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London Olympics 2012 - Mixed bag for the Canadian Sailing Team

by John Curtis on 6 Aug 2012
David Wright (CAN) competing in the Men’s One Person Dinghy (Laser) event in The London 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition. onEdition © http://www.onEdition.com
London Olympics 2012, Weymouth and Portland. Sailing competition day 8.

The wind finally lightened up today, averaging about nine knots on the Nothe Course and slightly more (about 12knots) on the West Course). The temperature was still not warm at 18, but it was a pleasant enough day. The crowds finally turned out today with thousands of spectators watching the racing from the Nothe point. The energy was electric. The 98% British crowd was there to see their golden boy Ben Ainslie make Olympic History.


Canada had three teams on the water - 49'er, RSX M and RSX W. The Big Story was the upset for the UK in the Star and the Lucky Gold medal by Ben Ainslie in the Finn.

In the RS:X Men’s class, Zac Plavsic qualified for the medal race today with a seventh and a 29th (ouch!) He is sitting in eighth overall but has closed the gap on seventh. He was up as high as fifth in race 9 but race 10 was ugly most of the way around. I have not spoken with Zac but the wind got pretty light and it can be very fluky in the light stuff and it is not Zac's strength. There was a huge shift to the left in the afternoon and this may have turned the fleet inside out with very little opportunity to make it back.

Zac is actually tied with JP Tobin of New Zealand for seventh - his training partner along with regatta leader Dorian Van Rijsselgerg from Holland. Zac and JP both have 80 points. The best Zac can do going into the last race is fifth. The guy in ninth cannot catch him as he is more than 20 points behind. 20 points is the maximum score in the medal race because there are only 10 boards and scores are doubled. The Greek in fifth has 65 points and is within reach if Zac has a great race and the Greek falters. The French sailor with 66 points would also have to have a bad race. Regardless of the outcome Zac has had a terrific performance.

A fifth would be out of this world fantastic! Our fingers are crossed. The RSX Men's fleet has a day off tomorrow and the wind looks like it will be back up in the 16-18 knot range on Tuesday for the Medal Race, which favours Zac as he is probably faster than the Greek and the French guy and with a smaller fleet it will probably be more of a drag race since clear air will be easier to come by. Go Zac Go!


Our Women's windsurfer, Nikola Girke had her worst day of the event today with a 19th and an 18th. The light air has always been her Achilles heel and it really showed today. She did improve her first mark rounding position in both races demonstrating a great deal of determination and perseverance, but when you get back that far in light air there is not much you can do without a speed advantage.

Despite the disappointing results she has managed to stay in the top 10 with 89 points, which puts her 14 points out of eighth which will be the best she can do if she puts together a great medal race and the Italian and French sailors ahead of her have bad races. Obviously the worst she can do is 10th as the top 10 are now locked in. With the wind expected to be back up in the 14-16 knot range Nikola could well move ahead. Regardless we are all immensely proud of her accomplishment. Well Done Nikola!!!


Gordon Cook and Hunter Lowden had a tough day. Things were looking up after race 12 in which they scored an eighth, putting them within seven points of the top 10 and qualifying for the medal race. Race 13 as looking good but a bad lay line call at the first mark had them pushed back in to 20th. The racing is that tight. Just a small mistake and they lost 13 places just like that. As Coach Jason Rhodes said, 'in light air you have to call the lay lines fat and come in hot.' This means over-stand a little and come into the mark reaching a little for maximum speed. All the boats that are pinching in dirty air to get around the mark will be virtually stopped. Easy to say from the spectator position, but hard to do in practice when the pressure is on and every inch sailed past the lay line feels like an inch given up.

The boys are sitting in 16th overall with 16 points separating them from 10th place and a coveted spot in the medal race. With two races to go it is still 'doable', but the wind is not looking strong tomorrow and they prefer. They have the speed to do it even if it is light but they will have to bring their A Game out to the bay tomorrow. I have confidence that they can pull it off. Best of luck guys.

Aside from the Canadian Stories the big races today were the first two medal races. It was the Stars and then the Finns. The Brits had hopes of gold in both.

The British Star sailed by defending Gold medalists Iain Percy and 'Bart' Simpson (actually Andrew Simpson) were the favourites over the Brazilians and were going in with an eight point lead over Robert Scheidt and Bruno Prada of Brazil and 12 points on Freddy Loof and Max Salminen of Sweden.

It was an incredibly close race with the Brits covering the Brazilians quite closely. They basically left the Swedes to sail their own race. The Swedes had to finish second or better so the risk seemed small. Amazingly, on the last leg the Brits were passed by two boats and Swedes clinched the gold. The crowd was very subdued. You had to feel sorry for the British sailors who had sailed a fantastic regatta and really only had this one bit of bad luck in the very last few minutes of the very last race. Hard to fault them for anything really. They made the right call to cover the closest boat in points - the Brazilians, but the Swedes capitalized on this. This is the power of those double points in the medal. race.

In the end the Brits finished eighth in the race with the Swedes coming second and the Brazilians in seventh. It was Sweden Gold, UK Silver and Brazil Bronze. What an exciting race to watch.

