Today saw 40 knots of wind blast out of nowhere and hit the Olympic sailing venue from the south-west. With sand whipping across Flamengo Beach, it was an eye-watering reminder that in Rio, you really do have to be prepared for anything. An Angolan 470 ventured out for some high-wind practice, but no one else was showing much interest. With less than 24 hours before the RS:X Men and Women kick off the Olympic Sailing Competition, along with the Laser and Laser Radial, this was not the right time in the four-year cycle for putting bodies and equipment in jeopardy.
Chang Hao is representing Chinese Taipei in the RS:X Men. "My plan was to go sailing today but the wind was too strong so I am just relaxing. I'll set up my equipment and go back to the apartment and take some rest. My first Olympics was 2008, when I was 17. This is my third Olympics, so I'm getting old. But I hope I can go to five Olympics, that's my dream. This time the sailing is close to the city, which is great. I hope i can go and watch other sports, the rugby, the cycling maybe.”
Later on in the afternoon the breeze dropped away to almost nothing. The calm after the storm. The forecast for Monday and the first day of competition looks favourable, with moderate winds and sunny skies on the cards. It could be a perfect way to get things started and calm the nerves after all the tension, the hype and the build-up to this hotly anticipated contest. For local fans in Rio, they will be watching Robert Scheidt open his campaign in the Laser. Can the poster boy (aged 43) of Brazilian sailing write a new chapter in Olympic history and win a record sixth medal?
Meanwhile, there are those looking to make their first mark on the Olympics, such as Alisa Kiriliuk, helming Russia's entry in the women's 470. "This is my first time at the Games but I am not too nervous. My father, Andrei, went to three Olympic Games in the Laser, Soling and Tornado. He is helping me very much. His message to me is: Don't be afraid, just smile, relax, have fun and do what you normally do.”
Arantza and Begoña Gumucio have been sailing together for most of their lives and now the sisters are sailing for Chile in the 49erFX. "It's incredible to be at our first Olympics, and we are loving every moment,” said Arantza. Begoña chimes in, "We're staying in the Olympic Village, sharing a room and soaking up the atmosphere. And when we're out on the water, the local fisherman shout out 'Chile, Chile!' This feels like a home Games for us, we have the South American connection with our friends in Brazil, so we are going to enjoy this a lot.”
For most teams, the first race can't come soon enough. The Nacra 17 fleet, however, is one of the last to start. One team that might be happy about that is the Greek duo of Sofia Bekatorou and Michalis Pateniotis. "We have been sailing together as a team for just four months, so we are still in our honeymoon period,” said Bekatorou of her young partnership with Michalis Pateniotis. Every moment on the water counts for the Greek duo who are being coached by Anton Paz, winner of a gold medal in the Tornado catamaran for Spain, at the 2008 Games. Bekatorou won gold in the 470 at Athens 2004 and bronze in the Yngling at Beijing 2008. Pateniotis has yet to win an Olympic medal. "Working with Sofia it is easy to see how she has achieved so much in her career,” says Pateniotis. "When she sets a goal, she goes all out to get it. We would have liked more time to get ready but we have worked hard for the short time we have been sailing together. We are as ready as we are going to be now.”
Giles Scott was good enough to win a medal four years ago at London 2012. But the Briton had to bide his time as Ben Ainslie was selected for his fifth Olympic Games. Great Britain has won the gold medal in the Finn going back to Iain Percy's victory in Sydney 2000, so there is a sense of expectation around Scott, the four-time World Champion. "For me this moment has been a long time coming, a long old road. In a way it's odd to be so close to it. We've done a lot of hard work to get to this point, and now I just want it to get started. I've done as much research as I can into what to expect, talking to people who have been to the Games before. As of now, it's been how I expected, with more media interest, the measurement and so on, but it feels quite comfortable. Today we have seen a lot of wind. It's a reminder that you could easily have two weeks of no wind and you could easily have two weeks of 20 knots, so you really do have to be ready for everything.”
No matter how much people tell you to try and treat the Olympics is 'just another regatta', Annette Viborg of Denmark believes it's just not possible. Sailing with Allan Norregaard in the Nacra 17 Mixed Multihull, Viborg commented, "The Olympics is even more crazy and mad than I expected. The regulations say that you can only go training at certain times. Everything is very tensed up before the Games. But we know that it's time to bring it on. Game time.”