Emotional Olympic Highs and Lows
By Gary Jobson
There are so many stories taking place on the waters off Rio de Janeiro my head is spinning. Let's start with the exciting debut of the 49er fleet. New Zealand's 2012 Silver Medalists Peter Burling and Blair Tuke and Australia's 2012 Gold Medalists Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen have been destined for a major showdown.
The rivalry between these sailing nations is intense. Since the London Games both skippers have been recruited to skipper America's Cup teams. An important question for both skippers was how much time each would have to dedicate to pre-Olympic training? Today we got the answer. The Kiwis had two beautifully sailed victories. Burling and Tuke were stuck in the pack early in each race, but methodically picked their way through fleet using a combination of brilliant wind reading, perfect boat handling, and at times more speed. The Aussies struggled and stand in eleventh place. The USA squad of Thomas Barrows and Joe Morris had a tough start and stand 20th out of 20 boats.
The biggest story in Rio is in the Laser Class. Nine-time Laser World Champion and five-time Olympic Medalist Robert Scheidt from Brazil is in second place. He is 43 years old, which is ancient for a sailor in this small, physically demanding dinghy. To put this in perspective, it is the equivalent of a 50-year old pitching in the major leagues. (For the record the oldest competitor out of the 380 sailors here is 54-year old Santiago Lange, racing in the Nacra 17 class). Scheidt is a national hero in Brazil. He has raced a Star in the last two Olympics, a keelboat that is more suited to older sailors. When the Star was dropped from the Games, Scheidt reverted back to the Laser. This is a boat that he raced to earn two Gold Medals and one Silver. The hometown crowd will be a powerful motivator. He is only 3 points out of first place.
The American 470 men's and women's crews are having solid regattas. In 23 knot winds and big seas, Annie Haeger and Briana Provancha somehow managed to finish tenth in a race where their halyard came off its lock. They stand in fourth, only 5 points out of the lead.
Over in the men's division, Stu McNay and Dave Hughes moved into eighth, after a solid fourth place finish today. As a three-time Olympian, McNay has the experience to keep improving. They are twelve points out of third and still have five races before the Medal Race.
The Bonehead Award of the day goes to 2008 49er Gold Medalist, Jonas Warrer of Denmark and his crew, Christian Peter Lubeck. In the first race they enjoyed a ten-length lead over New Zealand approaching the leeward gate, just before the short sprint to the finish line. Somehow they passed on the wrong side of the gate. Just before the finish they realized their mistake when several boats behind them rounded properly. It was a sad sight to see the veteran skipper drop his spinnaker and make his way back upwind to round properly. The mistake cost them the victory. They finished eighth. Ouch!
American RS:X sailors Marion Lepert and Pedro Pascual finished their Olympic regatta today. Both did not make the Medal Race. Lepert had four top ten finishes to wind up 16th out 26 boats. These young sailors gained valuable experience will certainly improve if they keep racing. The Nacra 17s had the day off.
Evi van Acker, the Laser Radial sailor who complained of health issues, was back on the water today and finished with a 12-2. On the 49er course, Peter Burling had to clear some debris off his rudder in the second race. As noted, he still won the race. Problems with the water continue to be minimal.
In my last Rio Report, I reported that American Finn sailor Caleb Paine was disqualified after a protest by Croatia for a Racing Rules of Sailing infraction (Rule 10 - port/starboard). That protest is being reopened by the Jury. A hearing will be held after racing on Saturday (8/13/16). A decision is expected tonight.
An unusual decision was issued by the Jury today. Three coaches from Australia, Russia and China were suspended from entering the sailing venue for one day for motoring their coach boats into the restricted area of the racecourse. It seemed like an appropriate warning to the rest of the few hundred coaches to keep their boats off the course.