Tokyo 2020: Tense and unforgiving
Published on July 30th, 2021
Enoshima, Japan (July 30, 2021) – Matt Wearn has wrapped up the gold medal in the Men’s One Person Dinghy – Laser at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Sailing Competition, making him the third consecutive Australian to have achieved the feat. Denmark’s’ Anne-Marie Rindom could have done the same in the Women’s One Person Dinghy – Laser Radial, but for a big misunderstanding. It was very light and fluky conditions, not for the faint hearted. Some adapted to the new breeze and others have suffered as the breeze got harder to read.
Men’s One Person Dinghy – Laser
Even light and fluky winds couldn’t hold up the relentless march of Matt Wearn who secured the gold medal for Australia this afternoon. With a 22-point advantage, the Medal Race will be a formality for the jubilant Australian, who was met by his girlfriend still in contention for a Laser Radial medal, Emma Plasschaert from Belgium.
“It’s an amazing feeling, and thanks to a great training group that we’ve had back in Australia for a while now,” said Wearn. “It probably won’t be until I’ve had a bit of solitude in my room that it will all hit me, all the emotions. After the start of the week there was a little bit of doubt I’d be able to get back to here. I put myself in a pretty big deficit. These guys out here are amazing sailors and they’re not going to relinquish a lead if they’ve got one. So I knew I had to fight. And yeah, that’s what we did.”
After leading for much of the week, Pavlos Kontides’ ability to climb back from bad situations eluded him in the final race this afternoon. Instead, one poor downwind run – which plummeted the Cypriot from seventh to 23rd – dropped him out of the medals but not out of contention.
The points are very close between Hermann Tomasgaard of Norway in second, Tonci Stipanovic (CRO) in third, and Kontides now in fourth. Germany’s Philipp Buhl and Brazilian legend Robert Scheidt still have an outside shot at the podium.
American sailor and two-time Olympian Charlie Buckingham (Newport Beach, Calif.) entered the day in 8th overall and poised to fight for a medal race berth during races 9 and 10. The previous day, Buckingham had orchestrated one of the best days of his sailing career, earning a 3, 2 to vault himself back up into the top 10.
However, a treacherously light air day on the “Enoshima” course led to two races where many top Laser athletes found themselves deep in the pack. Unfortunately, Buckingham’s 16, 23 scoreline today left him in 13th overall, just shy of the medal race field, and ended his regatta. Buckingham finished 11th in Rio 2016, but his progress in the famously deep Laser class during the Tokyo 2020 campaign was tangible.
The two-time ICSA College Sailor of the Year won bronze at the 2019 Pan Am Games, and placed highly at several top-level events in 2020 including winning the Italian Olympic Class Championship, taking 6th at the 2020 Laser European Championship, and 4th at Kieler Woche. Nevertheless, Buckingham’s 10-race series in Enoshima, half of which were impressive single-digit finishes, highlights the unforgiving nature of Olympic competition.
Women’s One Person Dinghy – Laser Radial
If Anne-Marie Rindom (DEN) doesn’t win gold after the Medal Race, the mistakes of today will haunt her for the rest of her life.
Much lighter wind conditions make for a lot more jeopardy in the Laser Radial. Not only is the wind hard to read when it’s in short supply, but the risk of being penalized for propelling the boat forward illegally through excessive body movement, fanning the sails or wagging the tiller to promote forward motion increases. The result can be a yellow flag from the on-water-jury. A first offence is a 720-degree penalty turn during the race and a second offence requires the sailor to retire from the race.
Rindom explained the nightmare scenario for her in the final race of the Laser Radial Opening Series, “I got a yellow flag in the first one for pumping up the downwind and then in the second start, I got the second yellow flag, which means that you have to retire from the race. And so I did.
“But then there was a general recall so there was a new start. I didn’t have enough time to talk to my coach if I could start or not. I simply didn’t know the rule that I could start in that race. I decided to start but then I decided to retire because I wasn’t sure and I didn’t want to get a DNE [non-discardable disqualification].
“Obviously that was wrong and I can only blame myself. I guess I should have known the rule. But I’ve never been in this situation in my whole career.”
