Scott ready to sail over the horizon but his Finn legacy set to last

Giles Scott is Paul Elvstrom’s spiritual son, both burly bodies and brilliant brains that will forever bestride the era of Olympic heavyweight sailing.

If you’ve watched the sport at the Games you will have witnessed the great Dane’s legacy – four-time Olympic gold medallist (1948, 1952, 1956, 1960) Elvstrom was the first to popularise the technique of leaning over the side of the boat.

Later his company would lead the world in producing auto bailers, devices which drain water from dinghies while they sail.

Scott, the final Olympic champion in the Finn, describes the first with reverence, honoured but hesitant to speak of himself in the same breath as ‘pioneer’ Elvstrom, who in 1962 said: “In other classes, there is very little difference in speed between the good and the very good.

“But in the Finn, the very good can always leave distance between himself and all others.”

That’s a fair description of what Scott has done in a dominant decade of racing, fired by the disappointment of missing out on selection for London 2012.

From March 2012 to his first Games in 2016, Scott raced in 17 international regattas and won 15 of them. He went unbeaten for nearly three years and won three world titles before sealing an almost inevitable Olympic gold at Rio 2016.

“There was a distinct pecking order in the fleet,” recalled the Huntingdon native, who retired from Olympic sailing this week. “And I was top of that.

“I loaded on the pressure throughout that campaign and I was able to stay on the right side of it each time.

“Each win motivated me a little bit more to stay ahead and fortunately I was able to harness that without it, you know, becoming too much.”

Great athletes are defined by their rivals but there was no-one who could lay a consistent glove on Scott.

When it comes to nemeses, Hungary’s Zsombor Berecz landed the world title in Scott’s absence in 2018 and beat him at the European Championships in 2020 and 2021.

“He upped the level of sailing,” acknowledged Scott. “I had to get after that and chase him.

“There have been a few times in recent history when the game changed in terms of the class, it happened in 2012 and he led the next one.

“It was difficult, we weren’t really going toe-to-toe every month because I wasn’t around. I didn’t feel I was chasing Zsombor down as much as I was chasing the level down.”

Scott’s skirmishes with Sir Ben Ainslie ahead of a home Games were the stuff of legend, characterised by a ‘certain dislike’, with the younger man pipped to a Team GB spot for London.

Nine years on and there’s still no underestimating the role that battle played.

“That cycle gave me a kick up the arse,” said Scott. “I’m a better sailor for it.

“That was the catalyst that kicked me into shape and made me fully commit to taking on being the best, which is what I looked for in 2016.”

If Rio was the pursuit of perfection, Tokyo was make-do-and-mend, a high-wire act that saw Scott juggle America’s Cup responsibilities with Olympic ambitions.

The Games’ postponement somehow made an impossible job even more daunting.

“The thing I was fighting, on the Olympic side, was the uncertainty of whether I’d bitten off more than I could chew,” he said.

“I wasn’t done with the Olympics after Rio but that being said, I wanted to throw myself into my Cup commitments which I did and I’m glad I did that.

“Rolling straight out of the most intense seven months of my life, having two days off and jumping back into an Olympic campaign, felt like taking a bit too much on.

“It wasn’t until the Games passed that I realised how mentally exhausted I was.”

Come the delayed Tokyo 2020, Scott squeaked over the line in a white-knuckle medal race, snatching fourth place in a breathless Enoshima finish to retain his gold medal.

“I haven’t watched it back and I don’t want to,” said Scott. “I don’t think I ever will!

“It was a three-month street fight to get myself in, go and compete and then just try to do the simple things well at the Games.”

Scott is one of eight British sailors to call time on their Olympic careers this week, joined by the likes of fellow gold medallists Hannah Mills and Stuart Bithell.

It’s the end of an era, but like Elvstrom, Scott is aware of what will follow him.

“It’s a changing of the guard, similar to what happened in 2012,” said Scott.

“The talent’s there and I suppose it’s up to us to pass on any knowledge and expertise we have so the younger generation can then come through and grab it by the horns.

“We’ve already had some one-on-one sessions with the guys, just sharing knowledge, answering questions about some of the pitfalls.

“I’m always here to help them – but I’ve got some stuff to get on with myself.”