Contrary to the other seven boats that are currently used for Olympic sailing, the RS:X Windsurfer is at its most physically demanding in lighter air.
It isn’t so different from a 5,000-meter foot race. In fact, given the full body contraction required to fan the large sail, it may even be more taxing. And while the relentless pumping is essential to a good result, tactics do still play an integral role, requiring athletes to think clearly while at their physical redline.
“It was tough always, but it was successful,” said Stefania Elfutina (RUS), the bronze medalist in the class from the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. “The light winds meant we had to pump more and that made it tough, because after the second race, I was so tired. I lost all my strength on the water. I am pretty happy with today’s result though, I scored a 4, 2 and 2.”
Normally, a scoreline such as that would be an express ticket to the head of the leaderboard. But Israel’s Noga Geller (ISR) showcased her superior fitness today, winning all three races, to go along with a second in yesterday’s lone race. After two days, she has a five-point lead over Elfutina, who is nine points clear of Fujiko Onishi (JPN) in third.
“I had a good day,” said Geller. “All my races were smooth, and I kept good speed and tactics in all. The offshore wind was pretty stable, so I had to find the pressure and take the right shift at the right time. I kept pumping after the start and during downwind. It was really close between [Stefania and I], especially the last race. I started second and I caught up on the gate. In the end, I went to the better side, which paid off.”
Elfutina likened the finish of the third race to a battle of wills, “We were quite close throughout the race, but we were so tired that we didn’t even fight much to win. We both sailed on different sides and met again towards the finish. I think she had more power than me and managed to use that to win.”
Israel has long been a powerhouse in Olympic windsurfing. And this cycle is no exception. For Geller, simply making the Olympic team may be just as challenging as winning a medal. Maya Morris (ISR) is sixth in the overall standings with 22 points while Hadar Heller (ISR) is seventh just a point behind. Of the seven Olympic medals Israel has won since 1996, three have come in Windsurfing. Whether it’s Geller, or one of her teammates, who represent Israel in 2020 in Tokyo, there is a good chance to build upon that legacy.
That, however, is a long way down the road. The immediate future involves six more full-fleet races and then the Medal Race on Saturday. Elfutina, for one, is hoping for a little more wind.
“The next few days should be windy and I know I’ll have to pump less,” said Elfutina, “hopefully I can focus more on strategy than strength.”
In the Men’s RS:X fleet, the Swiss, Mateo Sanz Lanz finished first on the leaderboard followed by close rival, Pawel Tarnowski (POL) and Ivan Pastor Lafuente (ESP) in third.
After not even leaving the dock yesterday, the 26 competitors in the Men’s Heavyweight Dinghy division, a.k.a. the Finn class, were happy to get in three races today. This regatta marks the return to World Cup Series competition for two medalists from the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, gold medalist Giles Scott (GBR) and bronze medalist Caleb Paine (USA).
However it was Ioannis Mitakis (GRE) who ruled the day, climbing the ladder with an eighth in the first race, a third in the second and finally a first to close things out.
“It was a hard day,” said Mitakis, who finished 11th in the Rio 2016 Games, missing the Medal Race by a single point. “We had eight knots and three pumping conditions which made it frustrating for us. We were close into the [Rickenbacker Causeway] on the Echo course and that’s where it gets shifty. Overall it was tough, but I think I did okay.”
Paine, who sits sixth, but just four points off the lead, agreed with Mitakis’ assessment of the wind on the race course.
“It was a very tricky day of sailing,” he said. “It was oscillating back and forth and had different pressure differences. The downwinds were quite tough as well, just trying to stay in the pressure, which was fairly difficult to see. I had some pretty mediocre starts, but was able to adjust through the shifts to get back into the race and had an okay day.
After winning a bronze in Rio, Paine too some time away from the campaign trail. He started training again last fall, and this event is his first major competition on the road to Tokyo. As with the Israeli Windsurfers, Paine knows the value of a strong national training group.
“It’s great [to be campaigning again]. I have Luke Muller here and we have a great program, and not being by myself is quite a great thing. We’re making great progress when we sail together and I’m just looking forward to sailing. It’s an awesome sport, I’m honored and blessed to do it, and look forward to doing it a little bit more.”
A little further downwind from the causeway, the 49erFX fleet was relishing a steadier breeze and ideal water conditions.
“It’s not too wavy and the water is quite flat,” said Victoria Jurczok (GER), “it’s something different and really fun to sail here.”
Jurczok and teammate Anika Lorenz were the class of the fleet today, picking up a fourth and three firsts and moving into the overall lead by six points.
“We found out the pattern of the shifts for the day,” said Jurzcok, “so we knew what to do and where to go.”
With six races down, the 49erFX fleet is halfway to Saturday’s Medal Race. But as well as they’ve sailed to this point, Jurzcok and Lorenz are not taking anything for granted, especially with the forecast calling for significantly more breeze over the next few days.
“The next few days are going to be windier,” Jurczok added, “so it’s going to different game for us.”
In the 49er, Croatians brothers, Sime and Mihovil Fantela continue to hold their lead on day two whilst Dylan Fletcher-Scott and Stuart Bithell (GBR) are in second but equal on points with Benjamin Bildstein and David Hussl (AUT).
It is all to play for in the Laser Radial fleet as the top three sailors are locked on equal points. Viktorija Andrulyte (LTU), champion of the 2017 Laser Europa Cup held in Lithuania, is first followed by Valentina Balbi (ITA) and Vasileia Karachaliou (GRE) in second and third.
The Laser finished the day with Tom Burton (AUS) in first place on the leaderboard. Nick Thompson (GBR) progressed to second and Thomas Saunders (NZL) is in third.
Australian Rio 2016 Olympic silver medalist Nacra 17 sailors, Jason Waterhouse and Lisa Darmanin, dominated today’s races winning all three. They hold a nine-point lead over the Great Britain’s, John Gimson and Anna Burnet.
The Japanese maintained their dominance in the Men’s and Women’s 470.
The opening day leaders, Naoki Ichino and Hasegawa Takashi (JPN), defend their top spot in the men’s and in the women’s fleet, Ai Kondo Yoshida and Miho Yoshioka (JPN) remain first.
Thursday’s racing is scheduled to commence at 10:30, local time, starting with the 49er. Schedule, results and live tracking is available below.
By Stuart Streuli & Aadil Seedat – World Sailing