The previous word of the day was ‘tricky’. The word of the day for those that went out to sea on day four was ‘survival.
The Olympic sailing competition again produced the extremes of flat water and shifty conditions on the inshore courses with the giant wind and size-of-a-house waves out on the seaward courses. This regatta is testing every extreme of a sailor’s ability, which some argue is exactly what the Olympic competition should be.
The defending Olympic Champions Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie (NZL) sailed an excellent day and met their simple goal for some of the toughest conditions they have ever experienced. “It was just keep the mast pointing upwards,” said Aleh. “It was pure survival out there, keep Polly on the side of the boat because crews were getting washed off the side all the time. The wind was big. The waves were big. It couldn’t have been more of a contrast to all the fluky stuff from yesterday, but this regatta is getting to be fun.”
The Kiwis have replaced the Japanese at the top of the scoreboard, with Ai Kondo Yoshida and Miho Yoshioka just two points behind New Zealand. Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark (GBR) could have dominated the day with two wins, except that in the second race they capsized whilst in the lead and did well to hold on to a sixth place. A missed opportunity that could come back to haunt the British crew later in the competition, but for the moment they sit in third place, just five points off the lead. On equal points with the Britons are the reigning World Champions, Camille Lecointre and Hélène de France (FRA). “We don’t normally like those conditions very much so we’re pleased to have come out of the day better than we expected,” said Lecointre.
The 2014 and 2015 World Champions Lara Vadlau and Jolanta Ogar (AUT) would be hoping to do better than their current eighth overall. “In three years of training we’ve never seen any of the conditions that we saw yesterday or today,” said Vadlau. “The first day was fluky and you needed some luck to do well, and today was about surviving. I tried to enjoy it but when you see people capsizing in front of you, you try to keep calm and keep on doing what you normally do. You can’t get scared, because if you get scared you will capsize too.”
Sime Fantela and Igor Marenic (CRO) had the best day in the survival conditions, the Croatians’ 4,1 scores lifting them to three points clear of their Aussie rivals and reigning Olympic Champions Mat Belcher and Will Ryan. But it’s all very tight, with Panagiotis Mantis and Pavlos Kagialis (GRE) just a couple of points behind in third. Others are ready to pounce on any mistakes, with Sweden and France not far off the podium. The London 2012 silver medallist Luke Patience (GBR) was grinning from ear to ear after coming ashore from the biggest waves he’d ever seen. “They were three or four metres, as big as houses. You could see the front door, two windows, a kitchen and the bedrooms upstairs. When you were in the trough you couldn’t see the boat next to you.”
Giles Scott (GBR) didn’t manage to capitalise on the survival conditions quite like the previous day of big wind and waves, finishing 11th in the first race but making amends by winning the next. He now holds a 12-point lead over second placed Vasilij Zbogar (SLO). “It’s good to put a bit more of a point gap on today but at the moment I’m just very frustrated with how I sailed in that first race,” said Scott, the four-time World Champion, as self-critical as ever. “There was a huge gain on the right-hand side of the course all day today and I was pretty slow to realise that on that first leg and let the fleet get to the right of me. It just put me on the back foot but I managed to come back to 11th which I suppose was damage limitation. But then to come out and win the next race, that is all I could ask for.”
Zsombor Berecz (HUN) is having the regatta of his life, sitting in third just two points behind Zbogar while Caleb Paine (USA) is just two points away from the Hungarian. Local hero Jorge Zarif (BRA) started well with a second but then followed up with a 19th, putting him in tenth overall. “When it’s this windy we don’t go sailing in Brazil,” he said. “Those were brutal conditions. Anyone who thought Rio was going to be a light wind regatta and prepared just for that is going to be struggling after today.”
Dorian van Rijsselberghe (NED) turned the tables on Nick Dempsey (GBR) by finding a level of consistency in tricky, variable conditions that no one else could match. The defending Olympic Champion’s scores, 4,1,1, have lifted him eight points clear of the London 2012 silver medallist who still had a good day to hold second overall, now five points in front of the reigning World Champion Piotr Myszka (POL).
These three have broken away from the rest of the pack, with fourth-placed Byron Kokkalanis (GRE) now 16 points off the podium.
Women’s Windsurfer – RS:X
The reigning Olympic Champion Marina Alabau (ESP) had the best day from the Women’s Windsurfer fleet’s three races, and she moves to within striking distance of the podium. “It’s been a very hard and complicated day, because of the gusty winds,” said Alabau. “I nearly had a heart attack. But I’m super happy, it’s been my best day. For me this was a very important day. If I wanted to fight for the medals this was the day to do it well, otherwise I would have been out of the fight.” Her coach, Nico Beudou, added, “At last today I’ve seen the Marina I know.”
Flavia Tartaglini (ITA) holds the lead by a single point from Charline Picon (FRA) and Stefania Elfutina (RUS) who sit on equal points, although a protest against the Italian by Demita Vega (MEX) could see a change of leader overnight.
Mixed Multihull – Nacra 17
After four brutal three-lap races for the Nacra 17 fleet, two teams sit tied at the top on equal points. The Australian crew’s two race wins put Jason Waterhouse and Lisa Darmanin (AUS) in first place ahead of Ben Saxton and Nicola Groves (GBR), while in third place and nine points behind the leaders is the Italian crew of Vittorio Bissaro and Silvia Sicouri. “There were moments with very hard winds and others with just 10-12 knots,” said Sicouri. “So it’s been very important to have the skills to perform and always keep the balance on board. I’m happy to have a rest day tomorrow, because after four races with three laps each we are tired. There’s still half the championship ahead and we will fight until the end.”
Overnight leaders Matias Buhler and Nathalie Brugger (SUI) struggled to get to grips with the stronger conditions on the Ponte course and have fallen to seventh overall. The four-time World Champions Billy Besson and Marie Riou (FRA) finished the day where they started, in 15th place. Besson’s back injury couldn’t have flared up at a worse time, and one of the hot favourites for gold have seen their dreams shattered after two gruelling days for the injured sailor.
Racing resumes on Friday 12 August at 13:00 local time. The 49er and 49erFX will start their Olympic campaigns whilst the Finn and Nacra 17 sailors will enjoy a lay day.