Soap dishes and tea trays
By comparison with the mighty 49ers, the tubby Ynglings and even the pumped up Finns, a visit to the Laser and Europe course feels like walking into a model village. The short and squat rigs make both flotillas look like a dwarf fleets of soap dishes and tea trays. Yet here is where the sailing Olympics takes on its most human, down to earth feel.
From weekend club sailing to full-on National, European and World Championships, there are hundreds of thousands of past and present Laser sailors around the world. Add to that the number who’ve enjoyed a dinghy holiday, or even a trip around the bay in the hotel’s Laser and you’ll probably be up into millions.
Having numbed your thighs on the uncomfortable gunwales and got the mainsheet caught on the corner of the transom in every gybe that mattered, you can’t help feeling and empathy with this Olympic fleet when you see this boat. But that’s where the similarity ends as here you can see how to do it properly by the world’s best sailors.
No one gets their mainsheets caught and everyone handles the boat as if it is an extension of their body, another limb if you will. Regardless of their final positions, every sailor in this 42 boat fleet, the largest at the Games, makes it look easy, yet the calibre of sailing throughout is extraordinarily high.
To make your mark here you not only need to have mastered the boat, but you need to have a head for impossibly small gaps and have the kind of calm nerves that most of us can only get on prescription.
Laser racing may not be that fast compared to some of the master blasters out here, but the action at the mark roundings can often only be understood with the aid of a video recorder and a pause button. Mis-cue a tack, stall the foils and positions can change faster than the price of oil.
The same is largely true for the soap dishes, sorry Europes, where the sailing may not look that dynamic in the typical 10 knot Greek sea breeze with a swell running across the course, but this is still among the most relevant racing you’ll see at the Olympics. As tight, as expertly executed and as stimulating to watch as on any other course.
Within this fleet lies one of the next most likely Gold medal winners, the Norwegian Siren Sundby. Scoring two emphatic wins, Sundby, who’s brother Christoffer is a medal possibility in the 49er class, is head and shoulders above the rest of the fleet. Five wins, a 3rd and two 4th prove that. If it hadn’t have been for a disqualification earlier in the event she’d be home and dry by now. As it is she has to trade in the guaranteed Silver she earned today into a Gold on Sunday.
In the Laser fleet, Schiedt’s day at the office meant saw him turn in a 7th and a 3rd to keep his overall lead. Meanwhile, GBR sailor Paul Goodison lurks tantalisingly close to the medal zone, hanging in there at fourth overall. Hiding his frustration well, Goodison had to give away a potential third position in the first race when he conceded a penalty and did some turns.
“I was a little bit disappointed with the first race when I was up there and it was there for the taking, but got caught up with a bit of an incident with the Portuguese and Argentinian and thought I had to cover my back and get rid of the penalty,” he said.
Dwelling on the incident won’t help him and seeing his confident manner at this Games it’s something he’s unlikely to do anyway. Instead, he remains positive and focussed and clear that the last race is all or nothing.
“The final race is a big pressure race. It’s a game of numbers,” he continued. “If it all goes well I could end up with a Gold, if it doesn’t I could end up with nothing. I’ve just got to go out there and do the best I can. Obviously a Gold is in the back of my mind, especially now the girls have got one, everybody wants one.”
Elsewhere on the Saronic Gulf the 49ers were proving once again just how difficult it is to win a race in this class, let alone more than once. In eight races there have been seven different winners. The only team to string two wins together, the Australians Chris Nicholson and Gary Boyd, are currently lying 12th, an indication of how varied the results are.
Brit sailors Hiscocks and Draper have moved themselves up two places and into third place overall but as Hiscocks confirmed, the standard is tough with no room for error.
“There’s a lot of people having bad days,” he said.
By tomorrow there will a few who’ve had good ones too as the Finns, Ynglings and the 470s who will be racing their final race to secure the remaining medals.
Out for the first time will be the Star and the Tornados, but with so much medalware at stake the chances are the focus won’t be on these classes for another day.