This was dubbed the 'Battle of the Bay' by the media here. As I have explained before if Ben Ainslie of Great Britain won the Gold he would surpass the greatest sailor ever - Paul Elvstrom of Denmark who has won four golds at four consecutive Olympic Games. This would be Ben's fourth Gold, but he also has a silver from Atlanta finishing a close second to Robert Scheidt who was sailing the Star this year. The great irony of the situation was that Danish sailor Jonas Hogh-Christensen was going into the medal race with a two point lead hoping to preserve his hero and fellow countryman's Olympic record.


The first beat saw Ben in fifth and he sailed an amazing downwind leg passing three boats. The wind was lighter (about 10 knots) and they were allowed unlimited pumping. This condition is Ben's big strength. It was truly amazing to see how much he gained on this leg. It looked like he was just going to mow down the French guy in the lead and go on to win the race and leave the Danish sailor in the dust. Instead, Ainslie the iron willed sailing machine opted to 'do the right thing' and cover the Dane.

This caused him to lose ground on the fleet and he fell back to ninth in the next upwind. It almost looked like he had given up too much to cover the Dane, losing seven places in one leg. In any case, the rest of the race it was Ben in ninth and Jonas in 10th. The only problem with this scenario was that the Dutch sailor PJ Postma was close enough to the lead (only 14 points behind) that if he was second in the race he would beat Ben if Ben finished ninth or worse. In a made for TV drama, this is just what was shaping up in the last leg of the race. Postma rounded the top mark in third and was gaining on the Kiwi, Dan Slater in second.

The pivotal moment came about 3/4 of the way down the last downwind leg when Postma was passing Slater and he gybed and hit the large camera mounted on Slater's stern. In any other event there would not have been a Camera mounted there. It was a heart breaker for the Dutch. Postma had to do a 720 degree penalty turn and finished fifth and Ben Ainslie (soon to be Sir Benjamin Ainslie we are told) clinched his fourth Gold Medal in a row.

The really amazing thing about this race is that Ben really was more lucky than great. An unforced error by Postma gave him the Gold. On top of that Ainslie made another unbelievable tactical blunder that even a novice could detect. In the last up-wind he was covering the Dane sailing out to the right side of the Course. This made sense as he was the guy he had to beat and Postma was in sixth going around that last mark and would have to gain four spots to even be in contention for the Gold. You can only cover one boat if they both go to different sides of the course so he chose the right guy to cover from a risk management perspective.

The amazing thing was that half way to the right side of the course 'Sir Ben the Taker of Risks' tacked and headed to the left side of the course. I am not sure what was going through his mind but there is no question it was the wrong thing to do from a risk management perspective. The Dutch sailor (Postma) had gone left but it was way too late to decide to cover him. As Ben and Jonas converged on the windward mark, he barely crossed the Dane. He was very lucky because had the Dane got ahead Ben would be wearing a Bronze not gold. Despite all this Ben Ainslie won the Gold. Truly amazing to see such a questionable decision from the guy who truly is the greatest sailor alive. I guess even Sir Ben is human after all :)

I am sure that The Brits are extremely pleased with New Zealander Dan Slater for being in the right place at the right time. Dan finished seventh overall. Dan is a big friend of Canada. He helped train some of the Canadian Olympians on the Open 60 O Canada.

Tomorrow the Canadian 49'ers have a shot to qualify for the medal race if they can make up a 16 point deficit. The RSX Men and women have the day off. Their medal race will be on Tuesday.

Richard Clarke blog:

So that's it, it's over for us, we did everything we could but came up short in our efforts to qualify for the medal race. A fifth place in the first race of the day saw us claw into contention for the coveted 10th place spot but it unraveled in the final race as we couldn't recover from a bad first beat and our day ended in disappointment.

I guess that sums up my feelings today the day after our dreams officially died, I am dreadfully disappointed. We trained incredibly hard for this event, we sacrificed so much, our families sacrificed so much, so much money spent and to not even qualify for the medal race. Honestly we failed to deliver.

As the days pass the disappointment will fade and the questions of why will crop up. Maybe we will find solace in the answers, maybe there was something at fault in our preparations? Right now I don't think so, we knew our downwind speed was lacking and we spent countless of tiring hours working on that side of our game. We knew our equipment needed to be perfect and we spent hundreds of thousands of dollars making sure we had the best gear. We knew Weymouth was a very tricky venue and spent months training here.

We knew that being the best meant training with the best so we teamed up with the British, arguably the best team in the world. We knew that the event could be a windy rough survival of the fittest so we split gallons of sweat on the weight room floor. We knew the Olympics are a pressure cooker of immense proportions so we worked closely with a sports psychologist. But none if it vaulted us up the steps of the podium.

Yes it was great to be here and I took to heart all your messages of support and encouragement. When our regatta started to slip away I tried to relax, tried to let it all just flow but again that didn't help. To finish with a medal a team must at least medal in a few races. We didn't do that in any race. For now one thing we know is that every race in these games was sailed in essentially the same conditions, similar wind strength and similar direction. Maybe those conditions were the only hole in our armor, maybe if the conditions had been more varied maybe we would have done better?

So now we wait for the medals to be handed out tomorrow, we will cheer on our British training partners and take a sliver of pride in knowing we had a part in their success. I am proud of our efforts and I am thankful for everyone who helped make this journey possible. That list of people and organizations is a long one and each and every one need to know just how very important they were in enabling us to chase this dream. Let’s save that for tomorrow as I don't want their significance lost in the bottom of this blog.

Richard


http://www.windathletes.ca/

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