Just three weeks ago Jonas Høgh-Christensen said in an interview with Robert Deaves, “..we did push the bar and I can say we found some magic on the way. What it is will show at the Games.”
How true those words have become. [Real the full interview here.] He has become the big story of the sailing events so far, grabbing headline news across the UK and the World while he has humbled the three time Olympic Champion Ben Ainslie. In the first six races Ainslie has yet to beat the newly tagged 'Great Dane'. Wednesday is a day off and while most of the sailors are just resting and rebuilding their energy, Ainslie will surely be working out a plan as to how he will approach the final four races of the opening series to overcome his Danish nemesis.
Apart from the hint of prescience in Christensen’s words, nobody would have ever believed that Ainslie would be so far behind at the half way stage in the regatta. The next four races will set the scene for Sunday's medal race and on current form it is quite believable that the gold will be nearly settled by then.
However, Ainslie is never more dangerous than when he is down. He has proven that time and time again over the years. They say, never make him angry, you won't like him when he is angry. He was really angry after Monday's showing of a sixth and a 12th, but his response on Tuesday, of a fourth and a third, and both behind Høgh-Christensen is not exactly the kind of response that everyone expected, and definitely not the response that will drag him back into contention.
Thursday's races will therefore be crucial to see whether he possesses the arsenal to respond in a useful way. He doesn't just need to start beating the Dane, he needs to put boats between them as well to reduce the points deficit. While early weather predictions forecast lighter conditions – which could play in Ainslie's favour - it now looks like it will be just as windy as the races so far and maybe more. Questions have already been asked about Ainslie's fitness and his gear selection, but he knows the only way to answer that is on the water. The battle continues Thursday at 12.00.
Sixth overall Pieter-Jan Postma (NED) was spending his day off with his family, and is optimistic on his chances, despite suffering several setbacks so far. He is currently in sixth place, and 12 points outside the medals. He said, “I feel good. The first day I was a little bit tense. I have had to play some catch up a few times, and I missed a few shifts. But I am looking forward to five more races. It's a nice fight. I really like the Games. It's a good fight.”
“It's great to see Jonas sailing so well. This is really good. And I hope he keeps on doing it like this. He's the best sailor here. Jonas sails better, he sails consistently, has good speed, is smart on the downwind, he always does the right thing.
Jonathan Lobert (FRA) is in the bronze medal place, one down from his silver at the test event. “I was expecting to be a little bit more nervous actually, but I have been having a lot of fun, and I am just seeing it as a normal regatta, so I'll just do my job as always.” On his day off, “I will relax in Weymouth, maybe find a good place to eat. No sailing or training. Just relax and build energy for the coming days.”
Greg Douglas (CAN) is in 15th place and 32 points off the medal race, which was his goal here. This is his second Olympics after sailing the Laser in 2008. “It's hard and it's tough. The level is just so high. We're fighting for inches and millimetres out there. The racing has been great though, with great waves and wind. It's been perfect, everything you could ask for.”
How did he get into Finns? “I had out grown the Laser and I was struggling to keep my weight under 190lbs. I stopped racing Lasers and started coaching in 2008. I first stepped in a Finn in 2009. Chris Cook invited myself Brendan Wilton and Paul Brikis to try out the Finn and since then I haven’t looked back. My first event was at the Miami OCR in 2010.”
Douglas famously beat his coach, Cook, in the Canadian trials after Cook got sick, but he said, “The trials were very tough and I would like to thank Chris for everything he has done for me.”
“I know I can do a lot better than I am going so I am not that happy with my performance so far. It has been a bit of a one way track at times with the left paying. But getting a lane to go left has been tough. And then my downwind speed hasn't been as great as it normally is so that's been tough. I've been in the fight but I think there are a few races where I could have been a few places higher. We have two more days of racing and if I sail well enough I'll get into the medal race.”
“I was very young in China, now I am a little older and wiser I hope. But the experience has been great. Being at the Olympics is always fun and I'm learning so much for next time. There will be a lot more to come from me.”
