Tokyo Olympics: Kiwi 49ers sailors Peter Burling, Blair Tuke provide silver lining to NZ's golden afternoon

America's Cup stars Peter Burling and Blair Tuke could not quite cap a golden afternoon for New Zealand at the Tokyo Olympics, pipped for the 49er sailing crown they won at Rio five years ago.

After a rocky start to their campaign, finishing 12th in their opening race, the Kiwi duo steadily improved their standing over the week and entered Tuesday's double-points gold-medal race with a slender advantage over Great Britain and Spain.

Moments after paddler Lisa Carrington achieved her second gold medal of the day, Burling and Tuke needed to beat or finish within one place of their rivals to secure overall victory.

The British led around the first mark of the course, followed by Germany and New Zealand, but the Spanish almost tipped over, as they tried to turn too sharply.

Approaching halfway, Burling and Tuke still needed to pass Germany or lose their advantage over Britain on a countback. 

But on the third leg, the Germans actually took the lead, handing the edge back to the Kiwis around the final mark.

Dramatically, Germany - chasing bronze - tacked away from the British and conceded the lead down the final leg, putting Burling and Tuke back into silver. In a drag race to the finish, Brits Dylan Fletcher and Stuart Bithell barely crossed the line ahead of the Germans, clinching gold on a countback.

They finished tied with Burling and Tuke on points, but took overall honours by beating them in the medal race.

The result is a repeat of Burling and Tuke's silver medal at London 2012.

"Mixed emotions," Tuke told Sky Sport. "To have it so close like that was pretty tough, but for us, winning an Olympic medal is very special and winning one for Aotearoa, we'll definitely cherish."

Burling admitted it would take a while to get over the nature of their defeat.

"Probably a few more days," he told Sky. "Our campaign was very much about winning a gold medal and to come so closed... definitely mixed emotions.

"It's been close all week, but the British got themselves into a good start and Germany got themselves between and them, which screwed us a bit."

The pair will now return to the Sail GP series to spearhead the New Zealand team.

America's Cup teammate Josh Junior also dipped out on a medal in similarly dramatic circumstances in the Finn class.

Sitting fourth into the medal race, Junior moved into the bronze-medal position down the penultimate leg, but was swamped by the fast-finishing fleet and slipped to fifth on overall standings.