Rio de Janeiro – World Sailing – It was a light and frustrating day for many in the Olympic sailing competition, but not for the London 2012 gold and silver medallists in the Men’s Windsurfer, with the Dutch and the British wrapping up Rio 2016 gold and silver before the Medal Race on Sunday.
Meanwhile it was the start of competition for the Men’s and Women’s Skiff fleets, with an expected leader in the 49er Men, but a surprise leader in the 49erFX Women.
Men’s Windsurfer – RS:X
Dorian van Rijsselberghe (NED) has won the gold medal in the Men’s Windsurfer and Nick Dempsey (GBR) has won the silver, both without having to contest the Medal Race on Sunday. It’s a carbon copy repeat of London 2012 when the Dutchman took gold ahead of the Briton four years ago. The result is subject to protest, and both sailors will still have to sail the Medal Race, but van Rijsselberghe and Dempsey were already congratulating each other after crossing the finish line of the 12th race of their series. These two athletes have dominated the Olympic competition, with van Rijsselberghe winning seven of the 12 races and Dempsey winning three. Sunday’s battle for bronze will still be close fought between current World Champion Piotr Myszka (POL), Pierre Le Coq (FRA) and Byron Kokkalanis (GRE).
Looking back to the start of the RS:X competition, van Rijsselberghe commented, “I was very fortunate that Nick went off like a cannon in the first couple of races because it really showed me like, ‘okay, it’s not going to be easy.’ We never thought it was going to be easy but he really showed me that if I wanted this, I had to work for it. I tried, worked for it and I got it. It’s great when you’re sailing against guys that are really pushing you and challenging you. If you don’t have that, it would be very boring.”
Even though the Dutchman dominated four years ago to win his first Olympic title, he was still taken aback at his performance this time. “It’s unreal. I did it in London and I never expected it to happen again. Now that it’s happened again, it’s unreal. It’s never easy, if it was easy everybody would be doing it. It was an amazing week and having the guys push me really helped a lot. Coming out with a score like this is pretty special.”
Van Rijsselberghe paid tribute to the people that helped him to his second Olympic title saying, “The majority of it will be from Aaron, my coach. He keeps pushing me and of course my training partner Kiran Badloe and the others that have helped me bust my balls and blaze along.” He also thanked his wife for allowing him to shave his head specially for the Games, just as he had done when he won four years ago in London.
Dempsey almost had a tear in his eye as he sealed his third Olympic windsurfing medal, the first sailor ever to have done so. “I was consistent but not quite consistently good enough today. I just had to really try and stay in touch with Dorian and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had an eye on the two people behind me. Dorian was too good today. He won it today rather than me losing it and I feel very happy to have won a silver medal.”
The Briton has won three medals from five Games, so he knows what it’s like to miss out and he wasn’t taking his silver for granted. It has been a life of sacrifice dating back to his first Games in Sydney 2000. This evening he was enjoying his first beer in five months. “A year ago, I didn’t know where I’d finish. At the Olympic Test event last year I wasn’t anywhere near the podium so I had a lot of work to do. The last 12 months have gone really well and I’ve worked bloody hard, so it’s nice to come here and have a chance of winning. To have the silver medal is pretty awesome.”
On his strategy, Dempsey was happy to have taken a conservative approach. “I didn’t want to be too aggressive. I wanted to stay pretty safe as it was pretty unstable out there. The last thing I wanted to do was have a day like the Polish guy. He had some horrendous scores, and then all of a sudden you’re out of the medals and fighting to get back. I had to be quite careful. I was pretty close to Dorian but he was slightly ahead of me. Unfortunately, he was ahead all of the time but when somebody is out winning there is not a lot you can do apart from limit the damage. He was too good today. It’s been an amazing week with great racing.”
Dempsey will celebrate his 36th birthday tomorrow with a rest day before Sunday’s Medal Race, and he wants to go out on a high. “Sunday is my last race ever so I want to do well and win.”
