Letter from Qingdao- Behind the bamboo curtain
by Richard Gladwell, Sail-World on 10 Aug 2008
Greetings from Qingdao, on this the second day of the 2008 Sailing Olympics.
The Anzacs return home after 2008 Olympic Regatta - Day 1 © Richard Gladwell www.photosport.co.nz
As we saw yesterday, the winds were light again today. The morning has dawned with a 3-4 kt breeze on the course. It seems that the breeze increases here very late in the day and stays in through the early part of the night. So whether the breeze we see each morning is the breeze for the day, or a left over from the night before, is only something we find out later.
One who should have been a very careful boy today was Emilious Papathanasiou (GRE) - try saying that quickly, with a mouthful of cornflakes. He won the first race, yesterday in the Finn class, and then received a two penalties from the International Jury for two separate infringments of Rule 42 (Propulsion) and retired from the second. Today he bounced back with a fifth in the first race of the day, and then dropped down the same black hole with another pumping infringement and is now in 15th overall.
The differences here are hair trigger stuff in terms of the tactics. One bad move at the wrong time can be very costly. Not that it drops you down a whole lot of distance, but it certainly puts you well back in the queue. And queue jumping is difficult at the best of times, let alone in an Olympic Regatta, let alone in Qingdao.
Yesterday, we saw some of the RS:X training, from a distance, and you can see how the 'wind whackers' got their sobriquet. Qingdao is not a place for the RS:X frail and infirm. If you wish to compete here, you are going to have to have real endurance fitness - and that is probably what the test will be - ahead of tactics and positioning. However time will tell.
Certainly this is a very unusual place by New Zealand standards. The regimentation in the culture is not to be resisted, you just have to go with the flow and make the best of your lot. From the media perspective the organisation leaves a lot to be desired - maybe this is because we are one of the last groups in and are going through what others have been through in previous visits to Qingdao.
The media are very restricted as to where they can operate. There is a mixed zone in operation, which so far seems to work OK. However that is about as far as the competitor media contact is allowed to go. Similarly with communications with Jury and Race Officials - not permitted. People you are used to talking to on a regular basis, are now off limits. Paranoia with the internet is rife, it is clear that while on one hand they want to embrace the Olympics and have them as a shop window for all that is good about China, there is definitely a bamboo curtain.
Typical of this was a note left on our hotel pillow, from the management which reads ' Kindly be advised that some channels in the guest rooms will be temporarily shut down during the Olympic Games as per the request of the government. Unfortunately we have no control over this request.'
All blogsites seem to be shut off the the locals - a frustrating exercise for those who are trying to update them here - as many of the international sailing media do - only to be unable to read what they have just posted - and rely on friends outside the Chinese sphere of influence to post emailed reports on their behalf.
If you are very self sufficient here, then you will be better that someone who is not. For the sailing teams it means they have to be up to a certain level of infrastructure, or you just will not be able to compete.
While that obviously means spending money, it also means being smart about the gear you bring and getting away with a working minimum which will do maximum functionality. You need a 'Leatherman' (the multi-function tool) mentality, to be able to get by and get on.
Security wise, the Chinese are very well organised, with very good simple and efficient systems which once understood work well, and are not inconvenient. You appreciate their concern for your safety. On the streets it feels very safe, there don't seem to be any no-go areas around here.
On the water today, it was the usual light fluffy breeze, warm temperatures and a fleet that you could throw a blanket over. Direction was as steady as a rock - at 120 degrees on one course and 125 degrees on the other - a massive five degrees different from yesterday!
Strength was about the same six knots on the 49er course, and eight on the Yngling Finns, who were out on Course E (the outermost track).
Sad to say the algae was making its presence felt out there, with it being very noticeable on the tidelines, and later there were reports from competitors of having to clear their foils during the race.
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