Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Brainbox unicyclist Young tees up Olympic medal

Alison Young left an impression when she said bluntly on the eve of her first Olympic Games that she did not get out of bed every morning to come last.

The Laser Radial contender had already made an impression locally in Portland after being seen on a unicycle pedalling furiously up the hill and is now on track to leave her mark with a performance that could be the talk of Team GB if the determination that has marked her out as a female Ben Ainslie, lands her an Olympic  medal at her first attempt.

Young, a brainy 25 year old engineering graduate from Worcester, was one of the last selections to be made in the sailing squad after a straight battle with Charlotte Dobson who until the ISAF World Championships last year was favourite. 

Reports of how hard Young was working on her fitness and how fixated she was on success started to filter through which started to show in her a steady improvement in results culminating in her selection in May then a confident show at Sail for Gold a couple of weeks later where she promptly won gold. 

At that point, another Olympic medal possibility was added to the British list yet due to her lack of experience in top level racing, more through hope than conviction. 
That all changed on Monday when her first two races produced two top ten results which she reckoned was a reasonable start then she followed it up on Tuesday with two second places, giving Annalise Murphy from Ireland a run for her money, to lie fourth overall.

If anyone expected an excited reaction from Young to that performance, they were in for a big disappointment as the 6’ powerhouse, who is as shy and awkward as Ainslie was when he started out on his Olympic career, brushed aside any fancy talk.

“It could have been better,” she said simply.

“But I’m pretty pleased and gives me a solid platform for the rest of the regatta. My starts were better today which made life easier and hopefully I can continue to improve for the rest of the week. I am just focussing on the racing. If I thought about this being the Olympics, it would probably blow my head up.”

The results in the Laser Radials so far demonstrate a slight changing of the guard in the class after being dominated over the past two years by Evi Van Acker of Belgium and Marit Bouwmeister from the Nederlands.

Van Acker is in second place overall while Bouwmeister, who is Ainslie’s girlfriend, is currently in third, 14 points behind Murphy who has won every race so far. There is a long way to go but Young’s teammates and coaches, who know the full extent of her focus, strength and resolve have their money on a medal.

Should Ainslie gamble for gold or play safe?

Britain’s sailing results so far have been a hotch-potch of surprises which more than anything reflect the tricky winds in Weymouth. 

International sailors who have been training here for months and thought they had the conditions licked have been taken by surprise by the extent of the shifts and the frequency of them.  Even the British sailors who have trained for years have been caught out as we saw when Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes capsized in the 49ers in the last race.

How should they overcome the conditions? Be patient and strong like Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson in the Stars or adopt a high risk approach, which we have seen from Finn sailor Jonas Hoegh-Christensen.

High risk strategies tend to produce dramatic wins but these are rarely sustainable over time.  The Great Dane is disproving that theory much to Ben Ainslie’s chagrin but there are still two days racing left after this before the medal race so plenty of time for conservatism to win out!

Two days. Yikes. Can Ben pull this off? If he was being beaten by different people each time, it would be less of a worry but JHC is on the top of his game on the water and saying last night to us journalists that Big Ben was out of form, showed that he is not scared of playing games off the water too. 

Compelling or what?!

Monday, 30 July 2012

Ainslie not on his best form, says Hogh-Christensen

Stevie Morrison likened racing in Weymouth yesterday to playing Super Mario with too many banana skins and not enough mushrooms to describe the fluctuating fortunes that marked Britain’s day on the water.

Morrison and Ben Rhodes opened their 49er campaign with two consecutive 12th places which they admitted was frustrating while Ben Ainslie dropped to third place in the Finn class leaving him with his head in his hands and angry.

“I didn’t sail very well so I’m not happy at all,” Ainslie said.

“ There was nothing in particular I did wrong but it just didn’t come together  so I’ll have to raise my game for the rest of the week. At this level at this point, you need to be sailing really well and nailing it so I’ll have to sort it out.”

Danish sailor Jonas Hoegh-Christensen who remains at the top of the Finn leaderboard agreed that Ainslie was struggling for form.

“He doesn’t seem to be on his best form. I don’t know why but he is a good sailor so will be back with avengence tomorrow. He is fuelled by bad results so we will probably see him in the top boats tomorrow.”

