British 'rookie' sailors made a big impact on Day 3 of the Games, with a huge range of conditions across the classes at Rio

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Much has been made – amongst both supporters and rivals – of the ‘changing of the guard’ at the British Sailing Team for 2016. With dominant senior team members such as Ben Ainslie, Iain Percy and Paul Goodison all retiring from Olympic campaigning, plus the introduction of two new classes (the 49er FX and Nacra 17), nine out of the 15 sailors wearing the GBR colours are making their Olympic debut.

The newbies – who make up 60 % of the squad – have big dinghy boots to fill. Britain won 21 medals (ten gold, seven silver and four bronze) over the past four Games, with 10 of those decorating the necks of Ainslie, Percy (with Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson), and Goodison. Team manager Stephen Park commented before the Games “If we can come away with three to five medals we would have to consider that is a pretty excellent take.” While there is still an awfully long way to go, at the end of Day 3, three of the new entries are lying in first or second place tonight.

Six classes were out on the waters of Rio, with a mixed bag of conditions, including grey clouds and rain. There were wild variations between the different course areas – from 25-plus knots and big waves on the open water courses, to light and shifty conditions inside Guanabara Bay. The 470 men’s and women’s fleets took the water for the first time, and the Nacra 17 class made its Olympic debut – the only male-female mixed class in the Games.

Tense racing for the Swiss team of Matías Bühler and Nathalie Brugger on the first day of Nacra 17 competition ©Sailing Energy/World Sailing

Tense racing for the Swiss team of Matías Bühler and Nathalie Brugger on the first day of Nacra 17 competition ©Sailing Energy/World Sailing

The Nacra 17s completed two races, with two teams tied on eight points apiece. The Swiss pairing of Matías Bühler and Nathalie Brugger won the first race for the catamaran, and went on to score a 7th, while Britain’s Ben Saxton and Nicola Groves took a 3rd and 5th to match them. The second race was won by the home team of Samuel Albrecht and Isabel Swan, while the usually dominant French pairing of Billy Besson and Marie Riou are in 17th overnight, with Besson struggling with a severe back injury.

Ben Saxton and Nicola Groves talk about their excitement at going to their first ever Games in the Nacra 17:

Medal rivalries

The 470s also got underway today, with reigning medallists returning in both fleets. In the men’s class the old rivalry between Croatian sailors Sime Fantela and Igor Marenic, and 2012 Gold medallist Mathew Belcher and William Ryan (AUS) was reignited. The pairs split the wins, but the Croat team scored a second in the next race to have a dream start to their regatta and take an early lead. In the women’s fleet it’s the Japanese pairing who lead, with Ai Kondo Yoshida and Miho Yoshioka scoring 1,4 to lead from 2012 champions Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie.

Australia 470 pairing Mat Belcher and Will Ryan ©Sailing Energy/World Sailing

Australia 470 pairing Mat Belcher and Will Ryan ©Sailing Energy/World Sailing

 

Big breeze battles

Racing out on the open water courses, pre-event favourite Giles Scott made clear his intentions in the Finn class, scoring a 1,2 to move into the lead overall. Nick Thompson also scored a 1,2 to move up to second overall in the Laser fleet, although Croatian Tonci Stipanović has a healthy 9-point lead so far in the men’s one-design singlehander.

Thompson commented after racing that he was relieved, with his class now halfway through the regatta. “The biggest thing for me was just trying to knock in two decent results. I have been there and thereabouts in every race but today I have managed to show what I can do.

“It was nice to get out there, get some decent breeze and some good waves and Rio really delivered today, it was a fantastic conditions and thoroughly enjoyable. I’ve always favoured strong winds and big waves, I just enjoy sailing in that stuff. It is a physical battle and good fun downwind.”

©Sailing Energy/World Sailing

©Sailing Energy/World Sailing

The Laser Radials are proving to be one of the closest classes. After a storming day yesterday which saw Lijia Xu (CHN) lead overall, at the close of Day 3 it was Ireland’s Annalise Murphy who headed the fleet, just one point ahead of Anne-Marine Rindom (DEN), who has the most consistent day with a 3,1 – also just one point ahead of Marit Bouwmeester (NED). Xu has dropped to fourth overall.

Results for each class are available at http://www.sailing.org/olympics/rio2016/results_centre.php