First published on Yachts and Yachting
Followers of performance sailing almost fell off their chairs earlier in the autumn of 2020 when Giles Scott didn’t win a regatta.
Having dominated the Finn class for most of the past decade, the 33-year-old returned home to Portsmouth after September’s Finn Europeans in Poland with a rare silver.
“There is room for improvement there,” was Scott’s take on the matter, having had the flight home to reflect. “I am obviously disappointed at not having won the week but I’m not surprised at how competitive the racing was.
“It’s all fuel for next year and looking forward it is a little bit challenging, what with the schedule having been reworked, but we just have to deal with it.”
By this point in the year Scott was hoping to have bagged his second Olympic gold in the Finn, after winning at Rio four years ago, and thought he’d be concentrating full-time on the other thing he’s got going on – with Ben Ainslie and INEOS Team UK, he is aiming to win the 36th America’s Cup in Auckland, New Zealand in March.
The postponement of the Olympics until next summer was tough for all the competitors, but for Scott it means he’ll be going into the Games without anything like the amount of Finn training he would have had normally.
“It is going to be challenging. I’m taking a couple of Finns out to Auckland with the thought that I’ll jump in and do any training as and when we get time.
“Notoriously the final period of an America’s Cup campaign is incredibly intense. You tend to use seven days of every week. We have to be realistic with what training I can get done, while making sure that I can get back into hard training straight away and not be rusty.”
Scott’s long-time coach Matt Howard is unlikely to join him in Auckland, but Scott hopes to be able to sail with his former Finn training partner Ben Cornish, also a member of INEOS Team UK, and possibly with Finn sailors from other America’s Cup teams.
Scott’s training partner in the UK is Henry Wetherell, with whom he’s been doing boat-on-boat racing post-lockdown in Weymouth, fitting it in between INEOS duties on the weekends.
“Without INEOS I would have had an extra day and a half a week,” he says. “We’ve done the training in smaller chunks rather than block out a two-week period. It’s worked well and we were pleased with the build-up we had to the Europeans.”
Scott, in fact, relishes the change between the Finn and the foiling AC75: “One sails around at 4.9 knots and the other one, well, a lot faster! It’s very easy to fill a week and not feel like you’re completely fried. You’re at different ends of a spectrum.
“The Cup boats are amazing. At the core it is still a race boat and the same fundamentals apply. There is a lot of crossover both ways. With my Cup hat on, I’m really glad I got some [Finn] racing in a very tricky venue like Poland.
“It serves as a solid refresher as to how tricky racing like that can be, which could be a factor on the America’s Cup racecourse, in some wind directions under North Head [off Auckland].”
Given his extraordinary dominance in the Finn and his current high-profile dual campaigns, Scott is one of the most celebrated sailors in the world, yet he remains a private and modest character, admitting that the famous photo of his Rio win exultation was a one-off:
“I’m not the type to celebrate, if you know what I mean.
“I’ve always had grief from photographers through my failure to give them a good shot. The reason why is because it’s always been about one thing and that’s the Olympic Games. I saved it all up for then!”
And what did he feel in that moment?
“I think it was just relief,” he says after a pause. “It was the focal point of missing out on London, then putting together a solid few years of racing where I’d rarely been beaten, and keeping myself together at the Olympics, my first one, and coming away with the win – it was all those emotions coming out in a split second.”
The next Games in Tokyo will be the Finn’s Olympic swansong, the class not having been selected for Paris 2024.
“The thing that’s sad is it will lose the appeal to that younger generation who want to sail professionally. But the fleet will go on and remain loved by many. A Finn Masters Worlds in mainland Europe gets more than 300 boats.
It has a strong following and participation rate outside the Olympic world,” he says.
The Europeans in Poland had 70 boats from 27 countries, an achievement for the organisers given the Covid-related travel complications. The athletes changed by their boats, kept strict social distancing and wore face masks on the podium.
Because of lockdown, Scott hadn’t raced since the previous December and reflects: “On the last day I got the wrong side of the first upwind and the Hungarian guy, who I was close on points with at the time, got the right side of it and that was enough.
“If I’d been more consistent earlier in the week that wouldn’t have been an issue. There is room for improvement there, but that said, I was pretty pleased with the way I was sailing.
“A few of us, guys like the Hungarian, a couple of Kiwi lads, we have ended up being very close at the top of the regattas for a while. It is super-competitive and you’ve got to stay honest and keep trying to push the game on.”
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