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London 2012 Olympics - Canadian Sailing Team on day 7

by John Curtis on 5 Aug 2012
Richard Clarke and Tyler Bjorn (CAN) onEdition © http://www.onEdition.com
London Olympics 2012, Weymouth and Portland. Sailing competition day 7.

It was another sunny day here with medium breeze between 14 - 20 knots. Not very warm but great sailing conditions all the same.


The Stars, Finns and 49'ers had the day off today. Tomorrow will be the exciting final for The Finn and Star fleets. More on that below.

In the RSX –Women’s class, race 7 and 8 were run just off shore at the Nothe point spectator area. The viewing really is spectacular from the hill here. The boards came within 150 meters of shore. I was able to capture some great shots of our Canadian sailor Nikola Girke. Unfortunately Nikola had a bad start (third row) and was not able to grind the fleet down with her speed in the first race. With the wind in the 16-18 knot range she is usually the fastest woman in the fleet but not at these Games. Speed is one of the most difficult things to master in sailing and it can sometimes be a little mysterious why it comes and goes.


There are two main causes of it coming and going. Once you have it the main cause of losing it is losing technique from too much time off or simply not having the right technique for some novel conditions. Every different sailing venue has different conditions. One might compare it to playing tennis on clay vs. grass vs. asphalt but it is far more varied than that because there are a virtually infinite number of combinations of wind velocity, wind shift patterns and wave conditions. Wind is also different at different altitudes and different temperatures. There are of course conditions that tend to dominate in a given venue for a given wind direction but you get the picture – it’s an extremely multi-factorial sport and this is what makes it endlessly fascinating.

The other primary factor in acquiring speed after technique is equipment. Once the sailor has learned how to set up their equipment (tweak it the way one might tune an engine for more top end speed rather than traction in the snow) the equipment itself can be different. Many of the Olympic classes allow the sailors to design their own sails for example and most competitors are sailing boats that they brought here themselves. With the sails, different materials can be used and different 'cuts' - just like tailoring a suit. It all must be done within strict rules on total size but there can be a great variation in sail shapes even with sails of exactly the same size.

With the Olympic windsurfer much of this equipment part of the equation has supposedly been eliminated because there is only one manufacturer and everything is the supposed to be the same - built off the same molds - or so one might expect. Unfortunately the quality control is so poor the top competitors will buy six or seven sets of equipment each year to find the fastest sail or the fastest fin or mast. Bottom line - is there a significant variation in equipment.

This is normally a variable one can control by buying gear until one has 'fast stuff', but at the Olympics the windsurfing equipment is supplied by the organizing committee. This may be affecting Nikola's performance or it may simply be a case of her technique slipping or a little of both. In any case, she is not going as fast as we have seen her go in these conditions for the last two years. It must be frustrating!

Watching her race today, I have the deepest of respect. This is the most physically demanding of all the Olympic classes. These sailors are fitness machines on par with the triathletes. More than any other class they are part of the engine that drive the craft through the water because all the energy generated by the rig goes through them before making the board move forward. It's quite an addictive feeling to harnessing the wind in this way. It's sailing in its purest form.

Nikola had a 13th in the first race after rounding the first mark in 16th. Race 8 was considerably better with a fourth, although she was as high as second early in the race. It looked like she had a much better start and got out front early but may have lost a little from sailing too far past the laylines on the upwind legs. Her speed was only slightly better than the boards around her - again she usually has a bigger advantage and small mistakes are not enough to let the other girls catch her.

Nikola is sitting in eighth overall with 57 points and is 14 points behind seventh and 30 points out of the top three. It will be difficult to get to within striking distance of a medal in the next two races, but seventh place is well within reach and a medal is still mathematically possible if she is able to rack up a couple of top three results tomorrow and the sailors ahead of her falter. Right now the top three are Spain, Israel and the Ukraine

In the RSX Men’s class, Zachary Plavsic had an excellent day. It was almost disaster in race 7 as he sailed much of the race in the mid to high teens but was able to pull off a ninth place with superior racing skills and great speed near the end of the race. He is in high spirits tonight. In race 7 he had one of the best starts in the fleet but this only encouraged him to continue sailing to the left side and the wind really filled in stronger on the right. Zac seemed to pick up on this later in the race and made some big gains.

