Two years to Rio 2016
The two years to go until the Rio 2016 Olympic Games milestone was celebrated at the Aquece Rio – International Sailing Regatta 2014 as the 324 sailors from 34 nations experienced a mixed bag of conditions in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
As Rio prepares to host the world's best athletes the spotlight is firmly on sailing amongst the national press with widespread coverage on television, on radio, in newspapers and online.
The third day of racing at the Olympic Test Event, Aquece Rio, saw a range of conditions with wind and waves on the outside courses and tricky breeze inside Guanabara Bay.
“It is exciting that it’s two years out from the Games and we’re here in Rio racing,” enthused the British Sailing Team’s 470 Olympic and European silver medallist Hannah Mills. “That’s pretty cool – but we haven’t even started our selection trials yet. There’s a long way to go so we can’t get too swept up in that.”
“We’ve got a lot to improve and we’ve still got a trials to try and win,” continued Mills of her partnership with Saskia Clark, which has seen an injury-hit 2014 season so far. “It’s going to be tricky but we’re looking forward to it. We feel we’re back on track now having had quite a bit of time out, and we’re getting better all the time.”
A 15 knot southwesterly breeze worked its way across the five race areas with outside courses Copacabana and Niteroi experiencing a stable breeze and wild waves. Inside Guanabara Bay was a different story with an up and down breeze that tested the sailors across Pão de Açucar, Ponte and Escola Naval.
Anne Haeger and Briana Provancha (USA) revelled in the big waves on the Copacabana race course taking a second and double bullets.
"It was a lot of fun,” said Haeger. "We were outside and got to play in the big waves. Got a little seasick at the end but you've got to work through it I guess but it was a really fun day.”
The waves challenged the sailors but when it comes to the finest female sailors in the world, they've done their homework, "We are really fortunate to have access to the Gulf Stream in Miami and we've gone out there and struggled out there in the waves a little bit. I've dumped my crew Briana out in the waves a couple of times,” joked Haeger. "I wouldn't say we're used to it because you never are but we've definitely had some good training.”
The Women's 470 fleet will mix up racing on the Copacabana, Escola Naval and Niteroi courses throughout the week and Haeger can take good knowledge away from the opening bout on Copacabana, "First of all the name is awesome,” smiled Haeger, "But a big takeaway is mastering the waves from behind on both tacks, that was crucial and knowing when to pump and knowing when to hold high. Mode transitions were really crucial today.”
Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark (GBR) took the first race victory of the day and sit second overall following a 3-7. ISAF Rolex World Sailors of the Year Jo Aleh and Polly Powrie (NZL) are third overall, tied with the Brits on four points.
Mills described today's conditions as an ‘epic’ swell for the three races on their Copacabana race course. Clark added: “We were expecting some ocean swell, but wow! There was underlying swell running the whole time but because of the overnight breeze there was a lot of chop and confusion on top of it. Figuring out how to keep some boat speed both up and down wind on top of that was probably the key to the day.
“We had good speed generally,” Mills said. “We struggled a bit to get off the startlines, which made the second two races a bit trickier fighting it out in the pack. For our first day it was great, no disasters and we were knocking them in there so it was cool."
Like the American Women's 470 sailors, Mat Belcher and Will Ryan (AUS) also recorded double bullets and a second.
Sharing the Copacabana race course with the Women's fleet, the Men's 470 began racing first of all in the large waves and it was the World #1 Australians who enjoyed it the most.
"It was great for us with quite big waves and probably some of the biggest waves we've raced in,” exclaimed Belcher. "It was fantastic out there. The water's really clean and there were big waves and for our class you have to be very dynamic to move the boat forward and it was just enjoyable conditions out there.”
Strength in depth is present throughout the 23-boat fleet with those racing in Rio firmly set on Olympic glory in two years' time and Belcher was quick to recognise this fact, "Collectively we do a lot of the events together and we race each other a lot and it's no surprise to see all the main guys here. We are missing the Argentineans but it's a great opportunity to focus on the conditions and get a better understanding of what we can expect in a couple of years.”
Croatia's Sime Fantela and Igor Marenic are second while Race 2 victors Luke Patience and Elliot Willis (GBR) sit in third.
Willis agreed with the assessment of the racing conditions. It was awesome sailing – a bit different to what we’d envisaged in terms of generic Rio conditions. We had mountainous seas and anything from about 10 to 18 knots today. It was pretty full on.”
Willis and Luke Patience put in a solid first two races before a jib halyard breakage meant a premature end to the third race and a trip back to shore to effect a fix. “It’s annoying because I replaced that on Saturday, so it was brand new,” said Patience. “It’s frustrating as it was completely unforeseen gear failure. I don’t know why it snapped so we’ll find out.”
Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen got acclimatised to the Rio 2016 Olympic venue fairly swiftly and took three victories from four 49er races.
The 49er fleet sailed three races in the morning on the Pão de Açucar course before returning ashore to allow the 49erFX fleet to compete. They took to the Escola Naval course in the afternoon to complete their programme.
