World championship bronze for Britain’s Fletcher and Bithell
Dylan Fletcher and Stuart Bithell rounded off a stellar 2019 season with bronze at the 49er World Championships in Auckland, New Zealand.
Fletcher, from Thames Ditton, Surrey, and Rochdale’s Bithell, survived a capsize in the drama-filled final race to seal third place.
The medals mean that the pair, the current European champions, have finished on the podium at every regatta they’ve entered this year.
They won gold at the Princess Sofia Regatta in Palma and European Championships, and silver at the Miami round of the World Cup Series and the Tokyo 2020 test event.
Fletcher and Bithell were beaten top the world championship title by reigning Olympic champions Peter Burling and Blair Tuke of New Zealand, with Germany’s Erik Heil and Thomas Ploessel runners up.
However the 2020 worlds is scheduled for early February – and Fletcher says their goal will be to dethrone their Kiwi rivals ahead of Tokyo 2020.
“We are super proud to round our 2019 season off with a world championship medal,” Fletcher, 31, said.
“Being the only team to medal at every major regatta we have entered shows our consistency.
“Although we are not content and need to improve our game to consistently winning, the room is there and we left a lot of points on the table this week.
“Next up its the 2020 worlds in two months, we will be looking to build on this and take the title.”
Fletcher and Bithell went into the final day’s racing in third but needed to get through two fleet races before the double-points medal race.
Breezy conditions in Auckland made for exciting racing – and after holding on to third going into the medal race Fletcher and Bithell’s bronze was thrown into jeopardy when they were among four teams to capsize.
But a quick recovery saw them finish eighth, enough to give them a one-point overall advantage over Spain’s Diego Botin and Iago Lopez Marra.
“Today was pretty hectic,” Bithell, 33, admitted. “We had two windy fleet races and then back out for the medal race. The conditions once again proved difficult – short chop and heaps of breeze.
“We did a good job on the fleet racing managing to get a 15-point lead over 4th place. Unfortunately, first and second was out the equation for the final medal race, but we raced conservatively to hold onto the bronze medal.
“There was a final twist down the last run where four boats capsized at the gybe point, we managed to recover quickest which was enough for the bronze.
“Overall we are super happy and still believe we left a lot of easy points on the water.”
An incredibly close battle in the Nacra 17 class saw John Gimson and Anna Burnet miss out on a medal by just six points.
Their chances of finishing on the podium were hampered when Burnet fell out of the boat during the first race of the day, losing them vital places.
Ben Saxton and Nicola Boniface, their rivals for the one British Nacra 17 berth, finished sixth overall, just two points behind.
“We’re reasonably happy with fourth but a bit disappointed not to medal,” said Gimson, 36, from Congleton, Cheshire.
“The next worlds is in Geelong in two months and we will be looking for a medal there as redemption for this week.”
Saxton, from Cambridge, said: “We’re really happy that we sailed well this week. Our continuous medal streak is over which is a shame but we’re proud of what we achieved. Let’s win gold at the next worlds in Geelong in February!”
A strong final day that included a win in the medal race saw Charlotte Dobson and Saskia Tidey finish seventh in the 49erFX class.
Results from the regatta can be found here.
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