As he heads into his first Olympic Games, as the favourite in the Finn class, the fact that four times world champion Giles Scott (GBR) has won almost every regatta since his failure to beat Ben Ainslie (GBR) for the British place at the London 2012 Olympics means very little. Rio 2016 is just one more regatta he wants to win, perhaps more than all the rest put together, but he knows it will probably be the hardest. The others know he is the favourite, but they also know he can be beaten, and that is the challenge facing them.
“I'll just try and race as I normally do, keeping a cool head and dealing with what are some very tricky race courses. The fleet is always getting better and I've been trying to do the same, I'm confident with where I'm at, so we'll have to wait and see. But I'm sure Rio will be a very tough fight.”
With Great Britain having won the past four Finn gold medals (Iain Percy in 2000 and Ben Ainslie from 2004 to 2012) Scott says this provides pressure and brings confidence, but, “In honesty it doesn't really matter what's gone before. We have to get out onto the racecourse at the Games and fight for the win that week; that what it's all about. The pressure is certainly there from various outside sources, but I've put a very high amount of internal pressure on myself throughout my sailing career, it's something that motivates me.”
Scott lived in Canada until he was six years old and was granted citizenship. Returning to the UK, he soon found he could win races in the Topper class, before going on to win the ISAF Youth Sailing World Championships in the Laser in 2005. He moved into the Finn in 2007, won the Junior World Championship in 2008 and trained alongside Ainslie in the run up to Beijing.
In 2011 Scott was viewed as a potential gold medalist. He won the World and European Championship, but lost the crucial British trials against Ben Ainslie. With Ainslie then winning the 2011 test event, selection to London 2012 was assured, so Scott stepped away from the class for a year to focus on an America’s Cup campaign with Luna Rossa. Scott returned full time in 2013 has only lost two Finn regattas since those 2011 British Olympic trials. That’s a record of some 19 wins in 21 regattas starting with the 2011 European title in Helsinki.
The 2011 trials still niggle in his mind as a lost opportunity. “Absolutely. I've had no choice but to use that as motivation. That period in time has become the reason and foundation for this Olympic cycle, clearly a very disappointing time for me. However I've always maintained that I wouldn't be as good a sailor now had I not been through it. I may have had a shot at a medal, but I don't think I'd be as driven and hard working as I now am. That and clearly I had a great guy to train with and learn from.”
Mid-cycle, Scott was about an unbeatable as it was possible to imagine, winning regattas with two races to spare and sometimes by as much as 50 points. His almost casual demeanour sailing the Finn was in stark contrast to the man whose shoes many felt he was stepping into. He has a natural skill in the boat that sets him apart from the rest of the fleet and he barely seems to break a sweat in the heat of competition. He rarely looks rattled or under pressure.
His continuous success was a wake up call to the fleet, many of whom have considerably upped their game over the past two years to try and match Scott’s supremacy. Over the following two years Scott continued to win every regatta, but just occasionally the winning margins became less. Several times he had to fight himself back into a regatta. Nevertheless, in this cycle he has won three world titles from 2014 to 2016, the European title in 2014 and perhaps more significantly, both Olympic test events in Rio. At last year’s test event he struggled all week only to get break in the medal race and snatch the gold at the last possible moment.
His focus in the final weeks before the Games start were, “Just getting to grips with the courses and final details on the boat set up. Small things really.”
He knows that the racing will be tough, with the sailors having to cope with a variety of sea states with big tides, and a very shifty wind, which is generally expected to be between 7-14 knots.
“We made sure that we were in a venue with other teams present, often the French, Finnish and Swedes. We'd then often do half sessions on our own and come together for some racing. I think it worked pretty well. This is something we've been trying to put in place constantly over the last 2-3 years.”
Is there anything he would do differently? “There are always a few things that I’d have changed, avenues I investigated that didn't end up producing anything of use. But that's all part of it. If I hadn't investigated something, I'd have this sinking feeling that I didn't look at everything I should have.”
“We run a rolling development plan in regards to kit and sailing skill, so all the camps have been of equal importance. As long as the camps structures enable you peak when you want to they have worked in my opinion.”
Outside of the training he has been enjoying living in Rio. “It's a great city for a party, dangerous if you end up in the wrong areas, but generally a very vibrant place to be. One of the highlights of my time in Rio was going horse riding randomly last year. I've not done much, it was very amusing.”
Since the 2012 Olympics, the techniques in the Finn class have moved on again, with increase physicality. “I think the major change is that sailors are really beginning to make the most out of the free pumping rule, which you can see by the shape and athletic nature of the majority of the top guys. The Finn hasn't lost its history in techniques and strategic sailing, but it just seems to be growing in the athletic direction at the moment.”
Perhaps the most athletic of all the Finn sailors in Rio, the biggest challenge of Scott’s career so far is scheduled to begin on Tuesday 9 August.