Women’s Windsurfer – RS:X
Star performer of the day was Peina Chen (CHN) who won the last three races of the qualifying series. Just five points separate the top six sailors going into Sunday’s Women’s Windsurfer Medal Race this Sunday. Bearing in mind the final race is worth double points, Stefania Elfutina’s (RUS) one-point lead over Flavia Tartaglini (ITA) effectively puts them tied for first. Breathing down their necks are reigning Olympic Champion Marina Alabau (ESP), Peina Chen (CHN), Charline Picon (FRA) and Maayan Davidovich (ISR). A few points further back but still with an outside shot at the podium is Lillian de Geus (NED).
Alabau is going to have fight hard to keep her Olympic title, but she’s relishing the challenge. “It hasn’t been a bad day for me but I really think that I could have done it a bit better. It has been a difficult day, with difficult conditions, very changing winds in direction and intensity. Some girls have done it quite bad, not me, but I haven’t shone either. Now I have a protest with the Israeli and let’s see how it finishes.” As to the grand finale on Sunday, “It’s going to be the most interesting Medal Race in history. We are seven women to win three medals. Crazy.”
Tartaglini led earlier in the week and was a little envious at the ease with which the gold and silver medals have been won in the Men’s Windsurfer. “I would have liked to do it as Dorian or Nick, but we are going to keep the suspense until the end. Women are so pig-headed, so we have to suffer till the end. It’s a nonsense to work out the points. I have to do my own race, and I hope to win a medal.”
Men’s Skiff – 49er
Peter Burling and Blair Tuke (NZL) made the perfect start to their competition winning both opening heats in the Men’s 49er. After a long wait for the wind to settle on the Pão de Açucar (Sugarloaf Mountain) race course, it was Jonas Warrer and Christian Peter Lubeck (DEN) who found themselves duelling with the New Zealanders at the front of the fleet. Warrer, the 2008 Olympic Champion, looked to have got the better of the Kiwis on the final lap and was leading down to the finish when he belatedly realised he had missed out the gate mark. The Danes reluctantly but hurriedly dropped their gennaker to resail the course correctly, leaving the way clear for an easy opening victory for Burling and Tuke. Warrer crossed in eighth, an expensive mistake that could cost him further down the line.
In the next race the Kiwis rounded the first mark in fourth and patiently worked their way to the front ahead of the Irish pair Ryan Seaton and Matthew McGovern. At the end of a day that saw some spectacular racing in moderate breezes and beautiful winter sunshine, New Zealand holds the lead, Portugal is second and Germany is third. “We’re just happy to walk away from day one with two low scores,” said Burling, the four-time World Champion. While the Kiwi boatspeed was good, most of their winning came from picking their way through the gusts and the lulls on the tricky course. “We made our gain in that first race when we gybe-set on that first run. It felt like we found some good breeze and that helped us get out of the pack and up to the front.”
Their opening day wasn’t the way that Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen (AUS) would have liked to open the defence of their Olympic title. Scores of 13,8 put the Australians in 11th overall. “We haven’t lost the event, but we haven’t set the world on fire,” Outteridge admitted, acknowledging they just weren’t quite fast enough out of the blocks. “A lot of it is trying to get on the first tack and getting yourself up the ladder ahead of everyone else. Both times we just missed that first opportunity.”
Women’s Skiff – 49erFX
There is no stand-out favourite for gold in the brand new Women’s Skiff fleet, and after day one of competition things aren’t much clearer. Of all the teams that might have been expected to be topping the leaderboard, few would have picked the Canadians. Yet Erin Rafuse and Dannie Boyd scored a 5,4 to hold a one-point lead over one of the acknowledged favourites, local sailors Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze (BRA), who won the second race of the day just as the sun was setting over their home town.
Winners of the first race were Sarah Steyaert and Aude Compan (FRA) who are in third overall on equal points with last year’s World Champions from Italy, Giulia Conti and Francesca Clapcich.
The Canadians were delighted with their first day of Olympic competition. “We don’t like to get caught up in the numbers but this is definitely our best start to a regatta,” said Rafuse. “We picked the right regatta.” Boyd enjoyed the tricky racing in shifty winds. “These conditions are right in our wheelhouse,” she said. “We know we can throw the boat wherever we want to. We had good starts and were able to get on the first shift of the day and it makes the rest of the race a lot easier.”
