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Olympic Sailing: What it’s really like in Japan

Andy Rice gives Yachting World a special insight to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic sailing venue, Enoshima, where the racing has been stunning despite the difficulties caused by Covid 19

Touch wood, this Olympic Sailing Regatta really seems to be working out! The site of the 1964 Games is delivering a great competition for Tokyo 2020.

Aside from having to wear masks all the time, and daily PCR tests, life at an Olympic Sailing Regatta is not so different from the previous three that I’ve attended.

Getting to Tokyo in the first place was an arse-ache beyond belief. Paying through the nose for some very expensive nasopharyngeal PCR tests, endless red tape, a five-hour wait to be released from Haneda Airport and then three days of quarantine before being let loose on the Olympic sailing venue.

The only places I will see on this trip to the Far East are the airport, my hotel and the sailing venue. That’s it, no sushi, no karaoke, and no risk that I’ll be jumping out of the system before we get back on the plane.

The threat of a ’contact’ with someone positive could mean 14 days in a Japanese government accommodation – “think Travelodge, without the frills” – is the way it has been put to us; that thought is enough for us all to keep toeing the line until we get back on that BA flight to Terminal 5.

Anyway, enough about that. What about the racing? Where to start…

Article continues below…



Olympic sailing so far

It has been sensational, so much excitement across the 10 events. Before competition I thought that the Netherlands might emerge as top nation. They were nailed on favourites in both the Men’s and Women’s Windsurfing, defending Olympic Champion in the Laser Radial, and many more talents besides.

For a while it looks like the wheels were falling off the Dutch wagon, but after shaky starts their athletes seemed to have pulled their socks up and started to grind some results back to put them in contention in a few categories.

First Olympic sailing medal

Kieran Bladoe has won gold ahead of the Medal Race in the Men’s Windsurfer. Photo: Sailing energy / World Sailing

The Dutch have even become the first nation to secure a medal as Kiran Badloe has taken Men’s Windsurfing (RS:X) gold final heat this afternoon, Thursday 29 July.

With a fifth in the first race of the day, the Dutchman bulleted the next races, and as he crossed the line started to celebrate with his coach Aaron McIntosh, winner of a windsurfing bronze medal for New Zealand back in Sydney 2000.

Badloe’s consistency throughout the event mean’s Saturday’s Medal Race will see the remainder of the fleet’s top ten fighting for bronze and silver.

New Zealand have hot favourites in the 49er, Pete Burling and Blair Tuke, who are bidding not only to defend their Olympic sailing title from Rio but to become the first ever sailors to win an Olympic gold and the America’s Cup in the same year.

The Kiwis opened with a 12th and, just as I write on Thursday 29th, they were lying in second towards the top mark of today’s first race when Burling fell out of the boat and Tuke was forced to park the skiff until his helmsman swam back on board. Even so, they’re still in fourth overall.

If anyone beats Burling and Tuke to Olympic gold in the 49er, it will be one of the stories of the Games.

After two days of competition it was Great Britain’s Dylan Fletcher and Stu Bithell who held top spot, showing a lot of confidence in throwing their skiff around in the big waves. Fletcher knows he needs to perform because he wants a better colour of medal than his fiancée Charlotte Dobson who is his female GBR counterpart at the helm of the 49erFX.

Britain’s Charlotte Dobson and Saskia Tidey’s mantra of ‘keep it boring’ has paid of so far in the Women’s Skiff (49erFX). Photo: Sailing energy / World Sailing

Together with all 6ft 2 of her crew Saskia Tidey, Dobson has dominated the early racing in the women’s skiff. While all around her the wheels were falling off, with capsizes and unforced errors aplenty, Dobson’s mantra – for which she apologises when I interview her in the Mixed Zone (the place where we’re allowed to interview the athletes) – is to “keep it boring”. The Scot explains further: “We just want to stick to our processes, keep doing the things that we worked so hard at getting right over the past five years, and keep on doing the boring things.” Steady as she goes, Capn Dobson!

As a writer employed by World Sailing for these Games, I’m meant to be neutral. But I do get excited when I see sailors from small nations outperforming everyone else. Take Pavlos Kontides, for example.

Having won the countries only olympic medal in the Laser, can Kontides of Cyprus win another in 2021? Photo: Sailing energy / World Sailing

The Olympic sailing silver medal Kontides won in the Laser at London 2012 remains the only medal ever won in any sport by an athlete from Cyprus. Back home he is a household name. He’s sailed a stellar regatta to be leading up until today, before the mighty Matt Wearn from Australia muscled his way to two victories and the overall lead.

As a Brit, I must also admit to being quite excited to see Great Britain performing so well across so many classes. For a while we wondered if the Golden Generation of Sydney 2000 – Ben Ainslie, Shirley Robertson, Iain Percy – were a one-off. What would happen once they had moved on? Would the next generation be able to step up?

For the past 10 years, the likes of Hannah Mills and Giles Scott have given us continued hope, and there’s good evidence that the next generation look set to pick up the mantle.

Emma Wilson has sailed out of her skin on the RS:X to secure a medal. She has a day off and then the 22 year old will contest the Medal Race against China and France to see which step of the podium she can reach. No one will be more proud than her mother who twice represented Great Britain on the board at the 1992 and 1996 Games.

Back to you in a couple of days when we’ll have seen the outcome of four Medal Races.


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