Toughing it outIt was only possible to feel admiration for the way Hugh Styles faced up to one of the biggest disappointments of his life on day six of the Olympic regatta in Sydney. Having gone into it in the bronze medal position in Tornadoes, he and Adam May had a nightmare on the Tasman and finished the day in eighth place and with their medal chances gone.
British Olympic sailors have sometimes hidden from the media on these occasions, but Styles was brave enough to come and discuss three races he would much rather had never happened. Still in his wetsuit in the boatpark, just minutes after getting ashore, he said his mind had nearly exploded on a couple of occasions as things started badly and never got better.
It all went wrong when he and May got pushed over the line early in the first race, and then avoided the same fate in the second only by going back and starting late. They were 11th in that heat, but were later disqualified for fouling the Swedish boat when approaching the windward mark. In the third race of the day they were tenth - the momentum had well and truly gone out of their game.
"Summing up the day, we were unfortunately in positions where we had no options," said Styles. "It's frustrating - we've put a huge amount of effort in, but bringing it all back to reality, we've only been sailing the boat together for a year, and we've just learnt so much in that year. I believe there's a lot more potential for myself and Adam sailing together in the future." Styles added that he has no doubt he will return to the Games in four years time, though whether that will be in catamarans is not yet clear.
As the frustration built up on the British multi-hull, Styles said he, "fell out of synch with the oscillations of the breeze" on another shifty day beyond Sydney Harbour Heads. The same could not be said of Roman Hagara and Hans Peter Steinacher of Austria, who added two more wins and a second to their score to wrap up the gold with two races to spare - making it the first medal to be decided in sailing.
The Austrians - thought to be the lightest crew by some way in the 16-strong fleet - were very quick in the light conditions and their sails and set-up helped to give them a clear speed edge. Hagara and Steinacher won five races in nine starts and were second twice. Their worst counting score was a third - a truly impressive performance. Their victory leaves the Australians, Darren Bundock and John Forbes - who many tipped for gold - looking strong for silver with an 11 point lead over the French crew of Pierre Pennec and Yann Guichard in third place.
In 49ers Britain's Ian Barker and Simon Hiscocks had a good enough day on an inshore course featuring light winds and flat water to remain in the bronze medal position, with just four of the 16 races to come. Barker started with a ninth place in the first race but pulled himself back into contention with a fifth and two fourths.
"The ninth was disappointing - I felt we could have made some better decisions - but after that a couple of fourths and a fifth was solid but not flash. It keeps us in the hunt - that's the important thing," he said. It was another tricky day for the crews when choosing the right way up the first beat was all-important.
In race two Barker started up the left into Bradley's Head but then banged the right-hand corner hard, and lost two places to slip from fourth to sixth. It was a brave call from a strong position but it did not quite pay, as Barker explained. "The reason I did that was because in the first race people were tacking out of Bradley's (on the hard left) and then going straight out to the other side. As they did so they got less (adverse) tide and they were lifting up underneath boats that had stood on at Bradley's and were overtaking them.
"So on that occasion I decided I was going to be the first one over there on the right but it didn't work," he said, laughing at his own misfortune. "We found ourselves stuck out there and then we didn't have the pressure to get back. But in general the further you go to the laylines or over them here, the more you gain. If you tack under them, you lose virtually every time," Barker added.
With the Britons fending off the Spanish, Germans and Australians for bronze, the gold looks to be between Jonathan and Charlie McKee of America, who lead on countback from Thomas Johanson and Jyrki Jarvi of Finland. Barker is not surprised to see the Americans, who have both won Olympic medals in other classes, at the top of the leaderboard, noting their long experience in the game. "They are a wily pair of foxes," he quipped. The Finns are more of a surprise, though Johanson won the Laser worlds in 1993 and he has enjoyed the light conditions here.
In Men's 470s, Britain's pairing, Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield, dropped from third overall after four races to fourth after six. They were running second at one stage in the first race but lost out downwind. In the second heat they had a very poor start with no speed off the line and did well to recover to 18th from being down in the high 20s. They are now eight points behind the Australians in third place, but still in the hunt with five races to come.