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Gold for Fletcher and Bithell at World Cup Series Miami

by Will Carson, RYA 28 Jan 12:45 GMT 21-28 January 2018
Dylan Fletcher and Stuart Bithell – World Cup Series Miami © Jesus Renedo / Sailing Energy / World Sailing

British Sailing Team duo Dylan Fletcher and Stuart Bithell have defended their World Cup Series Miami title following a dramatic medal race in breezy conditions.

The pair, the current 49er world and European champions, got their 2018 campaign off to a flying start with victory at the regatta, the second of four World Cup dates in the run-up to the year's main event, the Hempel Sailing World Championships.

Despite leading the fleet by three points going into Saturday's double-points medal race, competition was so tight at the top that a podium place far from guaranteed.

Spaniards Diego Botín le Chever and Iago López Marra, Fletcher and Bithell's main threat for gold, got the better start and led the ten-boat fleet round the course at speeds of more than 20 knots as a fresh breeze blew through Biscayne Bay.

As the race reached its climax, Fletcher and Bithell found themselves in third place behind the Spanish crew and Austrian crew Benjamin Bildstein and David Hussl.

Had the race finished in that order the British pair would have had to settle for silver – but on crossing the line they found out that the Austrians had been over the line at the start, handing them maximum points.

That put Fletcher and Bithell ahead by just a single point – and meant they retained the title they won at the 2017 event.

"It was wicked fun out there – sunshine, big breeze, flat water... What more could you ask for?" a beaming Fletcher said after returning to shore victorious. "We didn't actually know we'd won until our coach came up to us at the end of the race and told us. We had our suspicions that the Austrians were over at the start but we knew we had to race them hard right until the end."

The win gives Fletcher and Bithell the perfect start to the year following on from a successful 2017 that saw them win the 49 world and European championships and numerous other medals.

"We'd not done too much sailing in the build-up to Miami so we came here without any big expectations, but we worked really hard in training and came out and delivered," added Bithell, a silver medallist in the 470 class at London 2012.

Sophie Weguelin and Sophie Ainsworth narrowly missed out on a podium spot in the 49er FX class, finishing fourth overall, while in the Nacra 17 there was heartbreak for John Gimson and Anna Burnet as they slipped from second to fourth.

Chris Rashley and Laura Marimon came runners up in the Nacra 17 medal race to finish sixth overall, Rupert White and Kirstie Urwin got seventh and Ben Saxton and Katie Dabson finished eighth.

Tom Squires rounded off an impressive performance in Miami with a win in the men's RS:X medal race to finish fourth overall, while a ninth in the women's RS:X gave Emma Wilson tenth overall.

The second round of medal races will take place today (Sunday 28 January) and will see more British athletes in contention for medals.

Rio 2016 gold medallist Giles Scott has an almost unassailable 19-point lead in the Finn class in his first World Cup event since the Olympics, while in the men's 470 Luke Patience and Chris Grube are 17 points ahead.

Young women's 470 pairing Amy Seabright and Anna Carpenter will start their medal race in fifth overall, with hopes of a medal still alive.

Australian Tom Burton is uncatchable at the top of the Laser fleet but current European champion Nick Thompson will begin the medal race in second, one point ahead of German rival Philipp Buhl.

A string of race wins has propelled Alison Young to the top of the leaderboard in the Laser Radial fleet, and she goes into the medal race with a five-point buffer over Belgian Emma Plasschaert.

Follow @britishsailing on Twitter for updates throughout the regatta.

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