The Weymouth windshifts and choppy waters created major problems with two capsizes in the Finn fleet and a number of injuries including Laser sailor Paul Goodison who sustained back pain in between races one and two which required immediate attention at the end of racing.

Paul Goodison required immediate treatment 
His injury, a regular complaint among sailors who need to hike, accounted for a 23rd place in the second Laser race following a 10th in the first, which leaves in 17th overnight, a hefty 30 points behind leader Tom Slinsgby from Australia.

Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson rose four places to the top of the Star leaderboard after making ‘educated guesses ‘on the shifts that came off to claim two podium positions from two races.

Nice work, Alison Young

“As long as you are not miles behind at this point in the regatta it is a case of getting over the nerves and getting on with it. We thought we would be quick upwind but we weren’t which was flipping frustrating but on the last beat, we made a few changes to our settings which made a big difference.  

“It was shifty and puffy so you have to avoid the big losses by making educated guesses.”

Alison Young also made an impressive start to her Olympic career in the Laser Radials with a 7th and a 10th to finish 9th overall with Irish Radial sailor Annelise Murphy leading by three points over Evi Van Acker from Belgium and Ben Ainslie's girlfriend Marit Bouwmeister.
Dutch Laser Radial contender Marit Bouwmeister

“It was a pretty average first day gives me something to build on for the rest of the regatta,” she said.

Picture credit: the fabulous Ian Roman from Yachting World

Banana skin day for Britain's sailors

Whether its the pressure of competing at home or first night-ish nerves, the results from Weymouth read a bit like the National Lottery for the British team with few sailors lucky enough to pick single figure tickets.

They came off the water at the end of racing with no excuses but saying there was no need to panic. Stevie Morrison likened racing in the 49er today to playing Super Mario with too many banana skins and not enough mushrooms. We know what he meant because the windshifts are making this regatta a bit of a lottery.

He and Ben Rhodes posted two twelfth places in the 49ers, Paul Goodison a 10th and 23rd, Alison Young 7th and 10th in the Laser Radials and even Ben Ainslie caught the lag bug that seems to be virulent among Team GB when he came sixth in the opening race today....four places behind the great Dane.

But lets not panic as they all said. There is a long way to go and no one seems to be alarmed. Xabi Fernandez, the Spanish 49er sailor who has had just a few weeks to prepare after spending the past nine months with Iker Martinez campaigning Telefonica in the Volvo Ocean race said the British 49er team just had a bad day.
Alison Young: 

"It was a difficult day and they had two bad races but I feel sure they will be OK," he said, having posted a 15th and a sixth for Spain.

Morrison himself put it down to making decisions that didn't work out.

"We were disappointed with the last race because we had a good start and got into the race well but we were in the middle of the course when the wind shifted and we made our decisions but they didn't work out the right way," he said.

"There are 16 races so there is a long way to go and it is a game of averages. No reason why we shouldn't lower the averages as the regatta goes on.we just have to be patient, stay calm and carry on."

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Flippin Robert Scheidt!!

Iain Percy and Bart Simpson set for heated battle with Brazilians

Robert Scheidt from Brazil has been a thorn in Britain’s side for more than 15 years and his battle with Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson in the Star class yesterday suggests their Olympic rivalry is hotter than ever.

Scheidt famously locked horns with Ben Ainslie in the Laser class for six years, but shifted his focus to the Stars where he and crew Bruno Prada have vied repeatedly with Percy and Simpson for the major class honours.

This has led to heated exchanges and in the case of the Sail for Gold regatta in June, a port starboard collision that could have been avoided.

A photo finish in the second race on Sunday following a close contest between the two meant both parties had to wait an hour before they were told the Brazilians had been awarded the win.

This came as bad news on top of a poor first race where Percy and Simpson, Beijing 2008 gold medallists, missed an important wind shift to finish way down the fleet in 11th to sit in 5th place, overall eight points behind the Brazilians.

“It came as a surprise but it’s not as if I have any burning misjustice unless it is an obvious mistake in which case it will get worked out. Coming 11th and missing 30 degree windshifts is a bigger deal,” admitted Percy.

