The Rio 2016 Olympic Sailing Competition
It was so windy in Rio the day before the start of the Olympic regatta that the walls of the Marina da Gloria media center were buffeting in the breeze with enough force that the media were asked to leave for safety (ceiling tiles did fall, but no one was hurt.) This type of weather is highly unusual for Rio in August, but the sailors are thrilled by the surprise, as Rio isn’t known for it’s steady wind. There weren’t many boats practicing on Sunday for fear of breakage, save one lone French Finn sailor, Jonathan Lobert, who braved the big breeze for a practice session.
The Laser, Laser Radial and RS:X men and women have the honor of kicking of the regatta on Monday at 13:00 local time. “It’s kind of nice to start first and be finished first,” says US Sailing Team’s RS:X Men’s sailor Pedro Pascual. “We get some extra time to enjoy Rio and I am so eager to get started with racing that I’m glad it’s early.”
The Windsurfers are scheduled for the Pao de Acucar course, the closest to their beach launch and also closest to the city. With a 10-12 knot wind forecast for tomorrow, they’ll hit the ground running. The tide will be flooding, which will make for an interesting tactical challenge as the racecourse is in a circular area and the current can flow unpredictably through it.
The Lasers and Radials will be on the Escola Naval racecourse, further out into the Bay than the windsurfers. With the flooding tide, this area will too have some serious current variance. “I’ve seen completely opposing currents on opposite sides of those courses at the same time,” says World Sailing’s Malcolm Page. “Being close to land, the depth of the water changes dramatically across the courses and changes the current.”
Who To Watch
Women’s RS:X sailor Bryony Shaw is especially strong in bigger breeze, so Monday’s racing will be her conditions. If she can put a big dent in the competition’s confidence, it could carry her through the more technical lighter days that are likely ahead. Italy’s Flavia Tartaglini is also a favorite, and similarly strong in the bigger stuff as Shaw. With Rio as Tartaglini’s first Olympics to Shaw’s third, tomorrow’s racing could expose the strengths and weaknesses of experience versus novelty.
On the men’s side, there’s a group of dominant sailors including London gold medalist Dorian van Rijsselberghe from the Netherlands, London silver medalist Nick Dempsey from Great Britain, Poland’s Piotr Myszka, and China’s Aichen Wang, coached by Bejing gold medalist Tom Ashley. As a “participation class” with provided equipment, the RS:X could be anyones game. With such a deep fleet of talent, it may take a few days to shake out the leaders.
The Laser fleet has an enormous number of possible medal contenders, with Brazil’s Robert Scheidt looking to make sailing history by winning his sixth gold, and world champion Nick Thompson ready to defend Britain’s overall sailing dominance. “There are so many sailors in this class that could realistically medal, it’s pretty wild,” says Thompson. “It shows how competitive this class is.”
USA’s Charlie Buckingham feels the same. “Almost everyone is a contender, it’s going to come down to the best overall sailor out there,” he says.
The Laser Radial has all three London medalists in the fleet, but there are no safe bets for them in Rio. 2012 gold medalist Lily Xu made a surprise return about 18 months ago and has since had moderate results in the class, but hasn’t yet returned to that dominance she showed in Weymouth. The first day of racing will be a good indicator if Xu can set herself up for a repeat performance.
Marit Bouwmeester is again a medal favorite for this Games. The Netherlands holds the most medals in women’s sailing, but has yet to win gold. Bouwmeester will be looking to improve upon her silver from London, but in such a strong fleet it’ll have to be quite a performance. Evi Van Acker, who said in a press conference on Saturday that she is “ready to rumble,” has been a class favorite since before London (where she took home bronze) and has continued to close the gap on Bouwmeester and now Xu. Not far behind is Belgium’s Anne-Marie Rindom, Britian’s Alison Young, USA’s Paige Railey and at least a half dozen others who have a real shot in this class. Day one should provide a bit of a look at who can best adjust to the tricky Escola racecourse, but Rio will require consistency far beyond day one.
World Sailing will provide live 2D and 3D tracking of all boats on all courses during each day of racing. To view the tracking portal, visit World Sailing’s Rio 2016 homepage.