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By Tanya Rabe

On a night to remember, on 2 September 2021, Southport Yacht Club (SYC) celebrated with Gold Coast’s Mat Belcher his Gold Medal success in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Mat, with his wife Rike and son Anton, were led into the packed Main Beach Clubhouse by a procession of drummers. Everyone rose to their feet, clapping and cheering with the beat to thank the young Gold Coast family for graciously representing the sport of sailing.

It was thirty years ago Mat was sailing as a junior at SYC. Club members and fellow sailors have watched him grow into an exceptional athlete, devoted family man and now the first Australian skipper in history to win two Olympic gold medals.

When you meet Mat Belcher, you are immediately captivated by his kindness and humility. Regarded as a true gentleman by all who know him, Mat selflessly attributes his success far and wide. In a recent interview with Nic Douglass from Adventures of a Sailor Girl, Mat acknowledged that he wouldn’t be on the dais receiving gold if it wasn’t for the support he received from his family, coach, friends, sponsors and sailing clubs.

Mat and teammate Will Ryan make it look so easy to sail the high performance 470 dinghy, when in fact this is a challenging boat to manoeuvre. Mat joked, “We’re not just sitting on a yacht having a couple of drinks.”

In the Olympic regatta the champions were out on the water giving it their heart and soul in an hour of high intensity exertion maintained over a week of racing. To get their bodies into that peak athletic level of fitness requires commitment to hard training, a strict diet and resolute mental focus.

Following their silver medal win in Rio in 2016, behind Gold Medalists Croatia, Mat and Will were thrilled with their achievement referring to their silver medals as platinum. The Aussie champions knew, however, that their Rio contest didn’t have the rhythm of racing they needed to win gold. This planted the seed for another Olympic mission.

Mat talks about the risks involved in investing four to five years of Olympic preparation, which ultimately boils down to just one week of racing to go for gold. In agreement with their coach, Victor Kovalenko, they knew they could do it, but it was going to require everyone involved to be fully invested.

To achieve Olympic gold, Mat explained that they needed to have a clear focus, a good plan and just as importantly to be fully supported by those around them. His family are so important to him, and Mat never lets a moment pass by where he doesn’t acknowledge their undeniable support. “To get us to the start line was a massive team effort. It is a huge financial and time commitment. We’re really grateful that we were able to make everyone proud.”

Teammates since 2012, Mat and Ryan share a valuable synergy. There is an underlying trust between them where they take the good with the bad and support each other’s mistakes. There is no blaming, they are both responsible for the decisions on the water.

General Manager of SYC Brett James said the phone at the Club was “ringing off the hook with good wishes for Mat and Will leading up to their gold medal race”. There was no doubt in his mind that he would be welcoming back a champion and was already planning a party for the Belchers. “We are very happy for all of them. Mat’s a true gentleman and always helps the kids out at the Club whenever he is here.” The Club looks forward to future collaborations with Mat and supporting his children in their sailing journey with SYC.

The Tokyo Olympics will be the last time the men’s 470 class will ever be raced. In future Olympics, the event will be replaced by a mixed 470 class. This decision has been met with some opposition within the sport. However, Mat believes that having a mixed class promotes a good image for sailing and is a great move to retaining as many 470 sailors as possible.

Mat Belcher and Will Ryan, we salute you!




Published in print October-December 2021