“Our position is not that important at the moment but hopefully over the week, having good downwind and steady upwind speeds will more than pay for it.”

Scheidt and Bruno Prada did not find out the result for sure until they were back on shore.

“We did not know if we had won the race or not – we thought they had won because they were to leeward but it was hard to tell. They asked us if we had won and we had to say we thought they had won.

“It was very tiring because the wind was up and shifting a lot but the racing was quite exciting, a very high level. You really had to play the shifts. There is a long way to go but I think it will be a very tight and interesting week.”

Dane vows to deny Ainslie entry in record books

Danish sailor Jonas Hogh-Christensen has said he will try to make sure Ben Ainslie does not overhaul his countryman Paul Elvstrom's standing as the greatest Olympic sailor in history. If Ainslie gains another gold medal, to add to his three golds and one silver, he will have collected five medals in total, thereby leapfrogging Elvstrom who took four golds between 1964 and 1968. But Hogh-Christensen who beat Ainslie in the first two Finn races of London 2012, has vowed to do his utmost to see the record stays in Denmark.

Second for Ainslie but problems upwind??

Ben Ainslie made a great start to his Olympics with a second to Jonas Hogh-Christensen in the first Finn race but boy....his upwind speeds will be a cause for concern.

No doubting who rules the waves downwind but in the fresher breeze - gusting 18 knots - he consistently loses places when they beat into the wind.

On board footage shows exactly how demanding Finn racing is since the introduction of free pumping so lets hope he can continue to meet the physical challenges over the next six days.

He did fine at Sail for Gold in June where some days we had 25 knots though he needed plenty plenty help from the RYA masseur. At the end of racing each day, he was utterly exhausted while Giles Scott who beat him, was fresh as a daisy.

Scott isn't here - anyone know what he is doing this week?? - though his brother is and the masseur is also on hand thankfully because Ainslie is gonna need 'im if the breeze continues to build, as forecast.

Difficult to see the Dane keeping up this pace - at the Test event last year, he finished 8th then 12th at SFG last month.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Fire on Weymouth beach

Oh my god. The pavilion where we were all due to be drinking wine and eating vol au vents and watching the AWESOME London 2012 Opening Ceremony is on fire!! Apparently a fire broke out in the toilets and spread to the duct system. Three fire engines etc etc. The British sailing squad were on their way there for a press conference ahead of the OC. Olympic sailing manager Stephen Park is tweeting:: In the Team bus driving towards a burning building! How odd!

Patience and Bithell pass up Aussie threat

The growing threat of the Australians to Britain’s sailing medal prospects at London 2012 has been brushed aside by 470 sailors Luke Patience and Stuart Bithell who have taken recent performances in the British Open and the Tour de France as motivating factors in their push for a gold medal.

Luke Patience (left) and Stu Bithell (right)

Malcolm Page and Mat Belcher, three times 470 World Champions who are widely tipped for gold while Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen in the 49ers and Tom Slingsby in the Laser are favourites to beat Britain in their respective classes.

But Patience and Bithell, competing at their first Olympic Games are not daunted by their formidable opponents, pointing to Australian golfer Adam Scott’s recent performance in the British Open and cyclist Cadel Evans in the Tour de France as being examples of how the mighty can fall.

“Adam Scott was at the top of his game and lost it at the last minute and you’d have Cadel Evans as the best in the world but he didn’t win the Tour de France,” said Bithell.

“The point is that there is only one way to go from being at the top of your game and that is to come off the top of your game.

“There is no doubt the Australians are a very strong team but all we can do is focus on our own programme. If we perform well, we will be giving them a good run for their money.”

In every Olympic Games since Sydney 2000, Britain has been the best sailing nation but Australia have been closing the gap, winning two golds – including the 470 Mens - and a silver at Beijing 2008 compared to none in Athens four years previously.

 “There are so many things that have to go right to win a regatta and everyone will feel the weight of the pressure around them – no one is exempt.”

“Malcolm and Mat have had a great season and in some respects it is theirs to lose,” added Patience.
“That won’t affect them because they are great sportsmen and although we have some great battles with them, it is by no means a two horse race. They have a huge wealth of experience over us but we were born 20 years later than us so what can we do about that?”

