Tokyo 2020: Joy and heartbreaking
Published on July 31st, 2021
Enoshima, Japan (July 31, 2021) – We thought the three-way battle for the Women’s Windsurfing – RS:X medal was exciting but then there was perhaps one of the craziest, most unpredictable Medal Races of all time in the Men’s division. As gold was all but assured for Kiran Badloe in the Men’s RS:X, silver and bronze was decided by some close calls.
Further out to sea, the Opening Series for the Men’s and Women’s Skiff has resulted in no runaway leaders. Instead, we will see two nail-biting Medal Races to determine the outcome of the 49er and 49erFX. With two qualifying races remaining, Great Britain holds a small lead in the Finn, and Italy continues to rule the Nacra 17.
The seventh day of sailing at Tokyo 2020 served as a demonstration of the raw emotional power of this event, and how the latter stages of the Olympic regatta can impact both the athletes who compete and those who support them.
At one end of the spectrum, the inherent joy of competition at the highest level was manifested in RS:X board sailor Pedro Pascual (USA), who after years of sustained effort competed in his first Olympic medal race. And on the other end, the U.S. 49erFX team saw a well-sailed regatta come to an unexpected, unusual and heartbreaking conclusion.
Women’s Windsurfing – RS:X
Yunxiu Lu (CHN) has won gold in the Women’s RS:X after a tense three-way battle in the Medal Race. With the Medal Race counting for double points, the gap between these three athletes was negligible. Lu went into the Medal Race wearing the gold bib, holding a four-point edge over Wilson, who was just two points in front of Picon.
Off the start line, it was very even between the three contenders but China was showing a small speed advantage in the light-wind, heavy-pumping conditions. Around the first mark however it was advantage France, just five seconds ahead of China with Great Britain some way behind.
At the bottom turning gate, with France and China opting for the right-hand side of the course, Britain in seventh broke left. By the top mark, Wilson had climbed up to second, and around final windward mark it was the top three contenders holding the top three places in the Medal Race. The balance of power swung back and forth on the final run to the finish, although gradually Picon worked out a lead to win the Medal Race.
Great Britain crossed in second, China third. That was enough to give the gold medal to Lu, silver to Picon and bronze to Wilson.
Lu had a good track record competing on the Olympic waters in 2019 but hadn’t been seen in international competition since then, due to the pandemic and travel restrictions. It turns out that her training based in China worked very well. “I have a very strong team that I’m thankful for and they helped me a lot. We have many local and national competitions which helped me train and get prepared for the Olympics. I want to thank my team for helping me to win this medal.”
All three athletes were delighted with their medals. There were no regrets from Picon or Wilson about missing the gold. “It’s just so hard to win an Olympic medal of any color,” smiled Wilson. “I’m very happy with this one.”
Men’s Windsurfer – RS:X
Kiran Badloe (NED) won gold in the Men’s RS:X having all but sealed the Olympic title before the Medal Race.
Starting in silver medal position, Mattia Camboni (ITA) made a great start and launched into an early lead. But the Italian was unaware that he had broken the start too early and was disqualified, forced to leave the course. Next to be disqualified for the same reason was Piotr Myszka (POL) who was lying in bronze medal position as he was pulled off the course.
This cleared the way for Thomas Goyard (FRA) to cruise around the two lap course, the silver medal more or less secured for France. However, towards the end of the first lap, Goyard was also pulled out of the race for having broken the start line early. Now the distraught Frenchman had to sit out and watch from the sidelines, hoping that his points advantage going into the Medal Race would be sufficient to stay in the medals.
Meanwhile at the front of the fleet, Yoav Cohen (ISR) was sailing a clean race, probably unaware that he was in the bronze medal position. A very precarious bronze, however, with Kun Bi (CHN) within striking distance due to starting on fewer points than Cohen before the Medal Race. Israel won the Medal Race, Badloe in second, Switzerland third.
Some distance back but now up to fourth was China, enough for Bi to steal bronze from Cohen by a point. “My worst start and the best ever,” exclaimed Bi afterwards, kicking himself at the time for a slow start off the line but grateful not to have been caught out by the recall flag like his medal rivals.
As for Goyard, despite his disqualification the Frenchman held on to silver by a single point from China.
Badloe’s gold medal makes it three Olympic RS:X Men’s titles in a row for the Netherlands. Badloe follows in the footsteps of his good friend and training partner Dorian van Rijsselberghe who took gold in London 2012 and Rio 2016.
“I just want to thank the people of Japan who made it possible for us to race at Tokyo 2020,” said Badloe. “This is a massive honor and I’m grateful we had the opportunity to compete at the Games.”
