RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The last guy who won the Olympic gold medal in sailing’s Finn class was knighted by Princess Anne at Buckingham Palace a few months after the London Olympics.
So imagine the pressure on Britain’s Giles Scott, who at 29 is making his Olympic debut and following in the enormous wake of Ben Ainslie.
And if being the overwhelming favorite wasn’t heavy enough, crazily shifting and then dying wind coming off hulking Sugarloaf Mountain caused mayhem in the opening Finn race of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics on Tuesday. Scott finished 17th, which, coupled with his third place in the second race, has him sitting 10th overall.
“It’s certainly not the way you want to start an Olympic Games, with a 17th,” Scott said after coming ashore. “Let’s just say I wasn’t particularly happy. Unfortunately these things happen in regattas and it certainly happened to me in regattas over the past four years. It certainly doesn’t make things easy but there’s still a lot to play for.”
Denmark’s Jonas Hogh-Christensen, who took the silver behind Ainslie in 2012, called the first race “a mockery of sport” because of the big wind shift.
The second race, he said, “was a proper race. The first one was a bit idiotic, to be honest. They could have canned it and restarted it but I think we were under the scrutiny of being on TV.”
Still, the Dane is in better shape than Scott, sitting sixth overall after finishes of 13th and second. The leader is Vasilij Zbogar of Slovenia, who finished third and first.
Hogh-Christensen led the whole way in 2012 until Ainslie finished ahead of him in the medals race to take the gold. It was Ainslie’s fourth straight gold medal and fifth medal overall, making him the most successful Olympic sailor ever.
Ainslie then moved on to the America’s Cup. He helped Oracle Team USA rally to retain the Auld Mug in 2013 in one of the biggest comebacks in sports, and then started a British syndicate. Scott is a member of that team, Land Rover BAR, which hopes to win back the silver trophy that was plucked away from a British fleet by the schooner America in 1851.
First, though, Scott has to figure out how to prevail on Guanabara Bay.
“It was tricky,” Scott said. “The Sugarloaf course we were on today is notoriously difficult. The breeze comes straight down over the Sugarloaf hill there and it just provides really tricky, unpredictable winds and I think the vast majority of sailors had a good and a bad, apart from the Slovenian who did very well.”
Scott said he came off the starting line better in the second race than he did in the first.
“It was still an incredibly hard race to get through,” he said. “It was incredibly tight, tight, tough racing.”
Is he up for the challenge of sailing his way up the standings?
“I’d better be, hadn’t I?” he said.
How did the first race go for Hogh-Christensen?
“I thought I was controlling the race pretty well,” he said. “Then it shifted probably 30 degrees up the first beat. But I still managed to get up there, almost in first but rounded in third. Then it shifted another 35 degrees, the wind died, filled in 35 degrees from the right, lost a lot of boats in that and didn’t really manage to get it right for the rest of the race and ended up 13th. There were a lot of good guys who sort of just kept going further and further back.”
That course will be used for the medals race on Aug. 16.
In the women’s Laser Radial, defending gold medalist Lijia Xu of China had a remarkable comeback, finishing third and first to jump back into first place. She had the lead after the first two races Monday, but was disqualified from the second race after a protest hearing, dropping her to 38th.
In the men’s Laser, Robert Scheidt of Brazil had a 27th and fourth and dropped to eighth overall. He’s trying to become the first sailor and first Brazilian to win six Olympic medals.
Both windsurfer classes tightened up. Britain’s Nick Dempsey went 1-4-14 to keep the lead, but it’s by only one point over defending gold medalist Dorian van Rijsselberghe of the Netherlands, who went 4-1-1. In women’s windsurfing, Flavia Tartaglini of Italy went 1-1-4 to take the lead from France’s Charline Picon (4-5-10).