Talk to any athlete sailing in the Olympics-any Olympics-and they will be quick to mention the variables. Training. Nutrition. Time spent on the water at a particular venue. Equipment. Spectators. Class legacy...and the list parades on. For sailors competing in the RSX classes, these later three named variables are especially important in this Games, as the London Olympics 2012 is currently the last Olympiad that the RSX is expected to compete in, due to recent ISAF changes.
Olha Maslivets (UKR) competing in the Women’s RSX event in The London 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition.
At the Olympics, the event often assigns boats and equipment to the sailors in an effort to ensure parity and an even playing field. The RSX class is one such event. This, of course, raises its own set of questions.
Any sailor can tell you that within the world of One Design racing, some 'identical' boats are more identical than others. Perhaps these differences are due to Deltas in manufacturing, perhaps they are due to how each boat is handled and shipped, or perhaps it’s just a case of one and one not quite adding up to two. Either way, Olympic sailors have the opportunity to test and evaluate their equipment prior to racing, and to request a different boat, should they feel as though their assigned boat is a touch on the 'sticky' side.
Things get interesting, however, if the speed differences do not appear in pre-Games measurements or testing. 'I am slightly lacking in speed but that's what you get with supplied equipment,' said Team Great Britain’s (Team GBR) Women’s RSX representative, Bryony Shaw (currently sitting in fifth place, overall) after today’s racing. 'I’m just kind of giving it my best shot and trying to keep a smile on my face.'
Bryony Shaw, GBR, RSX - Princess Sofia Cup, Palma, April 2010
According to Shaw, some girls seem to be going a bit quicker in this Games than in the feeder regattas leading up to the London Olympics 2012. 'They are good sailors, they are fast sailors,' said Shaw. 'They are obviously making the kit go really well, but there are a lot of girls that are struggling as well that don't normally struggle so much. I feel like I have got decent kit, but maybe not the best kit.'
The obvious question arises as to why Shaw and Team GBR didn’t catch this perceived equipment issue prior to the first guns sounding, but shades of grey are often subtle and difficult to detect. 'I think I’m sailing smart and giving it one-hundred percent,' reported Shaw. 'At the beginning of the week I made a few mistakes and obviously that sort of dropped me out of the top three a bit from the beginning, but I will just keep chipping away and see how I get [on]. It will be great to finish in the top five and I think ‘just keep enjoying myself’ and just accept that that's the best I can get.'
All medal races in the London Olympics 2012 are being contested on the Nothe course, which-unlike the wet-and-wild Weymouth Bay South and Weymouth Bay West courses-benefits from relatively sheltered water. Interestingly, it also adds a spectator-friendly viewing hill, allowing fans to cheer for their favorite athletes. For many Olympic sailors, the opportunity to demonstrate their skills in full public display adds a sense of thrill to the hunt.
'The Nothe is great,' continued Shaw. 'I really enjoyed the Nothe racing today. We had four laps for each race and I was losing count throughout the day. I was getting dizzy almost! I think a few of the other girls were confused as well. It was tactical and I think that kind of helped me out a bit in terms of the fact that it wasn't a pure speed race.'
Bryony Shaw, RSX. - Semaine Olympique Francaise, Hyeres, April 2009
Undoubtedly, having cheering crowds nearby also adds a degree of pressure to the situation, but for most sailors it seemed to add the right spice to an already thrilling event. 'Everybody was like ‘wahoo!’,' reported Israel’s Lee-El Korsiz, who is currently topping the RSX women’s leaderboard. 'It was cool. I saw my friend with the Israeli flag. I feel proud that I make people happy.' While the Olympics are hardly a private affair, it likely adds a different psychological element if an athlete can hear cheering—in real time—versus the always quiet, omnipresent nature of broadcast television.
The last important variable to consider for the RSX sailors (both Men and Women’s events) is the fact that this could prove to be their last Olympic Games, as kiteboarding has been chosen to replace windsurfing in the 2016 Games (pending a recently announced legal challenge from the RSX class to maintain its Olympic perch). Not surprisingly, some of the RSX sailors are planning to matriculate so as to continue their Olympic careers. For some, kiteboarding is an old friend; for others, it’s a new discipline.
'I have already [kited] for six or seven years and I am doing kiteboarding [now], so if it’s [going to change to kiteboarding], I would be honored [to represent Israel]. But I think for all the kids in the clubs, it’s much better if the RSX stays [in the Games]. [RSXes are] safer and [cost] less money… I think [they are] more stable and [they make for a] much better Olympic class.'
As far as similarities, Korsiz sees some parallels, but recognizes that these are mostly due to the mindset required to race and compete on the Olympic level. 'I am sure that [the RSX sailors] will be good [at kiting] because all of the people here know how to compete, they know how [handle themselves] under pressure, and they know everything about sailing in the Olympics. People who [come to the Games for the] first time—it’s really hard for them to keep going because it is not the same [as] freestyle kiting.'
As far as the transition, Korsiz recognizes that it will take some time for the windsurfers to learn a new art. 'On the competing side it is the same, but I think it will take a few months for everybody to learn how to use the kite, to tack and gybe, and always you can be better at your technique. But in the end, I’m sure the top [sailors] will be from the windsurfing [event].'
It will certainly be interesting to see how this transition goes-if it goes-and how the windsurfers take to the new equipment. But first, of course, the RSX sailors need to get through their medal race, which is slated to take place on Tuesday, August 7. Stay tuned for more, as it becomes known!