Jonas Hoegh Christensen king of day one
The opening day of the sailing down in Weymouth at the London 2012 Olympic Games, saw Denmark’s Jonas Hoegh Christensen make a perfect start with two bullets in the Finn while among the Stars we got a prime display of how things could well pan out this week with some very intense match racing between Britain’s own defending Olympic gold medallists Iain Percy/Andrew Simpson and their Brazilian rivals and reigning World Champions Robert Scheidt/Bruno Prada.
Conditions-wise the wind started from the southwest, before a shallow trough passed over Weymouth bring with it rain and winds of 20+ knots in the gusts before settling down and dropping to 10-12.
The Finn races were an unusual competition - the first race was sailed on the shifty Nothe course for the benefit of the spectators (who, as anticipated, got dumped on a couple of times around lunchtime) with the second race moving to the Weymouth Bay West course. While Ben Ainslie completed a better first day than he did in Athens, his two second placed finishes were roundly usurped by Dane Jonas Hoegh Christensen who out-Ainslied Ainslie by scoring bullets in both races, seemingly unaffected by the change of course and of the conditions.
The Dane flew off the line in the first race and while he was overhauled by Austrian Florian Raudaschl up the beat, he led around the top mark and from there extended. The story was much same in the second race, but on that occasion without being challenged at all. Behind Ainslie was making harder work of it, starting mid-fleet and having to work his way up. In the first race he rounded the top mark for the first time 11th in the 24 boat fleet, pulled back up to third behind the Austrian at the leeward gate. Ainslie was down to sixth again at the second top mark rounding and pulled level with Raudaschl at the end of the second run, subsequently overhauling him. But by this stage the Dane was away.
In the second race Ainslie was more into his stride and comfortably holding second behind Hoegh Christensen at the first mark with Australian Brendan Casey in third - Casey, impressively, had capsized in the first race and in the process of righting his boat managed to split open its hull to deck join. This they fixed between races (after removing as much water as possible) with Duct Tape!
This remained the order for the three laps of the windward-leeward course but with Croatia’s Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic pulling up to third. Strangely this repeated the race one podium, with Ainslie generally losing ground upwind and regaining it on the runs.
“I think it was a couple or good starts and I hit all the shifts right especially on the first beat of both races,” explained Hoegh Christensen. “In both races I had a big lead and I just tried to keep myself in between the guys and the next mark. I tried to sail with as low a risk as possible. There was a little bit of current, but the wind was so shifty that I didn’t really pay any attention to it.”
As regards Ainslie, the Dane said he kept a loose cover on him. “The thing is you have to play the shifts, especailly on the Nothe course. Ben went hard right especially on the second beat and it hadn’t paid on the first beat and in all the training we have done it hasn’t paid going right. I wanted to stay to the left of him and just play the shifts. There are 22 other guys you have to beat and if you just focus on Ben you are not going to make it. I focussed on my own racing and it went well.”
Hoegh Christensen, the 2009 Finn World Champion (a year when Ainslie didn’t compete) said he had worked really hard on his racing for the last 10 months. “It is like a big puzzle that finally came together in the last couple of days and now it is about going out to do what we practised and prepared for. Of course I’ll try and do what I did today again tomorrow, but what I did today is to sail with as little risk as possible and to try and get some good starts to try and make sure the other guys didn’t pass and that went really well.”
Ainslie was pleased with his solid opening day to the regatta. “It was great conditions. It was a fantastic start to the event to have such a nice day with strong winds and really interesting racing on the Nothe course – difficult with the wind being so unstable in there, it was tough for everyone to predict what was going to happen, but it was an amazing feeling to hear that crowd cheering you on. That certainly made a big difference.”
To us it appeared that the Dane generally had a speed edge, however Ainslie was adamant it was more that Hoegh Christensen had just outgunned him on the race course. “He sailed really well today. I think both those first beats he really nailed the shifts up there and once he got away he had a little bit of a cushion and just got away. He is obviously one of the guys who can do that on his day, so we will see how things develop over the rest of this week. So hat’s off to him - he sailed really well.