Pedro Pascual (USA) finished 6th in his first career Olympic medal race, and ended Tokyo 2020 in 9th overall. His top-10 finish is the best result by an American board sailor at the Olympic Games since medal-winning performances in 1988 and 1992 by Mike Gebhardt (Columbus, Ohio).
“I’m really happy about my performance,” said Pascual, a two-time Olympian who finished 28th at Rio 2016. “In Rio, I was just 20 years old. I was the youngest of the whole RS:X fleet. In that situation, you feel small compared to the legends that you’re sailing against. So now I know I’m at the same level as they are.”
Pascual showed speed across a variety of conditions, and his ability to stay competitive as the weather changed earned him a medal race berth. “I was able to manage the pressure this week and everything that comes along with the Olympic Games. It’s just a different event than anything else.
“I was able to find my find my speed and build my confidence. Of course, it can always be better. Right now I’m seeing my mistakes now and I could have definitely been higher up there. But overall, I’m happy with my performance, happy with the way I sailed and it was a great experience.”
Men’s Skiff – 49er
No one had it easy in the 49er today, but Pete Burling and Blair Tuke (NZL) did enough to move four points clear at the top of the scoreboard. Unlike Rio 2016 where the Kiwis locked up the gold before the Medal Race, they’ll be facing a scrap with the likes of Dylan Fletcher and Stu Bithell (GBR) in second place, equal on points with Diego Botin and Iago Marra (ESP). Also, on equal points but 10 points back from bronze are the German and Danish teams who will be looking to spoil the podium party.
“I think we had a really tough day,” smiled Fletcher. “But I think everyone thought it was. And, you know, sometimes you expect a bit more of a tail-off at the end of the week of the Olympics but everyone was just on it and fighting for every point out there. So it was a bit of a relief to get through the day and be only a few points behind the reigning Olympic champions.”
Canadians Evan DePaul and William Jones finished in last place of the overall standings, following 18th and 19th place finishes in races 11 and 12. Their time in Tokyo comes to an end having failed to qualify for the medal race.
Women’s Skiff – 49erFX
Tina Lutz and Susann Beucke (GER) sailed around all the potholes and landmines on the 49erFX course to come through with scores of 7,3,3. This lifts the Germans to third overall, three points off the lead shared by two high-class teams.
Holding top spot are the double World Champions Annemiek Bekkering and Annette Duetz (NED) who sit on equal points with reigning Olympic Champions Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze (BRA).
The reigning World Champions from Spain, Tamara Echegoyen and Paula Barcelo, had a difficult day in the lighter breeze and have dropped to fourth overall, but still only seven points off the lead.
Like the 49er, this is going to be a tense Medal Race, as Beucke acknowledged today. “I think we went a bit too conservative into the regatta and kind of realized we have got to be very aggressive until the end. That’s what we did today. And I think that’s what we’re going to do in the Medal Race as well, because it’s all about coming home with the medal or nothing. It’s going to be exciting.”
The Canadian duo of Mariah Millen and Alexandra ten Hove will not advance to the medal race in the women’s 49er FX sailing event. The duo finished in 17th place, crossing the finish line in two minutes 43 seconds, then 3:01 behind first place in races 11 and 12, respectively, today.
American 49erFX athletes Stephanie Roble (East Troy, Wis.) and Maggie Shea (Wilmette, Ill.) competed in the final three races of the 12-race qualifying series prior to the medal race. Entering the day, Roble and Shea were in 6th overall and 15 points from 3rd. The final races of the qualifying series would not only determine who would finish in the top-10 and advance to the medal race, but who would be within reach of the podium.
All courses today experienced a patchy 5-9 knots of wind with significant current. Despite the difficult conditions, Roble and Shea had a strong start in race 10, but finished 14th after receiving a career-first yellow flag penalty from the umpires for a Rule 42 breach. Rule 42 refers to improperly moving their bodies to propel the boat in the very light conditions. In the second race (Race 11), the Americans again started strong, but touched the first mark as they were rounding in 7th place.
“After hitting it, we were working to get around the mark as the whole fleet was right there [behind us],” said Shea. “We didn’t want to get tangled up on the mark and cause a pileup. We wanted to get out of the way. We got around the mark, and immediately started spinning [a penalty-clearing 360 degree turn]. In the process of spinning, the umpires flagged us again for what we thought was hitting the mark. We were already spinning for hitting the mark, and kept sailing once we finished, thinking we were clear.”
Roble and Shea crossed the line in 8th in Race 11, but when they approached the umpires to get more information, they were informed that they had been scored DNE for both incurring a second yellow flag penalty for Rule 42 and for failing to retire from the race.
