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Olympics Daily Debrief, Day 3 — Heads in the Game and Out of the Boat

Mental and physical fitness separated the fleets on the third day of racing in Rio.

August 11, 2016
Nacra 17 Olympic Sailing Regatta

2016 Olympic Games Rio de Janeiro

USA’s Bora Gulari and Louisa Chafee get up close and personal with Austria’s Thomas Zajac and Tajna Frank during the opening day of Nacra 17 racing at the Rio Olympics. Daniel Forster/US Sailing Team

The Nacra 17 class made their Olympic debut on Guanabara Bay today, and though the breeze was a little squirrely, the starts were exciting, the mark roundings were intensely crowded and the competition was equal parts mental and physically challenging. Those who did best were the boats who saw the shifts first and stayed out of the holes created by Sugarloaf Mountain to the south of the course.

In the first race, it paid to go right and to stay right at the top gate, as the Swiss team, Matias Buhler and Nathalie Brugger and the Singaporean team, Justin Liu and Denise Lim did. The two teams ended the race in a photo finish for first and second —Liu didn’t even know the results until coming off the water at the end of racing. The Swiss went on to win the day, adding a seventh to their scorecard to climb to the top of the fleet. “We had to improvise and keep our eyes open to read the puffs and shifts,” says Brugger. “Everyone in the fleet had to fight for every leg.”

In the first start, USA’s Bora Gulari Louisa Chafee made a gutsy first impression in the class at the first start by port tacking the fleet, shadowed by the Canadian team. “Cutting rudders and coming in on port is a real weapon for us,” he says. “I sniffed a left shift when there was about a minute left. It’s one of my favorite starts.” The start paid off with clear air and while the pair lost boats on the beats, their downwind legs were strong and they ended that race in 13th overall, following it up with a 10th to round out the day.

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“The first day of racing was just awesome,” says Gulari. “There aren’t many things I haven’t done in sailing yet, but [an Olympic race] was one of them.”

Gulari described the day as “zero to hero and back to zero.” Though they missed some shifts upwind, he says their runs were strong and overall the American Nacra team did well with their results, which he says are keepers in his mind in this tough fleet.

Fleet favorites Billy Besson and Marie Riou had a tough day, but Besson is nursing a serious back injury and after racing was having a hard time walking through the boat park. With the breeze on for tomorrow and the Nacras heading out to the Copacabana course with a big forecast, the French will be struggling to resurrect their previous dominance.

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For Great Britain’s Nick Thompson and Giles Scott, in the Laser and Finn respectively, the big breeze gave them a chance to show their strength and take control of the fleet.

“It was so much more enjoyable out there today,” says Thompson. “Conditions like that are tough physically and we’re in the best shape we could be. Equally, we just enjoy sailing in those conditions. As a nation, Brits love the breeze.”

They both scored 2-1 today, putting Thompson into second and Scott into first in their respective fleets. (Results preliminary, dependent on unfinished protests)

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In the Finn fleet, equipment failures plagued two medal contenders. USA’s Caleb Paine lost a mast chock and fell to 21st in the race, by far his worst finish so far. He replaced the chock and recovered spectacularly with a 3rd place in the second race. Denmark’s Jonas Hoghs Christensen‘s run of bad luck continued, and after his frustrations with the race organizers yesterday, today he pulled the clew ring from his sail, forcing him to retire in the final race.

The Laser Radials had a much more physically demanding day today, as they sailed on the Copacabana course in much friskier conditions than they have in the past two days inside. “I hit the button. It was time to really turn it on,” says USA’s Paige Railey, who tied her second place finish from the first day with another second in the first race today, bringing her to seventh in the fleet. “I got myself amped to hike really hard, I knew it’d be a speed race.” Railey nailed her downwind legs, which, in the past, have been a challenge for her.

For Belgium’s Evi Van Acker, a class medal favorite, the intensity proved to be too challenging. Van Acker says she’s physically sick, but at press time, her team had not responded to requests about the nature of her illness. China’s Lily Xu also had a tough day, dropping her from first to fourth place. She’s recovering from a shoulder injury earlier this year. “It really limited my ability to trim the sheet, so my upwind legs weren’t very good,” she says.

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With a rest day on the schedule for the Radials and Lasers tomorrow, Xu and van Acker could have an opportunity to get back in the game. But with leaders Netherland’s Marit Bouwmeester and Denmark’s Anne-Marie Rindom posting high-fleet finishes consistently across both light and big days, there won’t be room for additional errors with only four races remaining before the medal race.

In the 470 Men, the Croatia’s Sime Fantela and Igor Marinec had two solid starts and took a commanding lead in the class with a bullet and a 2nd. In a speed race on the final leg of race two, the Croatians were overtaken by Australia’s Mat Belcher and Will Ryan.

On the women’s side, Japan’s Ai Kondo Yoshida and Miho Yoshioka took first blood and with their additional fourth they bested London gold medalists Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie. Still in the Game, USA’s Annie Haeger and Briana Provancha focused on sticking to the sides and finding the dark water. They kept outside their main competition, and in the second race held their own to finish in third. “The goal of day one is to be consistent and come out not having lost the regatta,” says Provancha. “The second race we had a much better idea of what was going on, but it’s a long regatta and we’ll keep reminding ourselves that this is just the start of a marathon.” Interestingly, like their teammates in the Nacra, the USA 470 women also started their second race of the regatta by charging the start line and port tacking the fleet, putting them into clear air and well ahead of their competition. They finished the race in third and sit third overall after the first day.

The World Sailing website is still having some technical issues, so full results are best found at: https://www.rio2016.com/en/sailing

USA’s Haeger and Gulari talk about their aggressive start tactics in US Sailing Team’s Rio Report from the day:

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