OLYMPIC silver medallist Luke Patience feels that he and Elliot Willis have ‘turned heads’ at this week’s 470 European Championships in Athens, as the duo claimed gold with a day to spare yesterday.
The British Sailing Team pairing, who only teamed up five months ago, amassed an unassailable 22-point lead over their nearest European rivals heading into today's final 10-boat medal race, where they’ll have a chance to overhaul the Australian world champions Mat Belcher and Will Ryan and attempt to add overall event victory to their European crown.
Portland-based Patience said: “We've come here and executed everything we meant to and had an amazing regatta so far.
“There’s still a race to go todayand an Australian boat to put some heat on to and try and beat. But what we’ve done is create a bit of guessing in the fleet as to what we’ve been doing and why we’ve gone so well, which is great.”
“We’ve been on fire speed-wise, we’ve been really accurate with our strategy on the course and more than anything, we’ve executed it exactly as we’ve wanted to,” the 27-year-old continued.
“Often some of these conditions are still brand new for us as a team, and that’s slowly starting to change. This was a big one for us this week. We’ve turned some heads, that’s for sure.”
Although the pair has enjoyed podium positions on the EUROSAF circuit since teaming up in late February, this is their first major regatta medal, and the double world champion Willis feels it will provide great impetus going in to next month’s Olympic Test Event in Rio, and the World Championships at Santander in September.
“We went out there with a clear intention of what we wanted to achieve from each day and just put ourselves in a position of being able to execute it and it was awesome. We picked up two seconds today and just sailed impeccably really.
“We made a few very small mistakes and other than that we were going quick and were in the right place at the right time. We’re really happy.”
“It’s good to show that as everyone is warming up into Rio we’ve put our thumb down on it a bit and shown that we could win,” added the Sevenoaks sailor, who won the 470 World Championship title in 2006 and 2008.
“It’s quite a different perspective, winning, to being in the mix. Obviously there’s still one other boat which is the boat to beat but it’s given us great confidence to get our heads down and work towards that gold. We’re out to get them!
“We’re going into the medal race today in a strong position, not being able to be beaten for the European title. Statistically throughout the year we’ve been extremely strong in medal races so hopefully we can repeat that today.”
Patience is equally adamant that although their European title is safe, the fight continues for another day.
He added: “We have absolutely nothing to lose. Like the Olympics we can’t finish third so it’s basically ours to take.
“It’s a reasonable ask – nine points is a comfortable margin and you can control a lot with that, but we’ll go out there and do all we can to try and put some hurt on that. As ever within our sport we might have an element of where he makes a mistake, and hopefully Zeus will be on our side.”
The British Sailing Team is also guaranteed further silverware in the women’s fleet, where Olympic silver medallists Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark are assured of the European silver medal and the overall event podium.
They currently trail Austria’s series leaders Lara Vadlau and Jolanta Ogar by 11 points in the hunt for the top European crown heading in to today's final medal race, with New Zealand’s World and Olympic Champions Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie also ahead of them in overall second.
Sophie Weguelin and Eilidh McIntyre’s hopes of a podium finish were dashed when they picked up a premature start penalty on Monday, dropping them to fourth European crew, seventh overall.