Rio de Janeiro – World Sailing – Guanabara Bay delivered some great sailing conditions to launch the Olympic Sailing Competition today, but it was still very, very tricky out there. The sunny skies and 10 to 14 knot winds from the south-east were just what competitors wanted to begin their Olympic campaigns, and some of the favourites romped away to a dominant start while others faltered badly. Some clear leaders have already emerged in the two Windsurfer events, but the results have been shared much more equally around the Men’s and Women’s Singlehander fleets.
Men’s Windsurfer – RS:X
Nick Dempsey (GBR) could scarcely believe the fairy tale start to his fifth Olympic Regatta. Just days away from his 36th birthday, the British veteran managed to pick up scores of 1,1,2. The defending Olympic Champion Dorian van Rijsselberghe couldn’t quite match that level of excellence, but his freshly shaved head wasn’t hurting the Dutchman too much either as he finished the day with ever-improving scores of 5,3,1. Asked why he had shaved his head as he had done four years earlier at London 2012, he said, “The Olympics are a good excuse to shave my head. Otherwise my wife wouldn’t let me do it.”
Dempsey was rightly pleased with his day. “A perfect start. I was pretty nervous this morning, really nervous. Training has been going really well, sailing fast. I was just nervous about something not going right, but it went so well. In the last race, the breeze dropped a few bombs on the course. It caught a few people out, a few people did well out of it, and I managed to hold on to second, which was probably the best bit of the day.”
The issue of debris in the water has been a big talking point in the build-up to these Games, but Dempsey said, “Today was the best it’s ever been. When you’re winning a race and going fast, the only thing you worry about is another factor, like hitting something in the water, breaking a fin. But it didn’t, the water was fine and it’s a good result for Rio.”
Byron Kokkalanis also sailed very solidly to notch up scores of 2,2,6, and puts him in thirrd overall on equal points with Rijsselberghe.
Women’s Windsurfer – RS:X
Charline Picon (FRA) had a stunning start to her regatta, scoring 1,2,1 from the opening three races. Next best was Stefania Elfutina (RUS) who lies in seconnd place ahead of Flavia Tartaglini (ITA). The defending Olympic Champion Marina Alabau (ESP) had a solid day to lie in fifth overall but one of the other pre-event favourites, Bryony Shaw (GBR) struggled and sits in 10th at the moment.
Picon was breathing a sigh of relief after coming ashore. “I had a lot of pressure and to begin like that? Well I couldn’t have imagined that yesterday because I was a little bit stressed. I’m happy but I need to stay focussed.”
Local sailor Patricia Freitas (BRA) revelled in the stronger breezes to lie in sixth overall. “We had a very good day, sunshine and strong winds, unexpected for this time of year. The Brazilian spirit is everywhere, it’s very special for us to have people watching us racing because that doesn’t happen very often in sailing. Thanks to the Bay we can set up a good place for the people to watch, and when we were rounding the mark near the beach I could even recognise a few friends. It was a great spirit and great to be part of.”
Women’s One Person Dinghy – Laser Radial
The gold and silver medallists from London 2012 lie in first and second overall respectively after two races in the Laser Radial. Lijia Xu (CHN) could have been even further ahead in the rankings if she had held on to her lead in the second race, but even with scores of 3,4 the defending Olympic Champion holds a four-point lead over her arch rival, Marit Bouwmeester (NED). However, Paige Railey (USA) has a protest in against the Chinese sailor for an incident between the two, so we’ll have to wait and see if Xu can retain her lead after tonight’s hearing. “I’m very happy to be leading because it was very difficult out on the course,” said Xu. “It has been a short campaign building up to Rio but I am really enjoying being back in the boat. My whole approach is different this time. I’m more aware of avoiding injury and keeping the body fit for competition.”
It could have been a stellar day for Gintare Scheidt (LTU). She finished in second place in the first race and won the next race. However, the Lithuanian sailor later discovered that she had fallen foul of a U Flag disqualification in race 1 for crossing the start line too soon. The Olympic silver medallist from 2008 commented, “I was very happy after the first race, because I didn’t know until later that I was over the line. I sailed the second race really well, but I still have a really bad feeling about the day. My goal was to get two top tens, and even finishing first in the second race doesn’t satisfy me. Now we have to be more safe, because there’s only one discard which in this venue is really difficult.”
Other hotly fancied sailors also struggled to be consistent, including Annalise Murphy (IRL) who charged through the fleet to win the first race but could only manage 14th in the next. Even so, the fourth-placed finisher from London 2012 currently lies in fourth overall just a single point behind Anne-Marie Rindom (DEN). “There was a lot to think about out there,” said Murphy. “Strong tide, big pressure differences up and down the race course. I was happy enough with the second race. It’s going to be swings and roundabouts here, people are going to have good and bad races.”
UPDATED – Xu received a disqualification into the early evening and is therefore pushed down the fleet.
Men’s One Person Dinghy – Laser
Tonci Stipanovic (CRO) won the first race in the Men’s Singlehander fleet and with a fifth in the second race, the Croatian lies in first overall. Sitting on equal points but in second place is Julio Alsogaray (ARG) with scores of 4,2. “There were plenty of places to fall down the rankings today,” said Stipanovic, “so I am very happy with the day I’ve just had. Speed was good and conditions were difficult but what we expected for Rio.”
Sergei Komissarov (RUS) sailed a good first day to lie in third overall, while a number of the favourites made harder work of the conditions. Robert Scheidt (BRA) made a bad start to his campaign to win a record sixth Olympic medal in sailing, finishing 23rd in the opening race. But the Brazilian bounced back to take a clear lead and the winner’s gun in race 2.
Scheidt enjoyed the difficulty of the day. “They were good, technical races because there was a rounding mark set very close to the coast and that influenced the wind, and it was changing the second part of the race course a lot. But this is part of the game. I already knew conditions in the Bay were going to be very variable.
“In the second race I managed to do the start better and go with the main contenders, play the game step by step,” said the 43-year-old. “I had a bit of an advantage at the first mark, and from there I managed to dominate the race. I’m pleased how I came back from the first race. There are still a lot of races ahead and a lot of points to fight for, and in the second race I showed that my age is not going to be a problem for me.”
Tom Burton (AUS) and reigning World Champion Nick Thompson (GBR) lie in 10th and 11th respectively with equal points, while the London 2012 silver medallist Pavlos Kontides (CYP) is back in 19th.
Racing resumes on 9 August 2016 in the four fleets and the Men’s Heavyweight Dinghy (Finn) opens up with races one and two.