Solid Racing off Rio
By Gary Jobson
My commentating partner, Randy Smyth and I, called the Laser Men's and 49erFX racing with great interest today. Americans Paris Henken and Helena Scutt opened the regatta yesterday with a below average 13-16-14 in the 20-boat fleet. Henken is 20 years old and the youngest skipper in the class. Scutt is 24. Today their performance improved. Coming off the line in Race 4, the USA crew were in a good position. I wondered whether they would be able to hold on to their lane?
Henken and Scutt were sailing fast and staying on pace with the regatta leaders, Martine Grael of Brazil and Jena Mai Hanse, of Denmark. The Brazilians faded after sailing on the wrong side of the course and rounded the first mark in 19th (they eventually moved up to 10th). The USA looked good, and finished a respectable fifth. More importantly, they looked confident, and had some speed. The next race started soon after the first, and the USA had another excellent start. They picked two favorable wind shifts and were soon leading. As the race progressed they stretched out and easily won. Many fans took notice. They were protested in the race by Finland, but the Jury found the protest to be invalid.
In the final race of the day, USA repeated their good starting technique and finished fourth. This young crew could be a pleasant surprise this week. Any jitters of racing in the Olympics have passed. What impressed Randy and I was their crisp boat handling and textbook tactics. They are half-way through the early round. It will be great fun to see if these Olympic rookies can continue to improve.
The biggest story on the water is in the Laser Class. Brazil's superstar, 43-year old Robert Scheidt, started the day in second place just three points out of third. The Saturday spectator crowd on the beach was large and spirited. The partisan Brazilians were there to support their hometown hero. These were the final two races before the Medal Race, scheduled for Monday. Scheidt got off to a slow start. At one point early in the race, he was back in 30th in the 46-boat fleet. He looked like a wide receiver who had fumbled the football on the opening kick off. Over the next two legs, he worked his way up to 14th. His main rivals, Tonci Stipanovic from Croatia and Tom Burton from Australia, were only a few places ahead. Several thousand fans on shore were glued to the big screen television. And then disaster struck. On the run to Mark Four, Scheidt played the wrong side of the course and was back in 26th, where he eventually finished. Later he rallied with an 11th in Race 10. The five-time Olympic Medalist finds himself in fifth place now going into the Medal Race, and ten points out of the Bronze Medal position. The Silver Medal is mathematically out of his reach.
The Medal Race is worth double points. For Scheidt to win a medal in his sixth Olympics, he needs to put five boats between him and Sam Meech from New Zealand, and finish ahead of Jean Baptiste Bernaz from France. No sailor has ever won six medals in the Olympic Games. Scheidt, Torbin Grael, also from Brazil, and Great Britain’s Ben Ainslie are the only sailors to win five Medals. If anyone could pull this off, it is Robert.
Charlie Buckingham had a good day with a 10-6 and moved up in the standings. Unfortunately, he tied for tenth and lost on the tie-breaker. He will miss the Medal Race on Monday.
In the Laser Radial class, Paige Railey made the Medal Race scheduled for Monday. She is in tenth but can only move up a few places.
For the American Team, there was some heartening news. Caleb Paine's disqualification in Race 6 in the Finn Class was dismissed by the Jury. Paine was able to show video of the start. Ivan Gaspic from Croatia had testified that he had to bear away at the start of the race to avoid a collision. Gaspic was on starboard, and Paine on port, was obligated to stay clear. At the original hearing, Paine did not have video or any witnesses. The video however, clearly showed that Gaspic had actually luffed about ten degrees, and never got within six feet. The Jury dismissed the protest. Paine's second place was reinstated. Justice prevailed. Curiously, the Croatian sailor did not show up for the hearing. Caleb Paine now stands seventh. He has two more races on Sunday with a Medal Race on Tuesday.
Over on the Nacra 17 course, Americans Bora Gulari and Louisa Chafee recovered from their disaster prone day earlier this week when they were unable to complete two races. On Saturday they finished 9-2-8 and are only one point out of the top ten for the Medal Race. They have three races scheduled on Sunday.
The relatively steady winds ranged from 10-16 knots through the day. The Rio backdrop is spectacular. Huge crowds were on hand to watch the racing. For the all negative reporting about the problems in this city, the sailing venue is working well, thanks to hundreds of volunteers and motivated sailors who are creating beautiful images.