“The Australians have weaknesses as we do and obviously we have been working to bridge the gaps for the past three years. We feel that if we perform to the best of our abilities on the day, we have the faith and belief in ourselves that that will be good enough to stand on the podium.”

Patience and Bithell do not start racing until next week so will represent Britain’s sailing squad at the London 2012 Opening Ceremony on Friday night along the 470 Women’s team Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark. All other members of Team GB’s sailing squad will watch proceedings on a big screen from Weymouth beach.

Welcome to the Weymouth Olympics!!

Psssst. Don't tell anyone but we are having a lovely time in Weymouth. Wall to wall sun, loads of rooms available in the divine hotels and not a lot of traffic on the roads. Perfect.. except this is the London 2012 Olympic Games and we should be buzzzzin...shouldn't we?

The lack of atmosphere is its absence of course but guys, this is where we are with that ok. It might all change come Sunday when Ben Ainslie launches his raunchy Rita to kick things off proper.

So far we have had no great shocks or surprises though we got close when Nick Dempsey er-red and ar-red over the question as to whether he might retire after these Olympics if windsurfing really does get scrapped in favour of kitesurfing.

How shall I answer that, he said rather lamely which pretty much gave the answer away, we thought. In fact Nick wasn't on great form today. A bit hesitant though he does tend to be up and down in press minute confident and articulate, the next less sure-footed and more whimsical. But this is why we love 'im and desperately want him to get that damned monkey off his back.

He confessed that he wants his wife Sarah Ayton to continue being 'a lovely housewife' rather than return to Olympic sailing. He will almost certainly get a kick in the goolies if she ever finds out he said that..which of course she will. He also said he won't even think about a joint campaign with her for the next Olympics...heard that before but he was pretty emphatic. Get this man a tin hat!!

Nick did a presser with Stevie Morrison and Ben Rhodes who denied they were gay. OK...that might need explaining but they were talking about how they have progressed as a 'pair' since the last disastrous Olympics in 2008 and Ben decided his comment needed qualifying....and added....'but not in a gay way'.

Everyone fell about and Stevie went bright pink....which prompted the Team GB PR Lindsey to end the discussion, a shame because we were all quite keen to hear how they were different now compared to then.

Some commentators reckon their nightmare in Beijing has been the making of them.There is no question about their skills on the water. They are AMAZING to watch on the race a well oiled slick and super fast machine....yet I wish I could be more convinced by their assertions that this time, it will be different. We will know in two weeks.

Bryony Shaw was incredibly brave I thought. Of all our GB sailors, she is the one who is least likely to medal due to her recurring health issues and the equipment failure she had at SFG. She didn't try and bluff her way through the questions...said she was physically and emotionally up for it yet aware her preparations hadn't been ideal. Go Bryony.

The Bithell and Patience Show rolled into town this morning, causing merriment along the way with their bold and periphrastic presentation. Luke could talk for Britain and with his Ewan McGregor lilt, is very easy to listen to though he is a bit like my favourite larrikin Shane Warne - says a lot and not much at the same time....but great fun, massively talented and I love his enthusiasm. Infectious. His boy band quiff somehow stays in place come rain and shine. How does he do that and what product does he use I wonder?

There seems to be a deepseated confidence among the Brits....Luke, Stu, Stevie and Ben may not get gold but they should medal and will work their butts off to make Britain proud. They are all comfortable with this pride business. It matters heaps.

We bumped into Rod Carr on our way out tonight. The mighty Rod Carr who is the architect of Britain's fabulous sailing edifice. He was climbing onto his bike having completed another day of race officialdom (am putting everything I own on race management being IMMACULATE!)

How many medals do you think Britain will win, the chap from the BBC asked. I have no idea - I'm no longer involved said the pokerfaced Carr strapping on his huge helmet. Oh dear that doesn't sound too good, said the BBC chap who had never met Carr before and was unfamiliar with his Kofi Annan ways. The big man winked and rode off. No idea my a**e. He knows full well just how brilliantly the British team have prepared and how strong they are. It was probably him that gave Sparky the line about this being the best British team ever. If I needed any further confirmation that these Games are going to be a blinder as far as British sailing goes, that brief encounter did the trick...with bells on.