It was supposed to be a victory lap where winning didn’t matter, and averting a catastrophe did. By the time they returned to shore, Mathew Belcher and Will Ryan were being chaired back onto dry land inside their boat after putting the most emphatic exclamation mark on Australia’s easiest gold medal of the Tokyo Olympics.
Belcher, the most successful sailor in Australia’s Olympics history, signed off on his partnership with Ryan in style, giving their rivals a start and a beating to seal the country’s second gold medal of the sailing regatta at Enoshima.
Only a disqualification for a false start or some other unworldly sequence of events in Wednesday’s medal race was going to deny the Australian pair, who had opened up an unassailable lead from the 10 previous races as they plotted revenge from Rio, where they took home silver.
But after charting a conservative course at the start away from the rest of the 10-strong fleet, Belcher and Ryan’s natural instincts kicked in. Who wants recreation when you can race?
And so Belcher and Ryan powered to Australia’s most clinical performance of the regatta, ending with a win they didn’t even need.
Yet there was something symbolic about leading the fleet home the last time in their two-person dinghy, which carries a little plastic taxi from a Kinder Surprise Belcher claims is good luck.
“It’s a bloody good feeling,” Belcher said. “Just more relief.
“It’s a crazy position to be in, to go into a medal race where you can’t make any mistakes or be over the [start] line, but we had a good start and we were at the back and we were half-way up the beat and we realised we could be in a good position and do well in the race and, typical of our nature, we just threw away a bit of the game plan and tried to win the race.”