For all that, Rindom still holds a seven-point advantage over arch-rival Marit Bouwmeester going into the Medal Race. But today could have been the day that the Dane had put a padlock on the gold medal, just as Kiran Badloe (NED) did 24 hours before on his RS:X Windsurfer.
“I’m just devastated right now, it’s hard to be in my own body with so many emotions. But yeah, I just have to rise again and be ready for Sunday because nothing is over yet.”
Yesterday Bouwmeester’s hopes of the gold medal looked dead and buried, but Rindom’s pain is the defending Olympic Champion’s opportunity. It’s a huge momentum swing in favor of the Netherlands.
This is not as simple as a two-horse race, however. Josefin Olsson holds bronze medal position and the Swede, along with Canada, Belgium, Italy and Finland all have a shot at the podium.
Paige Railey (USA) completed her final races of Tokyo 2020 and finished in 37th overall. Describing this regatta as one of the toughest moments of her career, the three-time Olympian, five-time world championship medalist and World Sailor of the Year said it would take time to fully process and evaluate why reaching the Olympic podium was out of reach this week.
“It’s heartbreaking. I mean, I won’t lie, I’m devastated, but this is how it goes sometimes,” said Railey. “Honestly, I feel like it was just one of those weeks where nothing I did seemed to work out. I need to go decompress after this, and I feel like I’ll have a lot of emotions coming up soon.
“My whole family’s been really supportive. They know how hard this road’s been for me with my health, and then to come here and not have things work out is pretty rough. I’m not going to beat myself up over it, and I’m going to go forward loving the sport.”
Sarah Douglas will become the first Canadian sailor to take part in the Laser Radial Medal Race and to finish this competition in the top 10 in this class following her qualification for the Medal Race. Douglas finished the preliminary races in strong fashion with fourth and second place results in the last two contests, which allowed her to move up of four spots, from 8th to 4th position.
Entering the Medal Race with 82 points, Sarah Douglas is now three points behind third place, held by Josefin Olsson (79 points) from Sweden. “I can’t believe it, I’m at a loss of words,” said Sarah Douglas. “Today was really a turning point for me. I went out on the water with no expectations, sticking to the process, and I couldn’t be happier with how it went. I put out some good scores and I’m really happy about that. I’m surprised that I was actually able to move up so much in the standings.
“And now, I have a chance to win a medal. No matter what happens, I’m super proud of how I’ve sailed and what I’ve accomplished so far. But I’m just going for it, I’m all in at this point.”
Men’s Skiff – 49er
It’s neck and neck at the top of the Men’s Skiff – 49er with Great Britain still holding the golden spot but now with New Zealand level on the same points. Just one point behind the leaders is Spain, with Denmark four points further back in fourth overall.
Pete Burling and Blair Tuke (NZL) had the most consistent day in a minefield of a race course, the only team to keep all their scores inside the top six.
“We always knew it was going to be a challenging day for us in those kind of conditions,” said Tuke. “To come back with three low ones is pretty pleasing. It was a heck of a fight.”
Women’s Skiff – 49erFX
Charlotte Dobson and Saskia Tidey (GBR) took a tumble down the leaderboard from first to fourth place, although their points advantage from the windier days still has them well in touch with the front three.
Taking charge for the first time this week are double World Champions Annemiek Bekkering and Annette Duetz (NED), who hold top spot by just a point from the reigning World Champions from Spain, Tamara Echegoyen and Paula Barcelo.
The reigning Olympic Champions Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze (BRA) moved into the top three for the first time this week.
Bekkering was pleased with their boat speed and tactics, commenting, “We got good starts, the boat was going fast and we managed to find some good lanes in the tricky breeze. It’s a different style of sailing from what we have done the last days in the big wind, and I think we adapted well.”
American team Team Stephanie Roble and Maggie Shea scored 5, 9, 13 in today’s races and moved up to 6th overall. Now 15 points out of 3rd, they have one more day of full-fleet racing before the medal race field will be set.
“I think we started well and had pretty good boat speed,” said Shea. “It was very hard to predict what was going to happen on the racecourse, so we found ourselves in the middle of the course more often than we would have liked. There was a bit of randomness downwind, and sometimes we got lucky, sometimes we got unlucky. But overall, we’re happy to make it out alive on a crazy day and still be in the hunt tomorrow.”
