Finns and RS:Xs kick off
The spotlight was on Rio’s Guanabara Bay today for the opening day of competition at the Aquece Rio International Regatta – the first official Test Event for the 2016 Olympic hosts.
With just three of the ten Olympic sailing classes scheduled to race on this opening day, it was a gentle start for the organisers ahead of a full programme of competition of Monday which sees all 324 sailors in action across the five Rio course areas.
The day began with a press briefing that saw over 120 national and international journalists, broadcasters and photographers turn up to witness the first Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Test Event first hand.
At the briefing the attendees included Rio 2016 Executive Director of Sport, Agberto Guimaraes, Rio2016 Director of Sports, Rodrigo Garcia, Rio 2016 Director of Communications, Mario Andrada, ISAF Technical Delegate Alastair Fox and London 2012 Olympic gold medallist Mat Belcher (AUS).
Initiatives to improve water quality were explained and an outline of the event, the largest ever Olympic classes' regatta held in Brazil, was given.
During the press briefing Belcher said: "We're really excited to be here. It's the first time we've been here and we're really impressed with the venue, the organisers and what sort of event we can expect for our class.
"It's a big opportunity for the athletes to enjoy the environment, get an understanding as to what we can expect in a few years' time, the currents, geographical effects and what type of wind we can expect.”
Once the briefing concluded attention turned to the racing action. A southeasterly breeze coming in at 8-12 knots ensured that two races were completed in all three fleets.
The windsurfers on the Sugarloaf course, Pão de Açúcar, experienced lighter wind conditions and could manage only two of their intended three races on Sunday.
London 2012 Olympic gold medallist Dorian van Rijsselberge (NED) was on scintillating form in the 28-boat Men's RS:X fleet and took both the day's race victories. Racing on the Dutchman read the conditions perfectly to lead Byron Kokkalanis (GRE) who sits second on five points following a 2-3.
On the course the Dutchman said, "We were on one of the inside courses and close to Flamengo Beach. There's a little bit more breeze towards the middle of the bay so I just tried to find the breeze and go fast.
"It's not too crazy. The wind was lightish so it was tricky but still fun and plenty of opportunities.You have to put a lot of work into racing. There's a lot of pumping but once you pump it pays off if you go the right way so it's key.”
With 28 racers on the water it's not far off the Rio 2016 Olympic Sailing Competition fleet size. In two years' time 36 racers will take to water and van Rijsselberge is enjoying the similarities, "We have a really nice fleet here. That's the biggest plus. Everybody is here and it's a strong field. I think it's a really good test. We have the top ten from the last World Championship so it's a high quality. That shows that everybody wants to see how it is and try to get the best out of it."
Rio de Janeiro provides a beautiful backdrop to the fleets and the Dutchman enjoys his surroundings, "It's nice to have two big monuments here. The Sugarloaf is a little bit in the way, it stops the breeze,” smiled Van Rijsselberge. "But it's interesting and we're enjoying it. The scenery is really nice.”
Charline Picon (FRA) imitated Dorian van Rijsselberge's (NED) performance by taking both bullets in the Women's RS:X.
Picon has Rio experience under her belt and used the information she's gathered on the opening day to lead Maayan Davidovich (ISR) by three points.
"The first race I had a very bad start but I finished first so I'm very happy,” beamed Picon. "I had a good downwind and good tactics. In the second I didn't have a good start but I had a good battle at the top and finished second behind Marina [Alabau].
"We've had a good time here and came here last year and we were here in the winter and it's very pleasant for competing. It's nice to have Sugarloaf and everything around us.”
Brazil's Patricia Freitas recorded two fourth places and is third overall on eight points.
Izzy Hamilton picked up two ninth places to kick start her regatta, and sits in eighth overnight, one place ahead of Bryony Shaw.
“We had a really long day on the water," she said. "We did two good light wind races. It was really gusty and really shifty – we had our windward mark just underneath Sugarloaf, so there was hardly any wind.
“Saying that I had a good day’s racing. In this sort of venue I think it pays to have lots of average results rather than winning one race and coming last in the next. I think my routines were good today and I had some OK results. It’s day one of the regatta and I haven’t done anything to jeopardise the rest of the week, so that’s a good start!
“I really like Rio – it’s a really cool place to sail. You can’t fall asleep for ten seconds on the race track. It’s a really, really entertaining place to race and such a challenge every day, but it’s the same for everyone. I’m really enjoying it.”
Brazil's Jorge Zarif used his knowledge of Guanabara Bay to his advantage on the opening day of Finn racing as he took a bullet and a second.
The 21-year-old first took to the bay when he was seven years and having trained regularly inside and outside of the bay he came to the forefront on the opening day.
"It was a good day,” said Zarif, 2013 Finn World Champion. "I've sailed here since I was seven in the Optimist but seriously I've been training here a lot for the last four or five years. Especially in the Naval School Course because it's the one we will use more but we always sail by the bridge and outside.”
17 Finns will mix up racing on the Ponte course which is inside the bay and Niteroi, outside of the bay. Rio 2016 will see 23 take to water and Zarif is relishing racing in conditions that will be present in 2016, "I like the fleet size because the Olympics will be like this. It's close to what we will have and normally I don't have good starts in big fleets so for me it's better to have fewer boats.”
Ed Wright (GBR) sits second overall on six points with Race 2 winner Giles Scott (GBR) third overall.
“It was a good start and it’s nice to get the regatta underway,” said Scott. “We got out to the Bridge course and there was a pretty solid 10-11 knots. The first race got away and it was a pretty even race track. I rounded in the pack and I was racing around in it all race, which is never the easiest. It was a real pump-off downwind and I ended up finishing seventh. Let’s just say it was trying!
“There was then a bit of a nervous start in the second race with the individual recall flag staying up. I was in the middle of the line and I think I was safe. I played the middle right upwind and rounded in second just behind the Brazilian and managed to get him on the first reach. That was kind of it after that. I maintained the gap from there.”
Ed Wright was also happy with his opening day: “It’s always very tricky out there, but we had two good races and the race management was pretty good. We got the races done and we were back in quite quickly. It’s good to see that at the Rio Test Event. Just learning the whole venue is a priority of being here, and I’m definitely learning so I’m pretty happy about that. Speed is key, but it’s very shifty as well.”
Competition will continue tomorrow (Monday 4 August), with the addition of the 470 (Men and Women), Laser, Laser Radial, 49er, 49erFX and Nacra 17 to the racing programme which starts at 1300 (local).
Medal racing will take place on Thursday 7 August (RS:X Men, RS:X Women), Friday 8 August (Finn, 49er, 49erFX and Nacra 17) and Saturday 9 August (470 Men, 470 Women, Laser, Laser Radial).