Being an ex-49er sailor and a current Musto Skiff sailor (like a 49er except without a crew to do the hard work), I had to go out and watch the Medal Race today. On board our media boat there was some good young GBR 470 talent, soaking up the Olympic atmosphere and getting a sense of the unique pressures of the Games as they look towards Rio 2016.
With gold and silver already wrapped up by Australia and NZ (training partners, by the way), all the excitement in the 49er finale focused on which of five teams would take bronze.
Iain Jensen goes singlehanded 49er sailing as his helm goes AWOL on gold medal celebrations
I was rooting for my GBR mates, Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes, and for a while in the early stages they did actually take up the bronze position. Two of the top contenders - Denmark and Finland - were stuck at the back at this stage. Then Austria moved into the lead and held bronze for a while. But while Finland fell further behind, Denmark staged a recovery and fought through to 3rd by the finish, making them 3rd overall.
That was vindication for Allan Norregaard and Peter Lang who beat the Olympic Champion from 2008, Jonas Warrer, in the Danish trials.
The bronze in the 49er rounds off a good Games for the Danes after Jonas Hoegh Christensen’s epic silver medal in the Finn. How the USA must envy such success, never mind the big medal hauls of GBR and Australia. With Anna Tunnicliffe’s shock exit from the quarter-finals of the match racing, this is the first time the USA has failed to win a medal in sailing since 1980, when of course they won no medals because USA boycotted the Moscow Games. I tried to Wikipedia it, but couldn’t find the info to determine whether there had been a previous Olympics without USA success. Up to 2008, the USA had won more sailing medals than any other nation - 59 compared with GBR’s 49. It’s not like US Sailing hasn’t already engaged in some heavy soul searching in recent years, but from this showing it appears that US Olympic sailing remains in the critical room.
The GBR match racing team also exited the quarter-finals. It looked like Lucy Macgregor’s team was set to beat the Russians in the fourth match but Ekaterina Skudina had a speed edge downwind and it was a photo finish across the line. The Russians immediately celebrated and had won the match. How anyone could be so certain of victory so soon, I didn’t quite understand. But with GBR and RUS on 2-2, they rolled into the deciding match. GBR again led, but again yielded their lead on the final run to the finish after gybe-setting and slowing down while Russia trundled on by. The Russians had won. The British were in tears.
But then we heard there was a protest, and bid to look at the finish of match 4. Maybe the Brits would scrape back in on video evidence, but in the end the GBR appeal for redress was denied. And so it’s Australia, Finland, Spain and Russia who move through to the semi-finals. This regatta is not running to form, with many of the favourites already out. It’s all to play for.
With (if memory serves me right) 127 rigs ordered by 29 nations for the new small-rig 49er for the girls in Rio 2016, the FX skiff appears to have a bright future. But just as a 420 can go faster than 470 in strong breeze, so too is the 49er FX likely to be faster than the standard 49er. I asked the 49er medallists how they felt about the idea of the girls having a faster skiff than their own. They told me that plan are already underway to recut a new, flatter gennaker for the boys’ 49er which might just offer them salvation from female humiliation. Such is the frailty of the male ego. With Nathan’s sister Hayley Outteridge set to get into a FX, there is more riding on this for the Olympic Champion than anyone.
Chris Atkins’ media briefings every morning have been one of the entertaining highlights of the working day in Weymouth. This morning, though, he warned us that the breeze might finally crap out on Thursday. It’s not Chris’s call to decide how racing might be affected, but for the first time since the regatta began, the racing might be thrown off schedule. That could mean the 470 men get their medal race on Friday along with the women. But the fact that we’ve had regular racing every day so far, shows that for once we’ve had a regatta where “it does normally do this!”
For a while it looked like the Kiwi girls were going to run away with the 470 and put themselves in a very strong position for gold. However, an uncharacteristic 18th place saw Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie give up all their advantage over the Brits. This now means that the Kiwis and Brits go into the medal race on equal points. Gold and silver is locked up, but now it’s just a matter of who beats who. The two 470 medal races are going to be thrillers.
After yesterday’s story about the Australian 49er being different to everyone else’s it was only right to give Nathan Outteridge a right of reply. Here’s what he told me today:
“Ours is a Bethwaite boat, the other guys have got Ovingtons or Mackays. A lot of other guys said they never had the chance to buy one of those boats, but Julian [Bethwaite] built 10 of them and no one decided to buy, so people started complaining about it. It's a bit frustrating that people have talked about it like that, but we've sailed an Ovington, a Mackay and a Bethwaite and won a Worlds in all three. It makes no difference. The last Worlds was in a Bethwaite, the Worlds in Garda in an Ovington and sailed all through 2010 in a Mackay. The Worlds I won with Ben [Austin, in 2008] was in a Mackay.
“The boats are one-design but there are small differences and you can get any boat from any supplier and I'm sure you'll find differences. It’s a matter of spending the time over a four year period working out what's the right equipment to use for the weather. The hull is most important when it's windy, and our best day here was in the lightest weather and our worst day was in the windiest weather, so I don't think it's the equipment that's doing it for us.
“It’s been going on for about a year, people going on about our equipment. If someone had an issue about it they needed to come and talk to us about it, rather than just going behind our back. It's been quite frustrating. We had four boats here, in case we had problems. And we were ready to say, 'you tell us which of these four to use, so long as we can tell you which of your boats you can use.' We've got a few Bethwaites here and Mackays as well, and it was a case of, 'I don't care which boat we're going to sail because it's not going to make a difference.’”
Danish skipper Allan Norregaard said he didn’t have a problem with the Aussies. “They sailed really well. It wouldn’t have mattered which boat they used. They deserve that gold medal. But this is a problem for the class. We have to work hard to keep the 49er strictly one-design in the future.”