British Olympic men and women lead the field in the 470 class in the opening stages of their Games
Their nerves were strings of tension waiting to be struck but after a burst of zealous ambition at the start, Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark showed merit under pressure as they kicked off their London 2012 campaign with a confidence boosting first day.
There was no mistaking the jitters they were feeling all week and the questions we posed about whether they were nervous probably didn’t help but as soon as they ventured onto the race track, things immediately started to fall into place.
Well almost! A little hiccup at the start of the first race where they crashed into an official boat at the pin end, provoked a small ripple of panic before a calm prevailed. It was stupid and not what they had intended, Hannah said.
“There were definitely some nerves this morning. We have been waiting a long time to get going and it affected the start of our first race. Our goal for the day was not to do anything stupid and immediately we went and crashed into the pin end which was stupid.
“But in a way it helped us – we did our 360 penalty turn and got on with the race. You can’t afford to be nervous after that and we made a good comeback so we are happy.”
We interviewed the 470 girls on Thursday as they came off the water following the practice race and it was clear then that nerves were beginning to jangle. They couldn’t watch the Olympics on television in the mornings, they admitted because it made them too nervous.
They filled their days with menial jobs on the boat to keep them distracted and they were practising some short course boat handling exercises where they could see improvements quickly.
These time filling activities worked a treat and in their first race, they came a nervous sixth behind winners Lisa Westerhof and Lobke Berkhout of the Nederlands and the Kiwi pair Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie.
In the second race they hit their straps right from the outset and led almost all the all the way round from the top mark.
“We had an awesome start with really good speed of the line,” Clark said.
“The fleet was pressing really hard to go to the left and Hannah and I tacked out a bit earlier and found it wasn’t as strong a left track as everyone thought so we gained quite a distance.”
“I didn’t win a race in Beijing and it is a pretty big deal winning an Olympic race but having 11 races left puts it into context. We are delighted with our day but it doesn’t make much difference where we are on the leaderboard.”
Luke Patience and Stuart Bithell have said for weeks that the London 2012 gold medal in the 470 Mens class had THEIR names on it and it doesn’t look like they were kidding.
They are brand new to Olympic racing yet any idea they might be intimidated by this new high pressure arena were dismissed as if it was an affront.
“Intimidated? No, not at all. We are loving it,” said the garrulous Patience after another fine day where some slick performances produced a fourth in the first race – their worst result so far – followed by a second in the fourth.
“We are revelling in the challenge and hope we can tick the right boxes and do what we need to do so the results take care of themselves.”
Conditions out in the bay were similar to Thursday with winds and waves throwing up the same kind of challenges.
“We approached the day the same as we approached yesterday and the marathon continues,” Bithell added.
“We had two good results today but more important we are sailing well. We are sailing fast and smart. The first race was a bit whacky – the first beat the wind lightened off and went patchy.
“On the right hand side, it came in strong which was the first time in a while. The Italians took advantage but we are sailing well, sailing fast and are relaxed and that’s the most important thing.
With six races and the medal race to go, they have established a six point lead over favourites Matthew Belcher and Malcolm Page who took a second and first on a day in which they hit their straps after a disappointing first day.
But the gap over the next placed team Matthias Schmid and Florian Reichstaedter from Austria is a massive 16 points which suggests the 470 gold medal might well be a two horse race. But what a race!