Emirates Team New Zealand rules advisor Russell Green was a member of the International jury at the London Olympics. He blogs from behind the scenes at Weymouth…
Involvement in the Jury which is responsible for the hearing protests and umpiring the medal races gives an unique close-up view of the competition.
Weymouth was a superb sailing venue, delivering consistent breeze for all but a couple of days. It was never under15 knots for the first 10 days and with cool temperatures was not dissimilar to sailing off Auckland’s East Coast Bays in a fresh south-westerly.
Conditions, ideal for for sailors from New Zealand and Australia, were a stark contrast to the light air of Qingdao or what is expected in Rio in 2016.
Security was tight but professional and not as much in your face as at previous Games. The army controlled the entrances supported by police armed with automatic weapons. Armed police also patrolled inside the venue 24 hours a day with the support of the typical English bobbies.
The on-water competition area was closed, guarded by a navy frigate supported by helicopters and, evidently, a submarine. Armed police also patrolled the course area in RIBs. I realised how many there were only when I came across them in the wet gear changing area. Glad they spoke English!
Four separate course areas were used. One, known as the Noethe was located alongside a headland with an historic fort, which was developed as a ticketed only spectator area and provided superb viewing for 5000.
Used for all the medal races it was tricky and shifty at times but it provided a unique atmosphere with sailors hearing the cheers of the crowd as they rounded the marks (even though for the most part it involved partisan support for the Brits).
The day of the Star and Finn medal races saw an equal number of spectators outside the ticketed area on the headland, along the foreshore, the rocks and packed on to the adjacent Weymouth harbour breakwater. Most were there to see the Brits sailing for gold.
Medal races featuring only the top 10 and scoring double points are dramatic and at times brutal and so it proved that day.
First up in the Stars saw the New Zealanders Hamish Pepper and Jim Turner sail really well for second behind Freddie Loof and Max Salminen (SWE) who then watched Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson (GBR) – who had dominated the scoreboard for most of the week – lose five places in the final stages of the last run and unexpectedly handed them the gold medal. Sweet revenge for Loof who had suffered a similar fate in the medal race at Quingdao.
There was nearly a repeat in the Finn race with Ben Ainslie who match-raced his main rival Jonas Hogh-Christensen (DEN) to the back of the fleet only to let the Pieter-Jan Postma (NED) slip away on the second beat and get up to third approaching the last mark (giving him a guaranteed bronze).
But if Postma got past the NZ sailor Dan Slater who had sailed superbly to be in second, then it would give him gold in a tie-break with Ainslie and Hogh-Christensen. He went for the inside overlap before the mark but fouled Slater.
By the time Postma had done his penalty turn two other sailors had slipped by which handed the bronze instead to Jonathan Lobert (FRA), who won the race. So Ainslie emerged from the race as the greatest Olympic sailor of all time but it was far more nerve-wracking than Ben would have wanted. It was so close to being as goldfor the Dutch – interrupted only by a determined Kiwi.
Overall the Brits were upstaged in the sailing gold medal stakes by the Aussies with their four, by far their top performing sport. Their Olympic funding is well secured for the future – a scary thought for New Zealand.
Jury members keep a quiet on eye on their own country’s performance and it was exciting for New Zealand yachting to see the medal winners come from the younger members of the team.
Skippers Jo Aleh and Peter Burling were in the 2008 Olympic team organised by Rod Davis and this investment has paid off for YNZ. Jo and Olivia Powrie had a closely fought opening series of 10 races in the Womens 470. Daily results flowed back and forth but they kept their focus all week and it was so good to see them emerge with a gold after a totally dominant performance in the medal race.
Peter and Blair Tuke had wrapped up a guaranteed silver in the 49ers before the medal race when conditions were scarily light and shifty (but in the end they still handled it well for second in that race ahead of the gold-medal winners).
Olympic rookies Paul Snow-Hansen and Jason Saunders were also in medal contention early in the Mens 470 but, in a repeat of the pre-Olympics, had a DSQ, a reminder that medals are not won in the protest room but sure can be lost. Fifth overall was a great performance and lots will be heard from these sailors in the future.
The New Zealand team achieved two other fifth places, a seventh and a ninth with only one sailor outside the top 10.
During the competition the team gave the impression of being well organised and focussed with highly capable and experienced coaching support. I have been disappointed to see the criticism by some NZ media of the team for not being media friendly during the competition, it seems the beef is not all the sailors were available for an open day and were not accessible during competition.
From my experience as the team manager it is a difficult balance. Sailing is the only Olympic sport which involves 11 separate races over six days. Successful sailors in the NZ team are a modest bunch, who wish to remain focussed during their competition and do their talking once they have secured the result.
This often clashes with the media’s desire for daily quotes and stories. The informed sailing media and the public understand the sailor’s position but for future Olympics there obviously needs to be a better understanding both ways between the team and the wider media.