World number one ranked pair Dylan Fletcher and Stuart Bithell won gold in a history-making feat at the 49er World Championships which drew to a close on Saturday (2 September) in Porto, Portugal. In a week of extremes which saw the first two days hampered by light winds and fog, and the penultimate day fraught with too much breeze, the final day’s theatre style racing was replaced by four final gold fleet races for the 49ers.
Lining up as overnight leaders, European Champions Dylan Fletcher and Stuart Bithell kept the chasing pack at bay to seal gold by four points.
With New Zealand having occupied the World title for the past six years, Fletcher-Bithell made history becoming the first Brits to top the podium since 2007 when their Coach Ben Rhodes, along with Stevie Morrison, won the event along the coast in Cascais.
And with young guns James Peters-Fynn Sterritt also emulating last month’s Europeans by seeing off their rivals to secure silver, it was the best British result ever in the class with the team securing the top two steps of the podium.
“It was a Championship with a few delays, a few lost days – some with no wind, some with too much wind,” Fletcher explained. “Today we got some really good racing in. There was potential today that there was going to be half the races of the whole regatta – potentially seven races – so we went out this morning to attack the last fleet racing, did a really good job and [we’ve] come out victorious!”
It became a battle of the Brits for golden glory as Fletcher describes.
“We knew we were guaranteed a silver going into the last race and the only way James and Fynn could beat us was to win it with us getting 4th or worse. So we tried to start to the right of them and stay ahead of them up the beat, which we did.
“We thought we’d done the job and the job was over, but we let them split from us and actually in hindsight that was a bit of a mistake because they managed to pull back a little bit.”
But the pair managed to hold off their teammates and rivals.
A thrilled Bithell added: “We’ve spent a lot of time this summer actually not doing so much racing and have put a lot of time and energy into tuning with the other British sailors. It’s clearly paid off well. The boys are fast, we’re fast and actually the younger sailors in the programme as well are a lot quicker than they used to be, so that’s really good.”
Silver medallists Peters-Sterritt fought back to finish on ‘a high’ after a challenging start to the final race, knowing medals would come down to the wire.
“Going into that last race we could’ve been out of the medals if we’d had a bad race,” explained Peters.
“The race didn’t go brilliantly but then we made a really great comeback and from our perspective it was great to finish the Worlds on such a high like that, coming back through the fleet and putting in a solid last result.”
Speaking of his teammates, Sterritt added: “The boys had an awesome week, they showed us all how to do it. Unfortunately we couldn’t quite catch them but we’re really, really proud of how the week went.
“We’ve got stronger in all the conditions and we pushed them hard. We’re really proud of the whole week and today,” Sterritt enthused.
Next up for the newly crowned Champions is the Sailing World Cup Gamagori, Japan, and an opportunity to visit Tokyo 2020 host venue of Enoshima.
Rising talents Jack Hawkins and Chris Thomas rounded off their regatta in 24th. Podium Potential Pathway’s Chris Taylor-Sam Batten were 34th, James Grummett-Daniel Budden 48th, Morgan Hawes-Rhos Hawes 54th and Gillies Munro-Daniel Harris 72nd.
In the 49er FX World Championships, held concurrently, European silver medallists Charlotte Dobson and Saskia Tidey had a tough end to their regatta to see them finish ninth overall.
Kate Macgregor and Sophie Ainsworth narrowly missed the top-10 theatre racing, wrapping up their regatta 12th. Sophie Weguelin-Stephanie Orton and Megan Brickwood-Eleanor Aldridge finished 27th and 28th respectively.
Elsewhere, Finns and foiling will be next on the Olympic classes agenda when World Championship battles in the men’s heavyweight dinghy event and the Nacra 17 mixed multihull get underway next week.
The Nacra 17, which made its Olympic Games debut in Rio, has undergone a transformation to a fully foiling class for the Tokyo 2020 cycle, and the European Championships in Kiel last month was the first regatta to use the new equipment since its rollout.
The inaugural foiling Nacra 17 World Championship will take place in La Grande Motte, France (5-10 September), where four National Lottery-funded British Sailing Team crews will aim to build on their strong start under the new format.
Great Britain boasts the top three crews in the current world rankings, with European bronze medallists Ben Saxton-Katie Dabson at the top of the table, John Gimson-Anna Burnet second, and Tom Phipps-Nikki Boniface in third.
Podium Potential squad duo Rupert White and Kirstie Urwin will also be in action for the British Sailing Team, with Chris Rashley-Laura Marimon also flying the Union flag.
And along with a new boat to get to grips with, there will also be a new World Champion in the class for the first time. France’s Billy Besson-Marie Riou won all four of the Nacra 17 World Championships in its pre-foiling days, but will not be defending their title on home waters.
The Rio gold and silver medal-winning pairings from Argentina and Australia, and the bronze medal-winning helm from Austria will, however, be in action as part of the 48-boat entry.
In Balatonföldvár, Hungary, five British Sailing Team athletes will be among 124 contenders for the coveted Finn Gold Cup – the World Championship for the men’s heavyweight dinghy class (4-10 September).
Rio Olympic Champion Giles Scott has won the past three editions – four Gold Cups in total – but has taken a break from Finn competition this season after campaigning for the America’s Cup.
The 2010 World Champion Ed Wright will have an eye on the podium spots after clinching silver at the European Championships in May, as will rising talent Ben Cornish who took European bronze as well as gold at the World Cup Series Final in Santander in June.
They’ll be joined by u23 European Champion Henry Wetherell, plus Peter McCoy and Hector Simpson, with competition taking place across seven days.