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London 2012 Olympics — Finns answer their guns

by David Schmidt, Sail-World USA Editor on 30 Jul 2012
Ainslie and Hogh-Christensen Finns Day One ©
The Finn class cranked out its first races of this Olympiad, bearing the special honor of being the first class to answer the starting guns of this summer’s Games. Wind conditions were 15-20 knots (with higher puffs) from the west-southwest, with matching wave patterns.

For the Finn class, this spelled serious rolling and pumping efforts as they raced off the breeze—conditions that tended to favor taller, bigger sailors, or those with world-class finesse when it comes to boathandling and timing waves. And while all sailors who have been selected to represent their countries at the Games certainly match these general criteria, today’s racing immediately helped to separate the greats from the very goods.

Interestingly, the Finn class completed two races today, the first—which started at 1200 hours, local time—of which was fought out on the Nothe course (just outside of the breakwater), while the second race was sailed on Weymouth Bay West, which is just south of the town of Osmington.

Throughout the day, Denmark’s Jonas Hogh-Christensen dominated affairs, starting with the first firing gun. With white caps just starting to break and a gathering breeze building, the fleet of 24 Finns negotiated the short starting line, with the majority of the fleet opting for the pin end before tacking into clear air. Great Britain’s Sir Ben Ainslie—hands-down the most watched Finn sailor in the feet—put plenty of pressure on Hogh-Christensen throughout the first leg, as did Croatia’s Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic.

After spinning compass cards at the windward mark, the pumping session began for the fleet, with Hogh-Christensen again proving untouchable, his lead over Sir Ben holding steady. At the first gate rounding, it was Hogh-Christensen, pursued by both Ainslie and Gaspic, before a big fleet split shuffled some cards in the back of the pack.

Another beat in a building, puffy breeze brought the fleet to the weather mark, followed by more aggressive pumping and rolling—literally gunwhale to gunwhale—and then back to the gate. This time, Hogh-Christensen opted for the other side of the gate, again with Ainslie and Gaspic keeping the pressure on high…but not high enough to make tangible gains. Hogh-Christensen again rounded the windward mark in first. A final downwind leg to an offset mark followed, before Hogh-Christensen earned the first bullet of the 2012 Olympic Games, followed by Ainslie and Gaspic.

A move to the bigger Weymouth Bay West course followed, as did a short postponement to allow a rainsquall to blow through the fleet. Thankfully, the weather cooperated the fleet was soon off again, with the majority of the fleet opting for the heavily favored pin end of the line. Hogh-Christensen once again proved that he had speed to burn, immediately carving out a solid lead and once again pursued by Ainslie. 'When I hit the line I had pace just at the gun and off I went,' reported Hogh-Christensen. 'I wasn't actually focusing the load bit on, if I had jumped the start a little bit and I looked back for the individual recall and I looked back Ben was in my wind and I could tack across the field and I was like Wahoo!— that was pretty good.'

A big fleet split shuffled cards on the first beat, with all sailors powering through the choppy waters using lots of upper-body motion and boathandling skills. Come the leeward gate, all takers chose the offshore option. Tacks were swapped throughout the bulk of the fleet, but at the head of the parade Hogh-Christensen and Ainslie enjoyed clear air and plenty of options. These paid off come the final downwind sprint to an offset mark, which took the fleet across the line. Once again, top honors went to Hogh-Christensen, followed by Ainslie and Gaspic.

By the time the sailors had reached the mixed-media area (a place where journalists have the opportunity to interview the sailors), both Hogh-Christensen and Ainslie were optimistic about the day’s results, but both wisely chose not to place too much emphasis on a single day of sailing, given the marathon nature of the Olympics. 'I had some unfinished business from the last Olympics so I definitely wanted to do better,' said Hogh-Christensen. 'I came back and worked really hard and for the last ten months and preparation has gone really well and leading up to the regatta. I have been really happy and it is like a big parcel that finally came together in the last couple of days.'

For his part, Ainslie reported a physical-but-fun day on the water. 'It was hard work out there when it was downwind,' said Ainslie. 'It's literally the hardest I’ve ever pumped.'

Not everyone sailed away feeling great about the day. American Zach Railey—a Silver medalist in the 2008 Games and easily one of the strongest and fastest sailors in the fleet—had an off day, posting a 10th place finish and a 15th place finish. 'It wasn’t a great day,' said Railey. 'In the second race I made two mistakes in the first upwind [leg] and unfortunately rounded second to last... Just not very good execution on my part…We will just moved onto the third race tomorrow.'

Racing resumes tomorrow for the Finn class and continues throughout the week, with the medal race taking place on Sunday, August 5, so please stay tuned as more news breaks.


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