Sailing competitions start on Guanabara Bay for first Rio 2016 test event

Windsurfers and Finn sailors are first of the 10 classes to race, as competitors seek familiarity with Olympic venue

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The women's RS:X windsurfers line up to start their first face, with Christ the Redeemer looking down  (Photo: Rio 2016/Alex Ferro)
The women's RS:X windsurfers line up to start their first face, with Christ the Redeemer looking down (Photo: Rio 2016/Alex Ferro)

After a week of training, the first sailors are racing on the waters of Guanabara Bay on the first day of competition in the first Rio 2016 test event – the Aquece Rio International Sailing Regatta 2014. Up to Saturday (9 August) more than 320 sailors from 34 countries will set sail in about 215 boats, hoping to gain crucial experience in their quest for medals at the first Olympic Games in South America.

The largest Olympic sailing event ever held in Brazil, the tournament’s objective is to test the competition courses and venue operations, in addition to being an opportunity for the athletes to familiarise themselves with the weather conditions and location, which will be the venue for Olympic and Paralympic sailing in 2016. Among the sailors in town are 23 Olympic medallists, and you can follow the event here.

“The Guanabara bay courses are very different from each other and quite complex,” said Brazilian sailing legend Robert Scheidt. “That’s why the more we can train and compete here, the more prepared we will be. I’ve been sailing in Rio de Janeiro for more than 20 years and I still make mistakes because conditions can vary quite a bit from day to day. We’re not at the Olympic regatta yet, but achieving a good result here would give me a lot of confidence.”

Scheidt, a five-times Olympic medallist, added that he has been impressed by the water conditions in the Guanabara Bay courses during training. “The bay amazed us this week. It’s extremely clean. Since it hasn’t rained, and there has been a lot of exchange of water with the ocean, it’s been really clean the last few days. I believe it will be the same way during the competition.”

Australia’s Mathew Belcher, the ISAF World Sailor of the Year and London 2012 Olympic Games 470 champion, also spoke positively about the conditions: “A lot has been said about it (the water quality). It’s not ideal and there’s more work that needs to be done, but in the last few days it’s been better. The athletes need to concentrate on racing and leave these things to the officials, and I am confident they will solve this.”  

Belcher also talked about the importance of this week’s regatta. “It’s an extremely important event and you can see that by the calibre of sailors here. It’s one of the most difficult sailing locations and it’s important to ensure that you are as well prepared (for the Olympic Games) as possible.”

Over the seven days of competition, based out of Marina da Glória, all 10 Olympic sailing classes will be represented: men’s and women’s RS:X, 49er, 49er FX, men’s and women’s 470, Laser, Laser Radial, Finn and Nacra 17 (mixed). Between 100 and 120 races are projected to be held on the five courses selected for the event: Pão de Açúcar, Escola Naval, Ponte, Copacabana and Niterói. In 2015, after the second sailing test event, the courses to be used in the Rio 2016 Games will be selected.

The men’s and women’s RS:X (the windsurf class) and the Finn (one of the dinghy classes) were the three classes that started racing on Sunday, with the windsurfers on the Sugarloaf Mountain course and the Finn boats competing on the Ponte course (close to the Rio-Niterói bridge). All 10 classes will race on Monday (4 August).

Australia’s Nathan Outteridge, the 49er Olympic champion, was excited after training and expects tough competition at the test event. “It’s my first time in Rio, so I am trying to pay attention to everything and I believe I have managed to understand the sailing conditions here very well. The test event will be critical for this and, judging by the quality of the competitors, the races will be on the same level as a world championship. The weather conditions are excellent and this is the most important thing for us to have a great competition.”

Ireland’s Annalise Murphy, who finished fourth in the Laser Radial at London 2012, is also focused on learning more about Rio de Janeiro’s waters. Her first time sailing in this city, she is hoping for victory in the test event.

“It’s great to be able to compete in an event of this size on Olympic courses two years before the Games,” she said. “The best Laser Radial athletes will be in Rio and the races are going to be very competitive. I trained in Rio for three weeks last year and I really like sailing here, even though it’s quite challenging because of the changing winds and the currents.

“The most important thing is to understand the course conditions better, but I still want to win as many races as I can. We had excellent conditions during training sessions, and I hope that keeps up for the whole event.”

The International Sailing Regatta is the first in a series of 45 test events which will be held up until May 2016.

“This is our first test event and each one of them will help us plan our deliverables for the Rio 2016 Games,” said Rio 2016 President Carlos Nuzman. “They will be great opportunitites to test operations, train our workforce and become more experienced."

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