Looking back on the Rio Olympics
Published on August 9th, 2020
Four years ago, Scuttlebutt editor Craig Leweck was in Brazil to report on the Rio 2016 Olympics. With the Tokyo 2020 Games postponed until 2021, we keep that Olympic Flame alive through Leweck’s observations from the Carioca nation… here was his fifth report:
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (August 10, 2016) – So many elements must come together to qualify for the Olympics but at the top of the list is good equipment. Of course skill is critical too, but skill is based on human ability, of which most of us are flawed. Of all the elements, equipment is that element that we can best control.
Walking the Olympic venue, the focus is on making boats ready for battle. I admit to being a tinkerer, wanting every part of the boat to make absolute perfect sense. It is a confidence builder, knowing the rigging is as efficient as possible, the blades and hull are shaped and fair, and the sail is magical.
“Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” – Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows
However, many of these elite Olympians, these people that have made life-altering sacrifices to be in Rio, that have withstood the best their country could throw at them, are going to battle with equipment they have never seen before. That is the situation in four of the ten events at the Olympic Games.
Competitors in the Men’s and Women’s Windsurfing (RS:X) and Men’s and Women’s One Person Dinghy (Laser/Laser Radial) are assigned new equipment for the Olympics. So yes, it is the same for everyone, assuming the equipment is all the same.
In advance of the Games, measurers visited the manufacturers to ensure all the equipment fit within tight tolerances, a point to which I have heard no one dispute. However, there is still the element that an athlete’s whole life work was relying on gear they had not yet created a personal connection.
To win, we do need to become one with our boat. We need to know its every nuance, anticipate its every shortcoming, and maximize its every advantage. That is the reality for the six other events, but for the windsurfer and dinghy events, this is a quickie relationship to which they must quickly adapt.
“At the annual Laser World Championship, we also have provided equipment,” explained 2-time Laser World Champion Nick Thompson (GBR). “Additionally, there are other times during the year that, logistically, I will charter equipment. There aren’t massive differences amongst kits, but there are a few things here and there.
“Personally, I try to always be using a variety of kits so that I am comfortable with anything. I can see the gain of having only one best kit at all times, but you don’t know what you are going to get when you turn up at the Worlds or the Olympics, so I think it is good to have that ability to use and make work anything that you are given. I find that to be part of the skill in what we do.”
For the RS:X fleet, with their equipment much more portable, it is only at the Olympics when they are dealt with provided equipment. To assist the sailors, they are permitted in Rio to bring along their own fin, mast, and boom, thus only required to use the board and sail.
“I did have some problems with my personal fin fitting on to the provided board, so I was forced to use the provided fin,” explained 2016 World Champion Piotr Myszka (POL), who is using his own mast and boom. “So it was difficult in the beginning but after enough training I feel like I have the speed of the top guys so I am quite happy with that. It is nice to have your own equipment, but as long as we have sufficient time to tune the gear, this system can work.”
2012 Olympic silver medalist Nick Dempsey (GBR), who is using only the provided board and sail, has seen no problems either. “The sails appear to have used some slightly different material in areas of the sail. It is very, very minor, but we can tell the difference in the sail. It doesn’t feel any worse, just slightly different. When they assigned the gear, it gave us about ten days to sail with it, so we’ve had plenty of time to get used to it, so it is all great.”
The other bonus to the provided equipment is the measurement process. While some of the other boats required an hour of scrutiny, the Laser, Radial, and RS:X fleets took only 15 minutes. Now that sounds great to me!
Racing was staggered among the 10 events from August 8 to 19.