A bit further down the field is Florian Raudaschl (AUT), one of the oldest sailors here, but at his first Olympics. He is currently in 20th place, though he showed some clear potential by briefly leading race one. “I am completely tired. It's not my conditions. Too windy, too big waves. First day was OK with flat water and that's what I prefer and I am just waiting for light winds, but it never seems to happen in Weymouth.”
He has been sailing the Finn since 1999. “No sailing before that, only a lot of windsurfing. So no Optimist or Laser time for me. The main reason was that there was not enough wind on our lakes for windsurfing. So I jumped into a Finn for fun and immediately liked it. When my father heard this, he bought me a Finn and that was my start.” His father is of course Hubert Raudaschl, winner of two Olympic medals. He also held the record for the most Olympic Games competed in by any athlete in any sport until this year.
In Austria, “The newspapers like the 'father and son' story, so there is quite some interest there. The fact that there is no snow on the ski slopes right now and the Austrian soccer teams are bad, helps to get some interest in sailing. As nearly none of my friends are sailing at home, even they show some interest now – which feels a bit strange.”
After the Olympics? “I will fully concentrate on the sail loft and spend more time at home. Getting more time to windsurf, playing tennis and ski in winter sounds also good. But for sure I will continue Finn sailing – sailing a regatta on Lake Garda with your sailing friends is probably still one of the best holidays you can do.”
On the remaining races. “It's tough. I think I am just too small in these conditions. But I am really enjoying the experience. That's perfect. It is also very interesting to see the battle at the front. It's really exciting to watch Ben and Jonas and the other guys fight it out. Jonas is so fast at the moment. Upwind he is unbelievable, but still five races to go so we'll see what happens.”
Ioannis Mitakis (GRE) started the year on a high winning the light wind Europeans, but he has struggled a bit so far and lies in 13th place, but just 10 points off the medal race. He only joined the class in 2009 after becoming too big for the Laser but made fast progress, winning two European Junior titles before taking the senior title this year. His strength is upwind, and several times this week he has rounded in the front bunch. Unfortunately one of those was an OCS.
He has struggled to get much regatta time since then. “Due to the economic problems that my country faces all athletes have to cut down our expenses. So my budget was enough to sail the Europeans, Sail for Gold and have one training camp in Weymouth. The only thing you need to train is water and wind and we have plenty of those in Greece.”
“I came to the venue three times, first time in Pre-Olympics then in Sail for Gold 2012 and finally in a training camp before Olympics. The main thing a have learned is that sometimes the local knowledge of the current is more important than wind shifts.”
However he is upbeat about his performance. “I think it's going pretty well so far. Yesterday I had a bad start with an OCS, but otherwise so far it is going OK. I am happy with my speed upwind, though I am losing places on the downwind.”
Finn sailing is in the family for Jorge Zarif (BRA). His late father competed in the Finn in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics. “I feel happy to be here because it is something that would make him proud of me. All the work I have done over the last 15 years is paying off, so it's a honour for me and my family to sail in the Olympics.”
Zarif, who was junior Finn world champion in 2009 is the youngest Finn sailor here at just 19. “In September 2006 I was a Laser sailor and my father had a Finn. There was a race in Sao Paulo, my home town, and he was injured and asked if wanted to go in his boat. I said yes.”
Zarif is lying in 19th place, with a lot of work to do to make the medal race. His real goal however is his home Olympics in Rio in 2016 and he is treating this year as a learning exercise. “I want finish top 10. It's hard but possible. But it's also a good experience for the next Olympics.”
Racing for Finns continues on Thursday with races seven and eight scheduled for 12.00 Thursday, on Weymouth Bay South course. The final two opening series races are on Friday at the same time and place before Sunday's medal race on the Nothe course at 14.00.
Photos by Francois Richard
More photo galleries here: http://www.finnclass.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=475:image-gallery-2012-olympics&catid=43:olympics&Itemid=266
Full results are mark roundings can be found here: http://www.sailing.org/olympics/london2012/results_centre.php