Men’s Two Person Dinghy – 470
Even in today’s patchy, unreadable breeze Mat Belcher and Will Ryan (AUS) succeeded in stretching further ahead of their rivals in the Men’s Two Person Dinghy – 470 fleet. Scores of 4,3 extend the Australian advantage to 11 points ahead of Luke Patience and Chris Grube (GBR) who continue to hold second place. A good outing for Paul Snow-Hansen and Dan Willcox moves the New Zealanders into the bronze medal position.
Belcher looks so relaxed; as well he could be the way the double Olympic medalist is sailing. “We feel like we’ve got a really good rhythm and we’re out there having fun, just trying to keep that momentum going as long as we can.”
The American team of Stu McNay (Providence, R.I.) and Dave Hughes (Miami, Fla.) finished 8, 8 in two races, which at the midpoint of their event places them in 11th overall. The veteran pair, who have competed at six Olympics between them, are 16 points from 3rd position in a notably deep field.
“Well, I’m proud of us for fighting hard whenever things haven’t gone well,” said McNay. “We had a couple of critical moments today where we passed a bunch of boats. That being said, we are failing to convert our good positions [mid race] to good finishes at this stage of the event, and we need to turn that around going forward. We’ve had some inconsistencies in boat speed, and that’s where we’ll put our focus, at least at this stage.”
Women’s Two Person Dinghy – 470
The lighter breeze brought out the best from local heroes Ai Kondo and Miho Yoshioka (JPN) who scored two second places in the 470 Women. It moves the Japanese up to fourth overall and makes them the likeliest bet for an Olympic medal for the host nation.
It’s still an 11-point gap to third place, held by France’s Camille Lecointre and Aloise Retornaz (FRA), who are three points behind Hannah Mills and Eilidh McIntyre (GBR) in second overall.
Given the choice of the physical stress of pushing her body to the max in the stronger conditions of the previous days, or the mental torture of a lighter day like today, McIntyre says there’s no contest, “Today you feel like you have so little control, it could go either way on some of those beats. It’s much easier when you can apply some physicality to the boat and really help make the boat go faster in stronger winds. It’s a big change of mentality from one condition to another.”
Currently able to discard their 13th place from the earlier race of the day, a race win for Agnieszka Skrzypulec and Jolanta Ogar (POL) keeps the Polish in the lead with a four-point buffer to the British.
Nikole Barnes (St. Thomas, U.S.V.I.) and Lara Dallman-Weiss (Shoreview, Minn.) had the best day of any American team in action today, recording scores of 6, 5 and moving up to 9th overall. “Today felt like we got into our groove and it felt very familiar,” said Dallman-Weiss.
“It was really choppy, on the lighter side, and I was marginally trapeze-ing. We spent a lot of time working on similar condition over the past five years. It feels like it paid off.” Barnes also credited their U.S. training partners for helping them excel today. We’ve really struggled in light air and we learned a lot during the campaign from our US Sailing Team 470 teammates, [2-time Youth World Champions] Carmen and Emma Cowles. It was awesome that we were able to put that into practice.”
The top ten in the Men’s and Women’s Windsurfer – RS:X will enjoy a day of rest today ahead of their Medal Races on Saturday, July 31.
Tomorrow’s action will see the Men’s and Women’s One Person Dinghies conclude their Opening Series. The 49erFX return to action with the 49er fleet continuing and the Men’s and Women’s Two Person Dinghy will pick up where they left off.
Race schedule is staggered for the ten sailing events from July 25 to August 4.
Tokyo 2020 Olympic Sailing Program
Men’s One Person Dinghy – ILCA 7
Women’s One Person Dinghy – ILCA 6
Men’s Two Person Dinghy – 470
Women’s Two Person Dinghy – 470
Men’s Skiff – 49er
Women’s Skiff – 49erFx
Men’s One Person Dinghy Heavy – Finn
Men’s Windsurfing – RS:X
Women’s Windsurfing – RS:X
Mixed Multihull – Nacra 17
Original dates: July 24 to August 9, 2020
Revised dates: July 23 to August 8, 2021
Source: World Sailing, US Sailing