze medals. “It feels so good to now have a gold and feel like I deserve the gold 470 on the mainsail. It is a good feeling.”
An intensely difficult and nerve racking race saw the pair finally secure the top spot.
“It is an amazing feeling and such a relief. We have had a lot of medal races this year where we have messed up,” said Mills. “We said today we just want to go out and sail and not make a mistake that gives someone else the gold medal. If we lose because they have sailed better then that’s fine, but we don’t want to lose to our own silly errors. It was just super close and nail biting in the boat.”
The British and Japanese had sought each other out on the track in a who dares wins, as Mills explained, “Our plan was just to stay in the race, we just wanted to be in touching distance around that first mark, we know we are fast downwind and yes we did a few too many tacks up that first beat, it was super slow tacking as there were so many waves and it was super choppy, so we sailed ourselves to the back. But ultimately it didn’t matter where we were, we just had to beat the Japanese girls and that’s what we executed.”
“We have had a full on eighteen month partnership together and we have achieved an awful lot in that time as a team. To me sailing the 470 is so much about team work and your dynamic together and we have put a lot of time into that. When we are on it and we are firing we are good, really good and when we are not then we have to fight really, really hard. It has been so nice this week to be on it and to have been fighting at the front with the Japanese and the French.”
Speaking on harnessing those pre-medal race nerves, Mills commented, “You are going to be nervous no matter what, as there is so much riding on one race. But you kind of have to embrace that nervousness and just do all your routines, all your processes, all your check-ins with each other, make sure you are fired up and just roll with it. For us anyway, we can’t get rid of the nerves so we use them for positive adrenalin and excitement.”
A silver for Ai Kondo Yoshida/Miho Yoshioka confirmed their selection as the team to represent Japan at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
“I am very proud of the silver medal," said Kondo Yoshida. "Every day we have to concentrate in every race. Racing with Hannah and Eilidh and chasing the medals makes us very confident and it has been really enjoyable sailing. It is a boost for our future.
“It feels a little bit of a relief to now get the qualification to Tokyo 2020 at this event. I definitely found strength in myself. I will take the Olympic gold medal next year.”
Yoshioka reflected, "Of course it has been very tough physically and mentally, because we have been neck and neck with the British team, but I have enjoyed the really close racing. We found several weak points during the regatta and we will fix those so we can do our best for next year.”
With the British and Japanese engaged in their own race battle which saw them slip to the back of the fleet, reigning 470 European Champions Camille Lecointre/Aloïse Retornaz (FRA) took the opportunity and raced their way to the front to try and snatch the gold. Ultimately the British pushed forward and the French finished in fourth to secure the bronze medal.
“It was our target when we came here to go back with a medal, so we are really satisfied with this medal,” said Lecointre, who adds the bronze to her past gold, silver and bronze World Championship successes. “We know we have some weaknesses on these waters off Enoshima, but we will work on it as we have one more year to improve.”
“We didn’t watch so much the Japanese and British, we were focused on the Italian and Spanish girls because we wanted to keep our bronze medal," said Retornaz. "We were very focused on our boat too as there are a lot of things that can happen on the water and it is difficult with the waves so we had to stay focused on our speed.”
Glory in the medal race went to Poland’s Agnieszka Skrzypulec/Jola Ogar, who led the fleet with a text book perfect start and never looked back, whilst behind the medal battle was unfolding. They have easily proved themselves here, finishing in 7th overall, and to end on the glory of a medal race win after securing Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualification for Poland yesterday marks a high point for the team.
“It is always exciting to win and today we wanted to have fun for the last time and to prove that we are worth fighting for the medals," said Skrzypulec. "We had fun, sailed fast, Jola did a great job and we caught some nice waves downwind. We are super happy that we managed to win the medal race. It is a great end to our Championship.”
“It was hard, but we are training for this and no pain no gain," smiled Ogar. "I want to say a big congrats to the girls winning the medals. They well deserved it and they sailed the best in this Championship.”
Women - Final Top 10 Results
1. Hannah MILLS/Eilidh MCINTYRE (GBR 1) - 62 pts
2. Ai KONDO YOSHIDA/Miho YOSHIOKA (JPN 1) - 65 pts
3. Camille LECOINTRE/Aloïse RETORNAZ (FRA 9) - 72 pts
4. Elena BERTA/Bianca CARUSO (ITA 6) - 80 pts
5. Silvia MAS DEPARES/Patricia CANTERO REINA (ESP 18) - 94 pts
6. Tina MRAK/Veronika MACAROL (SLO 64) - 98 pts
7. Agnieszka SKRZYPULEC/Jolanta OGAR (POL 11) - 99 pts
8. Fernanda OLIVEIRA/Ana BARBACHAN (BRA 177) - 113 pts
9. Nia JERWOOD/Monique DEVRIES (AUS 5) - 117 pts
10. Mengxi WEI/Haiyan GAO (CHN 621) - 118 pts
Enoshima, the venue for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Sailing Competition, has put on a phenomenal 470 World Championships and Olympic Qualification. From 2-9 August 2019, 182 athletes representing 29 nations have competed here and for many nations the Championship served as a round of their team selection process for Tokyo 2020. For those nations not yet qualified for Tokyo 2020, the pressure was on to make the cut and claim one of the few remaining nation slots with 4 secured in the Men and 6 in the Women.
Many teams will remain in Enoshima at the Olympic sailing venue as next up on the calendar is the Tokyo 2020 Test Event from 15 - 22 August and then onto the Hempel Sailing World Cup Enoshima from 25 August - 1 September.