Letter from Qingdao- The crowds come to Fushan Bay
by . on 20 Aug 2008
Greetings from Qingdao, on this the 11th day of the 2008 Sailing Olympics.
Emotive scenes after the conclusion of the RS:X Womens Medal Race, with Jian Yin (CHN) winning the Gold Medal. © Richard Gladwell www.photosport.co.nz
Today was a memorable day on Fushan Bay with the medal races for the RS:X Womens and Mens being sailed in front of the breakwater for the Olympic Harbour.
The day dawned with the racecourse a glassy calm and for a while it seemed as though racing would not be possible, However a building easterly developed into a nice seabreeze by mid morning only to fade by the start of racing which got underway in five knot winds.
Ashore the breakwater was packed with around 10,000 spectators – 9,900 of whom were there to see Jian Yin (CHN) win the first ever sailing Gold medal for China.
The course, venue and crowd was everything that the ISAF had dreamed of when the Medal race concept was first mooted, as a way to make yachting a spectator sport.
Even more so as the crowd began cheering on the local hero Jian Yin to pass the competitors ahead of her as she moved from fifth into third on the water and secure the Gold Medal.
On the water the crowd went ballistic, and it was even more chaotic on the water.
Normally the Chinese boat driving is confused on a good day, today it moved up several cogs beyond chaos line, after the finish of the race.
The sailing paparazzi normally put down a good scrum or two around the medal winning competitors. Today course marshals joined the throng as crews tried to congratulate Jian Yin and the Mayor of Qingdao made a forced entrance, being told to naff off by the paparazzi, thinking he was another mad spectator – blocking their shots.
There were people in the water, others jumping across boats, and a fleet of about 20 boats all log-jammed together.
The only thing that was missing in the mad scene was a streaker.
After doing a victory lap of the spectators ashore – more chaos as the fleet tried to move at close proximity and moderate speed with the concrete wall about a metre our.
Once clear of the lighthouse and heading for the harbour, the chaos subsided into enthusiastic confusion and emotion.
At the Womens’ medal ceremony the adulation turned into patriotism as the emotion of the medal presentation hit home to the crowd who remained, and probably grew. These were scenes that have never before been seen in Qingdao, and probably never will again.
The Mens Medal race was a more conventional affair, in terms of local involvement. Although a local sailor Aichen Wang was competing, he was out of Medal contention.
This was a contest between four or five competitors, who depending on how others performed, were all in contention for a medal and at least three for a Gold medal.
In the prestart it was the usual game of spy versus spy, with fleet bunching at the committee boat end.
Tom Ashley (NZL) then lying third overall saw his opportunity with about 25 seconds to go, performed a neat pirouette and emerged on port tack.
He then tacked, crossed the bulk of the fleet including his major rivals, and got some control over the race.
He put the race away further up the beat, when he caught a useful piece of pressure in the still light seabreeze, and build a useful margin on his two major rivals Julien Bontemps (FRA) and Nick Dempsey (GBR), with Hong Kong's Chan and Israel's Shahar Zubari ahead, with only Zubari in the medal viewfinder.
Julien Bontemps (FRA), series leader going into the medal race let Ashley off the hook by falling off his board just after clearing the top mark.
With the race taking just 19 minutes, compared to the women's 29 minutes, there were no passing lanes downwind, or through the chicane. Ashley hung onto his third place with relative ease and gave the desperate Kiwi campaign their first, and probably only medal of this Olympics.
Once again this was delivered by its windurfers, continuing a 12 year tradition that runs back to 1996, save for the no-medal result in Athens.
However that sobering thought should not take away from the elation and emotion of the moment, which will be savored for a long time to come by the Kiwi supporters.
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