“I am not necessarily that surprised, he is a fantastic sailor who has done well in the past and I have sailed with a lot of these guys and if it had been Ivan or Dan Slater, they could equally have gone out and got two bullets.”
While Ainslie definitely had the upper hand downwind (a point of sail that has traditionally been his strongest) he did appear to struggle upwind. However the British Olympic veteran denied this: “The first race the wind was so shifty, it wasn’t anything to do with boat speed and even the second race the wind was very very shifty. I think you speak to all the guys – they were very fast at moments and very slow at moments, just depending on which patch of water you were in. Speed today wasn’t the factor, it was more about tactics and downwind it was more about the work rate, especially on the flat water on the Nothe course.”
Aside from Brendon Casey’s impressive Duct taping, there was also a collision in the first race when Poland’s Piotr Kula collided with the Ukraine’s Oleksiy Borysov, damaging the latter’s boat. Borysov was subsequently unable to compete in the second race. The Ukrainian has since been requested redress.
Both Star races took place on the Weymouth Bay West course. The first set sail after a 30 minute postponement after the trough passed through, the wind settling or so the race committee thought when they laid the course, to a WSWerly of around 11 knots.
In race one, Germans Robert Stanjek and Frithjof Kleen led for most of the opening beat, ahead of Croatian brothers Marin and Dan Lovrovic at the top mark with favourite Percy and Simpon fourth and Brazilians Scheidt and Prada sixth. This remained the same down the beat, but with old hands Freddie Loof and Max Salminen pulling up to third. However in the latter stages of the second beat there was a significant left hand shift which turned the positions on their head with all the boats that had been down the pan and out on the left side of the course when the shift came through, suddenly smelling of roses. And so at the second weather mark rounding it was the French veterans Xavier Rohart and Pierre Alexis Ponsot who led around ahead of Irish Skandia Sail for Gold winners, Peter O’Leary and David Burrows both holding this position down the run to the finish.
Scheidt and Prada were sixth around the top mark, pulling up to fourth down the run while Percy and Simpson were kicking themselves for having missed the shift, causing them to plummet to 12th, gaining one place at the finish.
“The French went from last to first and we managed to get it all a little bit wrong,” said Andrew Simpson. “Frustrating was an understatement for the first race. It was important we kept our heads up and just got on with it for the second race.”
The second race was fairer with Ireland’s O’Leary and David Burrows leading up the beat with Scheidt and Prada moving up to second with the Brits on their transom. Towards the end of the run both Percy and Simpson and the Brazilians overhauled the Irish, the two boats rounding the port gate mark (looking upwind) overlapped. They extended away from the Irish on the next beat with the Brazilians getting the upper hand, leading around the top mark with an 8 second advantage. In an edge of the seat finish, the Brits reeled in their opponent and may have been bow forwards towards the finish, but a last spurt from Scheidt and Prada saw the two boats neck and neck at the finish.
“We had a three length lead coming into the line,” said Scheidt. “500m from the line, they got some pressure and came close to us and at one stage they passed us and we overlapped them again, so it was very exciting to cross the finish line – I wasn’t certain if we had won the race or not. We thought that maybe he would had won because he was to leeward.”
Rather disappointingly there was a hiatus for several hours over who had in fact won. Ultimately the bullet was awarded to the Brazilians. The Brits lodged a request for redress which they later retracted.
Percy said he had thought they had won. “I’m normally quite negative, so that is a surprise, but it is not like I am here with any burning mis-justice in my mind. There is a guy looking down the line. Unless it is an obvious mistake which normally will get worked out by itself, it is about not a big deal and it is not about that. It is about not coming 11th again and missing 30° wind shifts.”
So looking at the bigger picture, Percy didn’t seem overly upset by the outcome. “We are going pretty well upwind and down, particularly downwind. It was good to take 20 odd seconds out of them on that last leg because even if we didn’t get the point in that race it will be points over the series.
“It is always a very nerve wracking moment when you line up on the start line of the first race of the Games. It probably brings out mistakes, like missing that first shift. You pay for that for the rest of the week. But we are alright. Myself and Bart know how to regroup and keep fighting and it doesn’t tend to snowball at all, we just keeping fighting like we showed in the second race."