Outteridge and Jensen are seven points clear of Austria'a Niko Delle Karth and Nikolaus Resch and were pleased with how things went, "We're pretty happy with our day and it's always nice to win the first race of regatta so we'll see how it unfolds from here.
"There's a huge amount of strength here. The Kiwis were number one and two and Dylan [Fletcher] and Alain [Sign GBR] were fourth and we were fifth at the last Worlds so basically you've got the top nations here. There are a few countries missing like Denmark and one German instead of two. It's a good fleet with 19 boats so it's just like an Olympic sized fleet.”
Delle Karth and Resch took the day's other bullet to sit second whilst Julien D'Ortoli and Noé Delpech (FRA) sit third.
Britain's Dylan Fletcher-Alain Sign and John Pink-Stuart Bithell poised fifth and sixth respectively after the opening day of the Men’s 49er event.
Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze (BRA) used their local knowledge to their advantage in the 49erFX posting a 2-2-1-1 scoreline.
The Brazilians are based in Rio and read the conditions to perfection on the Pão de Açucar race area. After racing Kunze said, "Today was pretty good. A cold front came this morning so the conditions were pretty shifty but we managed all the races pretty well and we're really happy about that. Hopefully tomorrow we'll have more wind.
"We train here in Guanabara Bay but this was not a typical condition because of the cold front. We're not too used to it.”
With 15-boats in the fleet the Brazilians are enjoying the company. Kunze concluded, "For us it's really nice because otherwise we'd be here sailing and training alone. It's a training regatta and it's really nice to have all the girls here.”
2013 49erFX World Champions Alex Maloney and Molly Meech (NZL) came out strong with double bullets from the first two races but faded as the day went on, picking up a 7-4. However for the Kiwis it's not all about the performance, "Coming to Rio for the first time we've been trying to learn as much as we can from the venue,” explained Meech. "So far it's been pretty tricky as most days have been quite different.
"It was quite puffy and really up and down and we had to sail on a lifted tack and try to piece together a nice beat. For the first couple we managed to do that but on the other two we got a bit lost.”
Olivia Price and Eliza Solly (AUS) and Lisa Ericson and Hanna Klinga (SWE) are tied on 11 points in third and fourth place.
Britain's Charlotte Dobson-Sophie Ainsworth opened their account with a solid 5,8,2,5 to see them in fifth after their first day of racing, while Frances Peters-Nicola Groves posted four top ten results to see them in ninth after their first day, raced on the Sugarloaf course.
After five Women's RS:X races Charline Picon (FRA) has opened up a 13 point lead in the 22 boat fleet. From three races on the third day the French racer added another bullet, a discarded fifth and a third to leave her in an excellent position.
Behind the runaway French racer just six points separates second to sixth place with tight racing evident on Escola Naval where the fleet raced.
Britains' Bryony Shaw improved to sixth place with the help of a race win in her second of three races.
Dorian Van Rijsselberge (NED) and Byron Kokkalanis (GRE) are locked on nine points in the 28-boat Men's RS:X fleet. Neither racer took a bullet on the third day but they demonstrated that consistent racing pays off.
Nick Dempsey’s day improved as it went on – having broken a mast before the first race of the day, he ended it with a third place in the third and final race to see him in 10th overall.
Six qualification races remain ahead of the Men's and Women's RS:X Medal Races so there is plenty left to play for.
Giles Scott (GBR) moved into pole position in the Finn fleet following a fifth, a race win and a second. The British sailor has a four point advantage over overnight leader Jorge Zarif (BRA) who discards a 14th and counts two fifth places from three races on Ponte.
New Zealand's Josh Junior had a strong day on the water and took the third race victory and as a result climbs up to third overall. Ed Wright lies in fifth.
Darren Bundock and Nina Curtis (AUS) hold the lead in the 18-boat Nacra 17 fleet after double bullets and a seventh. Racing on the Ponte race area, the Australians were in total control and lead Billy Besson and Marie Riou (FRA) who took the third bullet of the day.
Franck Cammas and Sophie de Turckheim (FRA) are third but Gemma Jones and Jason Saunders (NZL) and Ben Saxton and Hannah Diamond (GBR) sit a point behind the French crew.
Britain's Ben Saxton and Hannah Diamond sailed a consistent first day in the Nacra 17 class, picking up 6,4,4 to see them in fifth place overnight.
Tom Burton (AUS) was on top form on the Niteroi course. Racing in big waves and a consistent breeze the Australian posted a 2-2-1 scoreline. He leads on three points with Nick Thompson (GBR), who took the second race victory, behind the Aussie on seven points. Rutger van Schaardenburg (NED) was victorious in the opening race of the day and is fourth overall, a point behind third place sailor Jesper Stalheim (SWE). Thompson enjoyed a good start to his event with 6,1,15 seeing him in second place overall after the first day of the Laser competition.
Racing is scheduled to commence at 12:00 local time on 6 August. The 49er, 49erFX and Nacra 17 have four races scheduled while the remaining fleets will sail three. The medal race deciders 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).
Photos from Richard Langdon / www.oceanimages.co.uk