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Tokyo2020 - Burling, Belcher and the Kiwi 470 crew reflect on a day of contrasts

by Richard Gladwell/ 29 Jul 2021 09:57 PDT
Tokyo2020 - Day 5 - July, 29, - Enoshima, Japan. - Matt Belcher and Will Ryan (AUS) - M470 © Richard Gladwell - / nz

The forecast of strong winds did not eventuate on Day 5 of the Tokyo2020 Olympic Regatta.

Instead the breeze was similar to yesterday in strength and direction, however surprisingly the swell had reduced.

The first session of racing, which gets underway each day at noon, was conducted in sunshine, but for the second session, getting underway at 3.00pm, the clouds rolled across Enoshima and racing was conducted on grey seas and grey skies.

Nine events were contested - the busiest day, and one medal - the Gold to Netherlands - was decided. Kiran Badloe has taken over the Olympic boardsailing champions mantle from compatriot Dorian van Rijsselberghe - and giving New Zealand coach Aaron McIntosh his third Gold medal, to sit alongside his own bronze medal won in Sydney in windsurfing at the 2000 Olympics.

The Gold Medal will be confirmed when the first of the Medal races are sailed on Saturday - Badloe will only have to complete the course without being disqualified to win his first Olympic Gold medal.

The Womens RS:X medal race will also be contested on Saturday, however the points are a lot closer between sailors from China, Great Britain and France - and the Medal race will decide who picks up the Gold medal.

Those Medal races will also mark the exit of the RS:X from the Olympics - to be replaced with a foiling windsurfer.

Most of our day, for reasons not of our making was spent watching 470 racing - three of them in fact, slipping away from one to take in a couple of legs of the Nacra 17 racing before returning for more 470 racing.

The media centre is twittering with the prospect of the current Olympic champions in the 49er class, Peter Burling and Blair Tuke being unable to defend their title.

Certain sections of the media seem to have got it into their heads that Burling and Tuke are, in fact, human. That sense of fallibility was heightened today with Peter Burling taking a dip off the 49er during a manoeuvre - performing the same feat as fellow Kiwi 49erFX sailor Alex Maloney earlier in the week.

Burling also fell off the 49er during the 2019 Worlds in Auckland, but was grabbed by the scruff of the neck by crew Bair Tuke, and they managed to keep the show on the road, to went on to win the 2019 World title.

Those who believe that Burling and Tuke are in a tight spot need only cast their minds back to March 2020, when after three days of racing they were 3-3 with Luna Rossa - and again had their infallibility questioned. Everyone knows what happened after that - as the Kiwis lit the afterburners to move to accumulate seven race wins, to successfully defend the America's Cup.

"Today was definitely two contrasting races," Burling told Yachting NZ's Michael Brown.

"In the first race we got a really good start and were going well, but I made a mistake in a tack and ended up off the boat, and we dropped right back. We did well to get 12th in that race.

"In the second, we got a bad start and were really struggling. But we made some good decisions to get back into the race, and finish second."

"It was frustrating not to get a couple of good low placings on the board. But everyone seemed to be up and down - so we're looking forward to the next six races, and put all the hard work of the last couple of years into some use."

Having overdosed on 470 racing over the past two days, it was interesting to catch up with the Australian and Kiwi crews and get their view of today's racing in particular.

The 470 is another exiting the Olympics, to be replaced by a mixed gender class for 2024. Helmsman Matt Belcher says they are not thinking of the future, but enjoying the present, with the crew having to break up after the conclusion of this Olympic regatta.

"It was pretty shifty out there," he said of this afternoon's racing. "Obviously the wind and waves suited a few of the more experienced teams, who have a little more speed. But today there were some big shifts. The scores were very variable."

"You just have to work with what you've got and race well."

"Three-quarters of the way up the first beat American Samoa were winning the race." (They rounded the top mark in third place).

"If you can put your boat in the right position, and sail the shifts you're going to be right there - it is not just a speed race. I think a lot of the teams today thought it was a bit more straight-forward and focused too much on speed.

"It was super tricky out there, the conditions for the 470's meant it was right on the verge of planing and not planing."

"That meant if you got into a good shift and could really make you boat plane, then you going to be a couple of knots quicker than someone who is in a bit of a lull."

"We saw shifts of around 20degrees out there which took us by surprise for sure. It was a good day to keep your head out of the boat."

"We're obviously not slow, but it is good to be racing and racing well."

Next through the Mixed Zone were the current Open European Champions, Paul Snow-Hansen and Dan Willcox (NZL) who were lying in second overall, just one point behind Belcher and Ryan after the first day of racing.

Paul Snow-Hansen commented that today's course along the coast from the Enoshima stadium course "felt quite different to race on."

Crew Dan Willcox chipped in saying commenting that "there really big pressure differences today. You'd think onshore breeze that it would be boat-speedy race as the key. But it wasn't so.

"We had an American Samoan team almost first around the top mark in the seciond race today, and they're not the quickest team in that condition. It just shows that you had to position and put the boat in the right part of the race-course, and then try and join up the dots.

"There were huge pressure differences upwind and downwind, it was crazy.

"Once it started to go, you could dig deeper. It rewarded you if you got greedy and went deeper. We had an OK day, but it would have been a better day if we had taken more out of the gain.

"Normally, it is safer to take your gain back to the middle of the course. But everyone we crossed ging back into the middle, overtook us when they came back into the centre.

"If a boat like American Samoa (who led the second race briefly) had committed even hard into the right, they would have been way ahead in the second race.

Wind stength 8-15kts - less than the forecast. We were ready for the forecast stronger breeze, but before the start we didn't think that the breeze was going to eventuate. I don't think speed was an issue.

Willcox is confident of their ability to recover. "We don't have any massive scores on the scoreboard, yet.

"It feels like today that it is just a matter of backing ourselves.

"Today if you'd backed yourself and picked a side, you'd have done all right."

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