by Bob Fisher
Stability is hardly a word to be used about anything at the Olympic regatta at Qingdao, whether it is the weather, the organisation or the performance of the sailors compared to the form book, all are haywire.
Jonas Warrer and Martin Ibsen (DEN). 49er.Qingdao Olympic Regatta 2008.
The weather has dealt a mixed hand with painfully light winds comparing unfavourably with the pain of rain and lumpy seas of Sunday when the medal races for three classes were held in poor visibility and arguably, for the 49ers, winds that were too strong, or how is it that all the top ten sailors in the class were unable to keep their boats upright around a course that lasted, or should have done, half an hour.
But the pressures are on the organisation and when the 49ers were started on the very last minute before the time limit for starting ran out, even that most perfect of PROs, Peter Reggio, must have felt uneasy at the directive. Nine boats – the series leaders were absent as they had broken their mast before the race – set off in marginal visibility and gave a demonstration of fallibility – cartwheels and nose dives were mixed with wild broaches. Not particularly good for the sport but the television viewers, who thrive on crash and burn, would have possibly stayed with the racing when they could detect anything on their screens.
And then there is the case of the two Danes, Jonas Warrer and Martin Ibsen, who led the series into the medal race. Having rushed ashore with a broken mast, they received the cooperation of the Croatian sailors, Pavle Kostov and Petar Cupac, who lent thee Danes their boat.
Hurrying out from the harbour, the Danes made the start line almost four and a half minutes after the start but just inside the time limit.
What looked like a hopeless chase became a possibility as many of their rivals swam close to their overturned boats and their tail-chase suddenly seemed capable of producing a medal. Marvellously, they stayed upright longer than most up to eighth at the last mark and when the Austrian race leaders took the final plunge on the second run; it had cleared the way for their earlier steady consistency to be rewarded. And a final place gain to seventh confirmed them as the 49er class winners by three points.
But then all hell let loose and they found themselves in the most bitter and twisted protest of the regatta. The Race Committee lodged a protest, one involving the measurer, by 1830, that the boat they sailed was ineligible. By noon the following day the protest had not been resolved. (Their gold medal was confirmed at 1215, but there was no summary of the protest decision for another hour).
This is not the only class where the accepted favourites have failed. The Finn class has a long list of comparative failures by the generally acknowledged top performers. The 2007 world champion Pieter Jan Postma of Holland failed to make the medal race, as did Emilios Papathanasiou of Greece who won the opening race. And what has happened to the Australian Laser world champion, Tom Slingsby? A string of 22nd places is hardly befitting a man of his calibre.
Stability at Qingdao? Give me the San Andreas Fault anytime!