Listen to our interview with Percy here
Andrew Simpson added: “It is quite important to try and get points on our opposition, but we were faster downwind today which was great, because it is not our favourite conditions on the west course where it is slightly flatter water. We prefer the waves with the way we sail - a technique thing really. We have to keep chipping away and make sure we keep an edge on them downwind and get ahead of them upwind.”
If Percy and Simpson got nailed by the shift in the first race, then it was worse for Kiwis Hamish Pepper and Jim Turner.
“We were second last in the first race, so we can only improve!” said Turner philosophically. “The first race there was a big shift and all of the tailenders ended up winning, so we got dumped out of the back unfortunately and the final run was almost a lay through to the finish. Once there was the wind shift and the tailenders had caught up there was no way back in that one. In the second race – we were 3rd or 4th at the last mark – it is all fun and games.”
The Women’s Match Racing got underway today as well with the opening matches in the round robin. It is a little too early to make any profound observations about who’s doing well, but the teams of Olivia Price (AUS), Ekaterina Skudina (RUS) and Tamara Echegoyen (ESP) have all sailed two races and are unbeaten. Team GBR’s Macgregor sisters and Annie Lush won their first race against Lotte Meldegaard Petersen (DEN) but lost their second to the Spanish.
Annie Lush said they were pleased with their start: “It was good to get the first day over and done with. It was great to get out there and we won a race and had another really close other good race. It was a good solid first day for us.
“I don’t think you can underestimate anyone here as it is top 12 teams in the world and anyone of them could go the whole way. I don’t think you can go into any race complacent and we battled hard. It’s going to be a long battle!
“It was a big day for starting, so we will look at that, but overall it was solid. We came back against the Spanish and closed it right back up and unfortunately didn’t get a final shift to overtake them but that’s all you can hope for in that kind of condition.”
Claire Leroy’s French team is also on 50% record having won against Rita Gonçalves’s Portugese team but lost to the Spanish. “It was a beautiful day with the sun in Weymouth. We are happy we have sailed two good matches which were very close with a lot of penalties - which is part of the game so we fight until the end.”
Racing is scheduled to resume at 12pm tomorrow (Monday 30 July), with the Lasers and 49ers kicking off proceedings.
|3||CRO||Ivan Kljakovic Gaspic||3||3||6|
|12||ESP||Rafa Trujillo Villar||12||12||24|
|18||BRA||Jorge João Zarif||15||20||35|
|1||BRA||Robert Scheidt||Bruno Prada||4||1||5|
|2||IRL||Peter O'Leary||David Burrows||2||6||8|
|3||POL||Mateusz Kusznierewicz||Dominik Zycki||9||3||12|
|4||NOR||Eivind Melleby||Petter Morland Pedersen||7||5||12|
|5||GBR||Iain Percy||Andrew Simpson||11||2||13|
|6||FRA||Xavier Rohart||Pierre-Alexis PONSOT||1||13||14|
|7||SWE||Fredrik Loof||Max Salminen||10||4||14|
|8||GER||Robert Stanjek||Frithjof Kleen||6||9||15|
|9||GRE||Amilios PAPATHANASIOU||Antonis Tsotras||3||16||19|
|10||USA||Mark MENDELBLATT||Brian Fatih||5||14||19|
|11||CRO||Marin Lovrovic Jr||Dan Lovrovic||8||12||20|
|12||SUI||Flavio Marazzi||Enrico De Maria||13||8||21|
|13||NZL||Hamish Pepper||Jim Turner||15||7||22|
|14||DEN||Michael HESTBAEK||Claus Olesen||12||11||23|
|15||CAN||Richard Clarke||Tyler Bjorn||16||10||26|
|16||POR||Afonso Domingos||Frederico Melo||14||15||29|
From Carlo Borlenghi/www.borlenghi.com/FIV
Scooting around Weymouth in her and Paul Larsen's Scooby Doo-style van, Helena Darvelid shared these photos (Helena Darvelid/www.sailrocket.com)