“We told the umpires that we spun for hitting the mark, and they said [that we breached Rue 42) before we hit it,” said Shea. “We and others that I’ve spoken to assumed that they were flagging us for hitting the mark. We knew we hit it, and we were in the process of getting out of the way of the fleet in order to spin.” Added Roble, “These are the first two yellow flags that we have had in five years of campaigning for the Olympics.”
A strong 5th place finish in Race 12 came next, and would have left Roble and Shea in medal contention if the Race 11 score had not been converted from an 8th into a non-discardable DNE. Instead, Roble and Shea were left in 11th overall, three points from advancing to the medal race, and at the end of their regatta.
Roble and Shea entered the event having medaled at the most recent 49erFX Class World Championship in 2019. A new skiff team at the start of the Tokyo 2020 cycle, they forged themselves into strong contenders by building on years of prior experience as a team in other classes, and under the guidance of four-time Olympian and 49erFX World Champion Giulia Conti.
“We’ve done an incredible job growing as team over the last five years to get to the point that we’re at,” said Roble, the 2014 US Sailing Yachtswoman of the Year. “Our coach Giulia was a huge leader for us. This result doesn’t represent all that we’ve learned and accomplished. We were sailing well throughout the event, and today we were sailing to win. We left it all out there.”
Men’s Heavyweight One Person Dinghy – Finn
Josh Junior (NZL) hauled himself back into medal consideration with the best and scores of 1,4. He’s now in fifth place, two points behind Nicholas Heiner (NED). Zsombor Berecz holds third place for Hungary and is now just three points behind Joan Cardona (ESP) in second.
Giles Scott (GBR) had another solid day despite the light and fickle breeze. His scores of 6,1 put the 2016 Olympic Champion ahead by six points, with two more races to run before the Medal Race.
Cardona commented, “I’m really happy to be in second right now. I didn’t have my best day today, but I’m sure tomorrow will be better. I think I came here really well prepared and I’m looking forward to a really nice battle.”
Canadian sailor Tom Ramshaw put together his best pair of performances to date today, inching towards a top-10 spot that would allow him to compete in the men’s Finn medal race. The Toronto native finished second and ninth in races seven and eight, respectively, putting him just six points behind 10th place.
Luke Muller (USA) finished 8, 10 today, and sits in 13th overall with two more races to go on Sunday before the medal race participants are determined. Muller is currently six points away from 10th. The Florida native rounded the first mark of the first race today (Race 7) in 3rd, and the first mark of the second race (Race 8) in 5th, but lost a few boats in both races amidst tense light-air battles.
Mixed Multihull – Nacra 17
Jason Waterhouse and Lisa Darmanin (AUS) needed a good day to haul themselves back into medal contention and the Olympic silver medalists from Rio sailed to 1,5,4 and into fourth overall.
They’re now just three points off third place held by Paul Kohlhoff and Alica Stuhlemmer (GER). Eight points further ahead, thanks in part to a final race win today, are the reigning World Champions from Great Britain, John Gimson and Anna Burnet (GBR).
Still hardly putting a foot wrong and coming through the day unspectacularly but unscathed, are the Italians Ruggero Tita and Caterina Banti who are becoming very attached to their yellow bibs.
Tita refused to be complacent, “I think it’s still a long way to go. We have three more races and a lot of points to come. Tomorrow we will be on Enoshima race course for three key races. And so a lot of water to pass under the boat yet.”
American team Riley Gibbs (Long Beach, Calif.) and Anna Weis (Fort Lauderdale, FL) scored a 9, 12, 5 and are in 10th overall with three more races to go until the medal race field is set. The pair has recorded single-digit finishes in five of their nine races, and are focused on finishing the qualifying series strong on Sunday.
“We’re definitely battling out here” said Gibbs. “We’re really analyzing every day and trying to get the most out of it. But to be completely honest, we haven’t seen our best conditions here [in Enoshima]. So that shows in some of our results. And it’s pretty unpredictable as to what is going to happen [with the conditions].”
Weis added that regardless of what the race course gives them, they have to be ready. “Our focus going into the last few races is to keep it simple and focus on the basics. It seems like the more people can execute the basics here, the more you can hang in the top group. Everyone is pretty fast. So it’s just about executing all the small things.”
Sunday, August 1, will see the Laser and Laser Radial fleets fight it out in their Medal Race. The Finn and Nacra 17 will conclude their Opening Series and the Men’s and Women’s 470 will return to the water. Enjoying a rest day ahead of their Medal Races are the 49er and 49erFX fleets.
US Sailing Team Men’s 470 and Womn’s 470 athletes Stu McNay (Providence, R.I.), Dave Hughes (Miami, Fla.) Nikole Barnes (St. Thomas, USVI) and Lara Dallman-Weiss (Shoreview, Minn.) return to action midway through their events. McNay and Hughes sit in 11th overall, with Barnes and Dallman-Weiss in 9th.
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