The Laser Medal Races are postponed in no wind while the doublehanded classes take a battering on a mixed day for Olympic sailing
After hours of sweltering under the Brazilian sun next to a flat calm Guanabara Bay, the Laser Medal Race was eventually postponed until tomorrow (Tuesday, 16 August). The women’s Radial fleet was initially sent out late in the afternoon, in what appeared to be near-windless conditions. Yet just 15 minutes later, the sailors were surfing along in 30 knots as the rapidly building breeze kicked up big waves.
Both fleets will now compete for their Medal Races tomorrow, along with the Finn and Nacra 17 classes. The delay will likely cause a rise in tensions. Many of the Radial sailors were clearly enjoying their warm-up sail in the increasingly fruity conditions. Third-placed Annalise Murphy (IRL) is considered strong in big breezes and will have been wanting to race today – and not only because of the conditions, as she also took to Twitter to try and rearrange her brother’s flights, who was due to fly home tomorrow and would miss the now rescheduled Medal Race.
There were more frustrations for the doublehanded sailors, with neither the 470 men’s or women’s fleet able to complete a race. But having waited for wind out on the water, when the big 1600hrs buster arrived, boats were capsizing everywhere. There were sails shredded in the gusts and it will be a long evening for some crews making sure their boats are repaired and ready for the next day. Tomorrow is a reserve day for the doublehanded fleets, which each have three races to complete before the final Medal Race on Wednesday.
Out on the Copacabana course area the skiff classes enjoyed solid sailing conditions, completing three races, with the final finishers of the men’s fleet also having a race to get back to the Marina da Gloria as the worst of the late afternoon gusts struck just as the last boats were crossing the finish line.
The pre-event 49er favourites, Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, continue to live up their billing. The New Zealand pairing, who also compete together in the Emirates Team New Zealand America’s Cup challenge, scored a 2,3,1 scoreline to further extend their impressive lead. They are now 18 points ahead of Erik Heil and Thomas Ploessel (GER), while the 2012 Gold medalist Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen (AUS) lying in third, having not yet taken a race win. The best performance of the day, however, went to the French team of Julien d’Ortoli and Noe Delpech, who took two wins and a 3rd.
Burling commented, “We’re pleased with three low scores, the boat was going really fast. We had some beautiful conditions for racing but got hit by a massive squall on the way in. It was maybe 45 or 50 knots.”
Tuke added, “A south-west front came in and it went from 11 knots to more than 40 knots in the space of ten minutes.” Even the four-time World Champions capsized in the storm-force conditions. “We struggled to stay upright just with the mast up. Some massive waves out there, just happy to be back on shore,” said Burling, shivering and itching to get back to checking over the boat for any damage.
Noe Delpech was barely thinking about what a good day he’d had after getting ashore – just happy to be in one piece. “We had three good starts and are very happy with our speed and strategy today. But then there was the wind that arrived straight afterwards. We capsized many times. The mainsail went flying through the air and it fell in the water but our coach managed to save it before we lost it. We had a bad last hour on the water. The sails are not in great condition but I think we are OK mostly.”
There was a similarly impressive performance in the women’s 49erFX class, with Tamara Echegoyen Dominguez and Berta Betanzos Moro (ESP) taking two wins as well as a 4th place today. Echegoyen, the London 2012 Olympic Champion in match racing, moves into the lead, but with three races still to go until the Medal Race the women’s skiff fleet is much closer – in second position is Alexandra Maloney and Molly Meech (NZL) four points behind on 34 points, and Rio star performer Martine Soffiatti Grael and Kahena Kunze (BRA) just one point back in third.
Four medal showdowns
Tomorrow (Tuesday, 16 August), now sees four Medal Races. The Finn, where Briton Giles Scott is assured of Gold but Silver is still up for contention. The Laser, where Tonci Stipanovic has won Croatia’s first ever Olympic sailing medal – the only question is which colour, with Australia’s Tom Burton the only one who can wrest Gold from him. Such is the calibre of this fleet that even the legendary Robert Scheidt (BRA), nor the reigning World Champion Nick Thompson (GBR) are in with a chance of anything beyond Bronze.
The Laser Radial has four sailors currently within the key 20-point margin. Marit Bouwmeester (NED), ranked World No.1 in the class and 2012 silver medalist is eight points ahead of Anne-Marin Rindom, the 2015 World Champion in the class, while third is Annalise Murphy (IRL), two points further back and facing a challenge from fourth-placed Evi Van Acker (BEL). The mixed Nacra 17 class will also be settled tomorrow. Technically the top seven boats are all potentially able to reach the Gold spot, with GBR’s Ben Saxton and Nicola Groves just beyond the 20-point margin.
On site reporting by Andy Rice/World Sailing