Sailing and showjumping golds propel Team GB up Tokyo medal table

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Kaoru Soehata/PA</span>
Photograph: Kaoru Soehata/PA

Success in sailing and showjumping enabled Team GB to shoot up the medal table on day 12 of the Tokyo Olympics but there was disappointment on the track as star heptathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson was forced to pull out with injury.

It was another satisfying day on the water, with Eilidh McIntyre and reigning champion Hannah Mills clinching the final sailing gold of the Games in the women’s 470. Mills became the most successful female Olympic sailor with the Tokyo gold, having won a silver medal at London 2012 and gold in Rio 2016 before her then partner, Saskia Clarke, retired.

The 33-year-old, who was a flag-bearer for Team GB during the opening ceremony alongside the rower Mohamed Sbihi, considered retiring before 27-year-old McIntyre promised to help the veteran achieve a second title. The pair began sailing together in 2017.

There were more medals at the Equestrian Centre, where Ben Maher produced a fast and fearless performance in the jump-off to win showjumping gold on Explosion W. A lightning quick round saw them finish the course in 37.85sec, pipping the Swedish rider Peder Fredricson to the top spot by 17-hundredths of a second. The Netherlands’ Maikel van der Vleuten finished in bronze position.

“I don’t even remember what I was doing in the jump-off to be honest,” said Maher after the medal ceremony. “I had my plan, I just went and he just gave me everything – and really I gave everything to him.”

The medals put Team GB on 15 golds and 48 medals in total, narrowly ahead of Australia and the Russian Olympic Committee but below China, the US and host nation Japan.

Sky Brown made history at the Ariake Urban Sports Park, becoming the youngest person ever to win an Olympic medal for Great Britain after taking bronze. Brown, who turned 13 at the start of July, shared the podium with Japan’s silver medalist Kokona Hiraki, 12, and 19-year-old champion Sakura Yosozumi. “I’m so stoked. I can’t believe it. It’s unbelievable. It’s like a dream,” said Brown.

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Her joy was in sharp contrast to the reaction of boxer Ben Whittaker, who won a silver medal in his first games in the light-heavyweight gold bout against Cuban Arlen López, now a double Olympic champion. “You don’t win silver, you lose gold. I’m very disappointed – I feel like a failure,” he said. “I don’t want to feel like this again. I’m going to put this to the back of my mind. I’ll come back, trust me.”

After initially refusing to put on his medal in a show of petulance, Whittaker apologised. “When I look back in a few years, it will probably feel like a great achievement, but I was so upset that I couldn’t enjoy it,” he said.

Team GB’s woes continued in track and field, as Johnson-Thompson’s heptathlon dream came to an end with a calf injury that saw her drop out of the competition. In one of the most heartbreaking moments of a Games that has not been short on tears, the 28-year-old’s right calf gave way midway through the 200m. After dropping to the floor, she refused to get into a wheelchair and painfully got to her feet to slowly finish the race. To add insult to injury, she was then disqualified for leaving her lane.

It was the latest blow to hit Britain’s athletes in these Games, with Dina Asher-Smith and Adam Gemili having suffered injuries. But there was better news as Jodie Williams produced the performance of her career to break the 50-second barrier for the first time by running 49.97 to move into the 400m final. Laura Muir, a medal hopeful, made it into Friday’s 1500m final.

Shauna Coxsey missed out on the climbing final after long battles with injury and will now retire. “Despite everything, all the circumstances and getting here and you know, like I’m not in the shape that I wanted to be, I kind of did a lot better than I thought I would to be honest. I’m happy,” she said.

In the deep water, Alice Dearing made history, becoming the first black female swimmer to represent Great Britain at an Olympic Games, but said she was “broken” after finishing 19th in the women’s 10km marathon swim. “It’s bittersweet,” she said. “It’s incredible to race at the Olympics but I’m really disappointed with the result. I know I can do better. I want to go to Paris and have a better race, perform better than this.”

And there was further disappointment at the Oi Hockey Stadium, where Team GB were beaten 5-1 by an impressive Dutch side in the women’ semi-finals, ending their reign as Olympics champions. They will push again for a medal in the bronze final on Friday morning against Argentina, who beat India. 

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