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A strange Games at a strange time

by Mark Jardine 13 Jul 2021 09:00 PDT
Paul Snow-Hansen, Daniel Willcox (NZL) - 470 - Enoshima , Round 1 of the 2020 World Cup Series - August 29, 2019 © Jesus Renedo / Sailing Energy / World Sailing

In just twelve days' time the sailing competition will be under way at Tokyo 2020. While it's a year late, it feels like the build-up has crept under the radar, overshadowed by the football in Europe, the tennis at Wimbledon, and the Japanese reluctantly accepting that the Games must go ahead.

For the track and field sports it's going to be exceptionally strange seeing the Olympic stadium empty of spectators, the atmosphere sucked from the competition, and athletes who train so hard to reach the top of their sport wondering if they should even be there.

The Japanese people are as welcoming as they come, but the chance to savour that and experience the country will be stripped from this Games as 'Covid bubbles' are strictly adhered to, with shuttle buses taking competitors to and from their arena, and no chance to set foot outside that bubble.

Preparing for Tokyo 2020 has been a story of disruption. The chance to compete in international competition has been limited, event schedules decimated, and athletes wondering if all their work will be for naught.

In sailing the traditionally great sailing nations have had extremely limited opportunities to race against each other. Australia and New Zealand have spent most of the past 18 months in isolation, closing their borders and only allowing travellers in after strict quarantine measures have been completed. North America and Europe have had tight controls on who can come and go, or where the residents can travel to at any time.

All-in-all preparation has been a nightmare and the form book may as well go out the window. We simply don't know who is going to be fast, who has weathered the Covid storm, who has thrived in isolated training, and who has made the greatest developments to their boats in classes such as the Finn and 470, or to their technique in the 49er / FX, ILCA, RS:X and Nacra 17 classes. This will be the most open Games of all time.

Sailing has had spectators at the Olympics. No-one will forget the crowds on the Nothe Gardens overlooking the Medal Races at London 2012, but this was the exception rather than the rule. With the stadiums feeling devoid of atmosphere, it could be the time for sailing to shine.

Enoshima can have spectacular sailing conditions, so the chance for amazing footage is there and maybe, just maybe, the editors around the world will choose to show more sailing than usual in their Olympic coverage. Wishful thinking on my part? Possibly, but sailing is having a huge resurgence worldwide and aspirational scenes of great racing would continue to fuel this.

With fair winds and a following sea we should have Sail-World.com's New Zealand editor Richard Gladwell on-site in Enoshima so we can bring you the latest insights from the Games. We will have our usual Olympic microsite up and running with all the news in one place.

The sailing schedule starts on Sunday 25th July with the first heats for the ILCA and RS:X classes, then the Finns, 49ers & 49er FX racing starting on 27th Tuesday, and the 470s and Nacra 17s last to start on Wedesday 28th. The Medal Races are scheduled to take place between Saturday 31st July and Wednesday 4th August.

Hanging over every competitor is the fear of testing positive. Let us all hope that no competitor from any nation falls victim to this. There are no replacements so sailors would be marked as DNC (Did Not Come). No-one deserves this kind of misfortune.

The opposite extreme

While the elite sailors will be competing in Tokyo, I'll be helping out and doing a bit of racing myself at Keyhaven Week. I love my little corner of the Solent and the grass roots sailing that goes on there, and we're lining up racing for both regular club races and novices, in a variety of formats.

These club weeks have taken on far more significance lately and are a great way of building the local sailing community. Many clubs recognised this long ago and are continuing to thrive as new members knock on the door, wanting to join in with what they can see on their doorstep; other clubs are just learning of the benefits, while some are ignoring the grass roots and wondering why their membership is dwindling.

I've said it before, and I'll continue to say it: clubs are the lifeblood of our sport and those which foster those who are new to sailing, doing it in a way which will keep smiles on their faces, will thrive. Sailors for life will end up club members for life.

Cool tech

We're continuing to bring you the latest news and presenting it an understandable way. I recently worked with the team at Cyclops Marine to show how live load sensing technology can make a real difference to how you understand your rig. This was a real eye-opener for me on our day out, particularly seeing what the difference to forestay tension - and inherently, jib sag - is when pulling on the kicker or backstay compared to the mainsheet. Have a watch of this video to see for yourself.

Wherever you are in the world, continue to stay safe in this strange time. Be it Sydney back in lockdown, North America opening up, Europe taking cautious steps towards normality, or the UK taking leaps into the unknown, savour the time you can get on the water when you are allowed to.

When you're not on the water, try to watch the sailing coverage live from the Tokyo 2020 Games when it's available and lets all get behind our teams.

For so many reasons sailing is a wonderful pastime, with physical and psychological benefits in the best environment of all.

The best of luck to all competitors at Tokyo 2020!

Mark Jardine
Sail-World.com and YachtsandYachting.com Managing Editor

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