The sailing competition kicked off in Rio for the 2016 Olympic Games today, with the RS:X and Laser fleets taking to the water

Guanabara Bay delivered some great sailing conditions to launch the first day of the Olympic Sailing Competition on Monday, 8 August, but the Rio venue was still very, very tricky.

After a full-on few practice days, which saw the teams rehearsing in brisk conditions, the launching ramp undergoing emergency repairs after 40 knots battered the Flamengo Beach area, and the rowing – on the same waterway – cancelled the previous day – sunny skies and 10-14 knot winds from the south-east were just what competitors wanted to begin their Olympic campaigns.

The two racing fleets opening competition were the RS:X fleets and Laser (both men’s full rig and womens’ Radial classes), and while some of the favourites romped away to a dominant start, others faltered badly, reports Andy Rice for World Sailing.

Men’s Windsurfer – RS:X

Nick Dempsey (GBR) could scarcely believe the fairy tale start to his fifth Olympic Games. Just days away from his 36th birthday, the British veteran managed to pick up scores of 1,1,2. The defending Olympic Champion Dorian van Rijsselberghe couldn’t quite match that level of excellence, but the Dutchman finished the day with ever-improving scores of 5,3,1.

Dempsey was rightly pleased with his day. “A perfect start. I was pretty nervous this morning, really nervous. Training has been going really well, sailing fast. I was just nervous about something not going right, but it went so well. In the last race, the breeze dropped a few bombs on the course. It caught a few people out, a few people did well out of it, and I managed to hold on to 2nd, which was probably the best bit of the day.”

The issue of debris in the water has been a big talking point in the build-up to these Games, but Dempsey said, “Today was the best it’s ever been. When you’re winning a race and going fast, the only thing you worry about is another factor, like hitting something in the water, breaking a fin. But it didn’t, the water was fine and it’s a good result for Rio.”

Vyron Kokkalanis also sailed very solidly to notch up scores of 2,2,6, and puts him in 3rd overall on equal points with Rijsselberghe.

Find out more about Nick Dempsey here:

Women’s Windsurfer – RS:X

In the women’s windsurfing class there was a similar scenario. French sailor Charline Picon (FRA) scored 1,2,1 from the opening three races. Next best was Stefaniya Elfutina (RUS) who lies in second place ahead of Flavia Tartaglini (ITA). The defending Olympic Champion Marina Alabau (ESP) had a solid day to lie in 5th overall but one of the other pre-event favourites, Bryony Shaw (GBR) struggled and sits in tenth at the moment.

Picon was breathing a sigh of relief after racing. “I had a lot of pressure and to begin like that? Well I couldn’t have imagined that yesterday because I was a little bit stressed. I’m happy but I need to stay focussed.”

Local sailor Patricia Freitas (BRA) revelled in the stronger breezes to lie in sixth overall. “We had a very good day, sunshine and strong winds, unexpected for this time of year. The Brazilian spirit is everywhere, it’s very special for us to have people watching us racing because that doesn’t happen very often in sailing. Thanks to the Bay we can set up a good place for the people to watch, and when we were rounding the mark near the beach I could recognise a few friends. It was a great spirit and great to be part of.”

Women’s One Person Dinghy – Laser Radial (updated)

In the singlehanded dinghy classes things were more mixed. In the women’s Radial class the 2012 gold medallists Lijia Xu (CHN) got off to a good start with a third, but was then DSQ, scoring 38 points in the second. “It was very difficult out on the course,” said Xu. “It has been a short campaign building up to Rio but I am really enjoying being back in the boat. My whole approach is different this time. I’m more aware of avoiding injury and keeping the body fit for competition.”

Overall leader after one day is Marit Bouwmeester (NED), who took a sixth and a fourth, putting her three points ahead of Anne-Marine Rindom (DEN).

It could have been a stellar day for Gintare Scheidt (LTU). She finished in second place in the first race and won the next race. However, the Lithuanian sailor later discovered that she had fallen foul of a U Flag disqualification in race 1 for crossing the start line too soon. The Olympic silver medallist from 2008 commented, “I was very happy after the first race, because I didn’t know until later that I was over the line. I sailed the second race really well, but I still have a really bad feeling about the day. My goal was to get two top tens, and even finishing first in the second race doesn’t satisfy me. Now we have to be more safe, because there’s only one discard which in this venue is really difficult.”

Other hotly fancied sailors also struggled to be consistent, including Annalise Murphy (IRL) who charged through the fleet to win the first race but could only manage 14th in the next. Even so, the fourth-placed finisher from London 2012 currently lies in third overall just a single point behind Anne-Marie Rindom (DEN). “There was a lot to think about out there,” said Murphy. “Strong tide, big pressure differences up and down the race course. I was happy enough with the second race. It’s going to be swings and roundabouts here, people are going to have good and bad races.”

Meet reigning world champion Alison Young (GBR):

Men’s One Person Dinghy – Laser (updated)

The mens’ fleet followed a similar pattern – with most sailors scoring one ‘counter’ result, and one high-scoring race they will be hoping to discard.

Top was the Croatian sailor Tonci Stipanović, who scored a super-consistent first and fifth. Sitting on equal points but in second place is Julio Alsogaray (ARG) with scores of 4,2. “There were plenty of places to fall down the rankings today,” said Stipanovic, “so I am very happy with the day I’ve just had. Speed was good and conditions were difficult but what we expected for Rio.”

A number of the favourites made harder work of the conditions. Robert Scheidt (BRA) made a bad start to his campaign to win a record sixth Olympic medal in sailing, finishing 23rd in the opening race. But the Brazilian bounced back to take a clear lead and the winner’s gun in race 2.

Scheidt enjoyed the difficulty of the day. “They were good, technical races because there was a rounding mark set very close to the coast and that influenced the wind, and it was changing the second part of the race course a lot. But this is part of the game. I already knew conditions in the Bay were going to be very variable.

“In the second race I managed to do the start better and go with the main contenders, play the game step by step,” said the 43-year-old. “I had a bit of an advantage at the first mark, and from there I managed to dominate the race. I’m pleased how I came back from the first race. There are still a lot of races ahead and a lot of points to fight for, and in the second race I showed that my age is not going to be a problem for me.”

Tom Burton (AUS) and reigning World Champion Nick Thompson (GBR) lie in 10th and 11th respectively with equal points, while the London 2012 silver medallist Pavlos Kontides (CYP) is back in 19th.


© Sailing Energy/World Sailing

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