Women’s Two Person Dinghy – 470
Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark (GBR) won the only race of the day for the 470 Women on the Escola Naval course, moving them to the top of the leaderboard. Two earlier leaders in the series had disappointing days. Ai Kondo Yoshida and Miho Yoshioka (JPN) finished in last place today although when that score is discarded from their results the Japanese are still second overall, three points off the lead. Sharing the same points as the Japanese are the reigning World Champions Camille Lecointre and Hélène de France (FRA).
With the defending Olympic Champions already having used up their discard in the first race of the series after a disqualification, a 12th place finish has proven expensive for Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie (NZL) who have dropped from first to sixth in the standings.
On the British race win, Mills commented, “It’s always nice when there’s only going to be one race to go out and smash it. We executed on our plan and we’re very happy. It’s such a hard venue and the fleet is all vying for that top spot. We just need to make sure we have a shot at winning come the Medal Race.”
Men’s Two Person Dinghy – 470
It was a frustrating wait for the 470 Men who were struggling to get in their races on the Escola Naval course. In the single race that was completed before sunset, Luke Patience and Chris Grube’s victory has lifted the British to third overall. The duel for supremacy continues between the reigning World Champions from Croatia and the reigning Olympic Champions from Australia. Mat Belcher and Will Ryan (AUS) moved to within two points of the lead after finishing second in the day’s only race, a place behind Sime Fantela and Igor Marenic (CRO) who lead the fleet. Panagiotis Mantis and Pavlos Kagialis (GRE) sit a point behind the British in fourth overall.
Fantela commented, “Another good day in our pocket, it was tricky inside the bay. Lots of waiting but we are used to it and finally the wind filled in around 3.30pm and we made a good climb from about seventh at the beginning to the front of the pack. We had a good fight with Australia, the British, the Americans. It was fun.”
Women’s One Person Dinghy – Laser Radial
With just two of the ten-race qualifying series remaining for the Women’s Radial fleet, Anne-Marie Rindom (DEN) has pulled out a useful ten-point advantage after a very solid day’s sailing in very tricky conditions, the light airs and big waves making for a seasick-inducing day on the water. Still within striking distance of the lead is Marit Bouwmeester (NED) who holds second place, four points in front of Annalise Murphy (IRL) who fell off the top of the leaderboard after struggling with the difficult conditions on the Copacabana course. “I would like it to have been better today but it wasn’t a complete disaster,” Murphy shrugged. “Huge swell, big shifts, a lot going on, and not getting it quite right. I caught up a lot in the first race but I’m not happy. I’m looking forward to Sugarloaf tomorrow: lots of gusts, shifts, really tricky which is how I like it.”
Men’s One Person Dinghy – Laser
Tonci Stipanović (CRO) gave away a lot of his lead in the Men’s Laser after struggling to get to grips with the unusual conditions out on the big rolling ocean. The Croatian could only manage 28,9 while Robert Scheidt (BRA) went on the attack with a 4,5 that has taken him to just three points of the lead. Tom Burton (AUS) is two points behind Scheidt in third overall.
Stipanović made no secret of his dislike of today’s conditions. “For me these conditions are strange and really hard. Light wind, big swell, I didn’t know what to do. You need a lot of practice in this and I have probably only sailed in this kind of conditions four times in my life. Because of that it didn’t go so well today.”
Scheidt also acknowledged the difficulty of the weird combination of big waves and very little breeze. “Two metre swell out there, very difficult to sail the boat, pressure at the top of the wave, no pressure at the bottom of the wave.”
The 43-year-old is more motivated than ever to become the first sailor to win six Olympic medals. “I think that the key to this week was to never give up. I made some mistakes on day one and two, but I believed I could come back and today was a massive day for my confidence. It’s another crucial day tomorrow.”
Racing resumes on Saturday 13 August at 13:00 local time. The 470 fleets will have a lay day tomorrow, as will the RS:X ahead of their Medal Race on Sunday. All other fleets will be racing.