Firstly, congratulations to the six medallists in the men’s and women’s windsurfing events. Ironic that Marina Alabau won a gold medal for Spain, while the Spanish Federation was one of the countries to vote for the as yet unproven concept of kiteboard racing as a Rio 2016 replacement for the RS-X windsurfing.
That said, if RS-X did get back in for 2016, something would need to be done about the supplied equipment. A RS-X coach told me the other day that after the first couple of days of racing there was a pile of ‘broken’ fins handed back to the organisation, with sailors seeking replacements. Even some boards have been replaced.
Small differences in shape in the fins, and how they attach to the board, make for massive differences in performance. Italian four-time medallist Alessandra Sensini failed to make much of an impact here, along with a number of other leading lights who were expected to be vying for the medals. Just the weirdness of an Olympic regatta and the associated unpredictability? Quite possibly, but when I asked, Sensini and Britain’s Bryony Shaw both believed things would need to change radically for another supplied equipment regatta. In fact Shaw believes it should be ‘bring your own’ like most of the other classes, the Lasers excepted.
Marina Alabau was the runaway winner in the women’s boards, but the battle for silver and bronze came down to tiny margins. Finland’s Tuuli Petaja edged the silver on 46 points, Zofia Noceti-Klepacka taking bronze on 47, and Olga Maslivets the dreaded leather medal on 48 points.
When I spoke to Olga in the mixed zone, she was surprisingly OK about coming 4th, a smiling, ‘oh well, never mind’ contrast to the tearful Annalise Murphy who was devastated to miss a Radial medal 24 hours earlier.
But then Olga was rushed away by the Ukrainian team managers and my interview was cut short. Later I found out why, as Olga had taken a protest to the Polish bronze medallist, alleging that the Poles didn’t have the £1.5m damage indemnity required for Olympic competition, but just a measly £1m. I may have the figures wrong, but you get the drift, the Ukrainians were out to win a medal at any cost.
Thankfully it came to nothing as the jury threw out the protest. As Zofia told me later: “We are sailors, we are meant to fight on the water, and whoever sails the best is the winner.” Pissed off, but relieved to have held on to her bronze. Good for her. Justice prevailed.
Meanwhile in the men’s 470, the gold and silver has moved out of reach of all but the Aussie and Brit crews. The pre-regatta favourites, Mat Belcher and Malcolm Page, hold a four-point advantage over home team Luke Patience and Stu Bithell. Stu says he’ll be swotting up on his match racing moves during the lay day as the Brits look to take the fight to the Aussies on the Nothe Course on Thursday. If they can get ahead of the Aussies and get a boat between them, the gold will be theirs. A tough ask, but this is the Nothe Course, and we’ve seen some big upsets already. Plus, the breeze looks like it’s going to crap out for the first time in the Olympic Regatta. The Nothe could turn even more unpredictable. The Brits have been the top sailing nation at the past three Olympiads. At the moment the Aussies look set to steal that crown, but bragging rights could be decided on the outcome of this race.
This story will please Iain Percy, who always delights in telling me that the Star is the most one-design class in the Olympics, with the 49er and other classes being far more variable than we are led to believe. Iain and I generally agree to disagree on this point, but the comments of the Danish 49er crew today lend some weight to Percy’s point of view.
This is what Danish skipper Allan Norregaard had to say when asked about the runaway performance of Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen: “I don’t know what they found, but they definitely managed to get really good. They are sailing really nicely here and over the last two years. There is someone talking about that they have a little bit of different boat, the Australians, but I haven’t been measuring anything on it. That’s really bad if they have. It’s supposed to be a one design (class).”
© Francois Richard: some competitors are muttering about the Aussie 49er hull
On whether there can be much optimisation within that one design: “Well, maybe if you are good friends with one of the boat-builders it seems like you can do a little bit but I haven’t seen this so I don’t know. If it’s true I think it’s bad for the class, but I hope it’s not too much.”
On whether the Australians and New Zealanders have been faster than the Danish boat in the same wind: “Yes, they definitely had better speed than us.”
I spoke to someone who knows the 49er class very well, and he doesn’t believe the Aussies have any discernible equipment edge over the rest of the fleet. But while there is an almost perfect split in the 20-boat fleet between Ovington and Mackay hulls, the Aussies are using a hull built by Bethwaite Design.
Has that really been the difference between the Aussies and the rest of the fleet? I choose to believe not, but the Danish comments suggest they feel otherwise.