Four more sailing classes will head out to the startline for the first time at this Olympic regatta on Monday. Hoping to emulate Team GB’s steady start on the Qingdao waters will be the men’s and women’s windsurfers, and the 470 men’s and women’s crews for whom two races apiece are scheduled.
The windsurfers in the RS:X classes face the toughest physical challenge of all, where the light winds, heat and humidity of Qingdao will take their toll on even the fittest sailors.
The RS:X makes its Olympic debut in Qingdao, replacing the older Mistral class as the windsurfing equipment of choice following the Athens Games in 2004. The equipment is standard and supplied by the host organisers so there are no technical gains to be made – just fitness, power and racing savvy to get you and your 9.5 sq m sail (or 8.5 sq m for the women) around the course. Athens bronze medallist Nick Dempsey, competing at his third Olympic Games for Team GB, explains the physical nature of the class:
'It’s pretty tough, we do 11 races over six days, two races a day at generally about 35-40 minutes a race. In heart rate terms, you’ll sit there above 90-92 per cent of your maximum heart rate so you’re on that threshold of your maximum endurance for those 40 minutes and we do two races a day.
'I don’t know what other sports would compare to that to but it’s probably like doing two 10,000m races in a day.
You do two races flat out, then the same again the next day and the same again the next day for five days and then one race at the end which is worth double points and non-discardable.
It is very, very hard.' For Team GB’s women’s windsurfing representative Bryony Shaw, China will be her first Games and in spite of the tough conditions, she’s lapping up the experience.
'I’m just hoping that I’m going to be swept along and enjoy it. It’s my first Olympics and the atmosphere was pretty hyped up even at last year’s Test Event so hopefully I’ll be used to that environment and take it in my stride.
'I’m really passionate about windsurfing and the competitive nature of it. I’ve got a really massive driving force that I want to succeed for the nation, myself and my family. It’s the route I’ve chosen through life and I think it’s important to succeed at what you end up doing. I’ve really put a bit of personal pressure on myself to make sure I do succeed and I think I’d be gutted if I didn’t get a medal.'
Dempsey already has Olympic hardware in his house – both his bronze from Athens, and the Yngling gold belonging to fiancé Sarah Ayton. Bursting with pride for Ayton’s focus and determination, he does admit to the slightest pang of jealousy at her success.
'I know she’s going to do well, she’s just got the whole package. That whole Yngling team is just incredible. I don’t worry about [Sarah’s] results, she’s just too good. I used to worry when she was rubbish!
'Back in 1998 when I used to do quite a lot better than she did, but now she just outshines me at every event which I’m not actually that happy about! For Team GB’s 470 men’s team Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield there’s a slight sense of unfinished business at these Games.
Like Dempsey, they too will be competing at their third Olympic Games, narrowly missing out on a medal in Sydney, and narrowly missing out on gold in Athens.
The pair have medalled at both Test Events on the Qingdao waters, winning gold in 2006 and silver in 2007, but firmly have a first Olympic gold in their sights this time.
'I always remember standing on the podium in Athens. It was a great feeling but I really wanted it to be our national anthem that was played, I really wanted to be stood at the top so that’s the target now,' said Glanfield, who believes their Olympic experiences will stand them in good stead this time round.
'I’m experienced, I’m reaching that age!' he joked.
'I like to think I’m good at making decisions under pressure, and that’s obviously important when the pressure’s on at the Olympics.' For the 470 women’s team of Christina Bassadone and Saskia Clark, the road to Beijing has been all about turning weaknesses into strengths.
The last three years we’ve been out there and it’s certainly presented us with some interesting conditions,' said Clark. 'The light winds, for us, have definitely been a challenge and we haven’t performed as well as we wanted to in the two Test Events.
'We’ve put a lot of time and effort into working on our technique and equipment for these light winds,' Clark continued.
'We’re the best prepared we’ve ever been,' added Bassadone, 'from refining the equipment to making sure we’re in the best physical shape.
'Now that we’re here, it’s about putting the Olympic dream behind us and making sure we focus on the here and now and the processes that make it happen.
'If we can make sure we keep that focus from our first race on the 11th through to the final race on the 18th then we’ll achieve what we set out to.'
Racing gets underway at 06:00 hrs UK time on Monday, as follows:
Course A: RS:X Men and RS:X Women (2 races each)
Course B: 49er (3 races)
Course D: 470 Men and 470 Women (2 races each)
Course E: Finn and Yngling (2 races each)
RYA website - www.rya.org.uk/beijing2008