The second race went better for Zac with a seventh place. He managed to grind down the group in from of him after rounding the first mark in 10th. Zach is still sitting in eighth overall with a convincing 20 point lead on ninth and only eight points behind fifth. With two races left to go he needs to close the gap on the German and the Brit who are tied for second and 32 points ahead. It is a tall order but with two top three results tomorrow and some double digit scores by the sailors in front it is still possible for Zac to enter the medal race with a mathematical shot at a medal – it’s a long shot but it’s not over yet. Top three after today are Netherlands, Great Britain and Germany.

Today our Men's 470 team had a 19th and a 20th. They cannot seem to get through this part of the fleet. They get to the first mark in about that spot and don't move around much from there. It must be frustrating, especially for Mike who has been ranked in the top three in the world in the Laser. I am sure they have not given up, but qualifying for the medal race is not in the cards.


They are sitting 24th overall out of 27. They will be looking to crack the top 20 with some good races in the coming days. We are still proud of these guys and how far they have come in less than two years. It has been a truly an amazing accomplishment.

Australia is leading the 470 fleet after getting off to a slow start. Very close behind is Great Britain. With four more races to go there is still lots of racing to go but it is shaping up to be an interesting battle.

In the Laser class, David Wright finished his regatta today with a 29th and a 30th in race 9 and 10. I am sure he will not be pleased to be finishing on a low note as these were his worst finishes of the event. He ends up in 23rd overall in one of the toughest fleets in Sailing. There were 49 nations represented in this fleet, making it the largest fleet here.


The defending Gold medalist from Britain (Paul Goodison) will be going into the medal race in sixth position with no mathematical chance of winning a medal. Currently the Australian, Tom Slingsby looks to have the Gold all but sewn up with a 14 point lead on second who is from Cyprus. If the Cypriot wins a medal it will be the first one of any kind for his nation. This is getting a great deal of attention. The third and fourth are well behind him so it looks like he is virtually assured of a silver. It will be a battle between Croatia and Sweden for the Bronze.

In the Laser Radial class, Danielle Dube has also finished her regatta today. She had a 24th in race 9 and a 28th in race 10 to finish 27th overall out of a field of 41. This is a very respectable result for Danielle. She can go home proud, we just hope she will keep sailing because it really takes more than one Quadrennial and more than one trip to the Games in sailing to really reach one's potential.


The show down everyone has been talking about in the Finn fleet starts tomorrow at noon. Sailing in the Nothe course just Meters off shore from the spectator area will be British legend Ben Ainslie facing off against Danish sailor Jonas Hogh-Christensen. The Dane is two points ahead and so with all scores being doubled in the medal race (race 11) it is a matter of 'who beats who'. The two sailors have been trading barbs with each other through the media. I cannot say it has been particularly ugly but Ben's statement 'they don't want to make me angry' was delivered with just enough tension in his voice that it sounded like he would have strangled the guy if he had walked by just then.

We will all be watching closely to see if Mr. Ainslie can keep his cool. As you may have heard he jumped out of his boat in Australia at the Worlds in December and throttled a camera boat driver. He is penalty was to be disqualified in that race and he failed to make the medal round. Many people thought that the penalty should have been more severe or that ISAF should have sanctioned him. There are two positions on this.

The Brits all seem to think the boat driver had it coming and the rest of the World sees this as an exercise in hero creation. If Mr. Ainslie can will his way to win the Gold tomorrow he will go down in history as surpassing the Great Paul Elvstrom from Denmark who won four consecutive Olympic gold medals. Ben Ainslie has three Gold Medals and Silver so he would be ahead by a Silver if he can win the Gold.

The Star fleet also has a battle brewing between multiple medalists. The Brits are defending Gold medalists from Bejing (2008) and the Brazilians won the Silver there. Both helmsman have also won medals in the Finn and the Laser. The Swede in third also finished third in 2008. The Brits have an eight point lead but watch for the Brazilians to try to push them back. It will be spectacular viewing.

'This English food is absolutely atrocious. Surely they are not feeding their athletes this stuff. If it were not for all the great beer and chips at the pubs this whole country would be skinny as a rakes.' Anonymous

http://www.windathletes.ca/

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