It was a game of two halves on day three of the Olympic Sailing Competition, with the inshore courses forcing the sailors to make the best of a light-wind lottery. Out to sea it couldn’t have been more different, with the Niterói and Copacabana courses offering up high winds and mountainous waves. The Sugarloaf course made for a wildly unpredictable but entertaining debut for the new Mixed Multihull event.
Matias Buhler and Nathalie Brugger (SUI) emerged top of the rankings after two whacky opening races for the Nacra 17 on the notoriously tricky Pão de Açucar (Sugarloaf Mountain) race course. The Swiss are on equal points with Ben Saxton and Nicola Groves (GBR), with Santiago Lange and Cecilia Carranza Saroli (ARG) holding third overall.
With the fleet starting in 10 knots of breeze, the Mixed Multihull fleet shot up the track. But, the breeze was all over the place and no lead was ever safe. The Swiss emerged at the front at one point, only to be swallowed up by the pack at the halfway stage. But then Buhler and Brugger found their way through to the front once more, only to see their 200 metre lead disappear in the dying moments of the final leg. The fleet was closing fast and the top six boats all crossed the finish line within five seconds of each other. The Swiss beat Singapore by a whisker.
“A really tricky day,” said Brugger. “Difficult with very shifty and gusty winds, so we had to improvise and keep the eyes open. We had some hard moments back in the fleet but we were always fighting and had a really good team spirit.”
Justin Liu (SIN) didn’t even know how well he’d done until he came ashore. “That photo finish, we’ve no idea how we did, where did we finish?” he asked the press, delighted to discover he and crew Denise Lim had finished second. “The wind was everywhere, super crazy, we were near the back at one point, but we fought our way back.” Even with a 16th in the next race, the Singaporeans lie in eighth overall.
The British were consistent with scores of 3,5. Saxton was smiling but still not that sure about the secret to success other than, “Give it a go, do your best and hopefully by the end of six legs it will be good enough.
The four-time World Champions Billy Besson and Marie Riou (FRA) had a worrying first day and sit in 17th place in the 20-boat fleet. Besson is carrying a severe long-term back injury and is struggling even to walk any distance, so one can only imagine the pain he is suffering to compete on board the athletic Nacra 17.
Men’s Two Person Dinghy – 470
Through all the crazy unpredictability of the courses closer to shore, such as on the Escola Naval (Navy School) course, somehow the reigning World Champions from Croatia picked their way through the melée. Sime Fantela and Igor Marenic (CRO) have notched up a 1,2 for their opening scores, and are living up to their billing as the main threat to Australia’s defence of the Olympic title from London 2012.
That said, Mat Belcher and Will Ryan (AUS) had a very respectable day, bouncing back from some bad starts to record an 8,1 putting the Aussies in second overall. “This is what the Games are meant to be,” said Belcher. “It’s supposed to be challenging, to really test yourself. Today saw that. We were back in a lot of cases, got back up the front and posted two good races.”
Paul Snow-Hansen and Daniel Willcox (NZL) lie in third overall. Snow-Hansen commented, “Just like all big regattas, we’re getting conditions you don’t normally expect. But we’re happy to roll with it and enjoy the snakes and ladders out there.”
Ai Kondo Yoshida and Miho Yoshioka (JPN) put together a very good first day on the very fluky Escola Naval (Navy School) course, the Japanese holding a two point lead over the defending Olympic Champions, Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie (NZL). Tina Mrak and Veronika Macarol (SLO) hold third place ahead of the Brazilians.
Annie Haeger and Briana Provancha (USA) were pleased with their opening day, the Americans in fifth overall. “It was a really tricky day,” said Provancha, “Super cool to be racing out there. The goal of day one is to be consistent and not lose the regatta. We did our job today. It was about looking for the dark water and going for your hunches.”
The London 2012 silver medallists Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark (GBR) would have hoped for a better first day, but are still in sixth overall after fighting their way back from bad starts in both races. “Not much of an excuse for our poor first decisions off the start line in both races,” admitted Clark. “From then on we were playing catch up and we did a reasonable job. Today might look like a good day at the end of this week.”
Annalise Murphy (IRL) has always loved the strong breeze and big waves and the Irish sailor took full advantage with some good scores to move into the overall lead. However, Anne-Marie Rindom (DEN) had an even better day with scores of 3,1 to move to within a point of Murphy. Just a point behind the Dane is the London 2012 silver medallist, Marit Bouwmeester (NED).
It wasn’t such a good outing for the reigning Olympic Champion Lijia Xu (CHN), whose scores of 8,12 have dropped the Chinese sailor down to fifth overall. An even bigger casualty was Evi van Acker (BEL), whose scores of 16,15 have dropped the 2012 bronze medallist to tenth overall. With just four races before the Medal Race, time is running out for van Acker to get back in contention.
Tonci Stipanovic (CRO) is back in charge of the leaderboard after Julio Alsogaray (ARG) tumbled down the order with a 24th followed by a UFD disqualification for crossing the start line too early. The big winner of the day was reigning World Champion Nick Thompson (GBR) who charged up the rankings with a 2,1 and now sits in second overall, two points in front of another star performer of the day, Rutger van Schaardenburg (NED). Robert Scheidt (BRA) is just four points off the podium, the Brazilian within striking distance of winning a record sixth Olympic medal.
Giles Scott (GBR) seized the day, revelling in the high winds and mighty waves on the Niterói course. The four-time and reigning World Champion leapt up from tenth overall to the top of the leaderboard after a second place followed by victory in the next. “It’s important not to panic,” said Scott of his shaky start to the regatta the previous day. “You have to think going into the week that the difficult course would be Sugarloaf. It was nice to get into today and have different conditions to get to grips with.”
Ioannis Mitakis (GRE) also mastered the conditions and scores of 3,2 rocketed the Greek to fourth in the overall rankings, behind Vasilij Zbogar (SLO) and Alican Kaynar (TUR) in second and third respectively. Jonathan Lobert’s (FRA) win in the first race of the day keeps the London 2012 bronze medallist in the hunt, lying in fifth place just a point ahead of the 2012 silver medallist Jonas Hogh-Christensen (DEN). “We had 25 to 30 knots and massive waves, epic conditions, a little gnarly at the end,” said the great Dane. “Unfortunately I ripped my sail apart and had to retire from the last race. That’s never happened to me before. It’s a missed opportunity because it could have been two good scores today.”