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A fleet of 49er class dinghies sails during the start of the sixth race at the London 2012 Olympic Games in Weymouth and Portland, southern England, August 1, 2012. (PASCAL LAUENER/REUTERS)
A fleet of 49er class dinghies sails during the start of the sixth race at the London 2012 Olympic Games in Weymouth and Portland, southern England, August 1, 2012. (PASCAL LAUENER/REUTERS)

Canadian 49er sailors edging into contention Add to ...

Gordon Cook is a quiet, shy sort. Also very calculating.

He and crew member Hunter Lowden are quietly but steadily earning their way into the medal race of the 49er boat at the Olympic Games without the burden or expectation of winning a medal in the sailing event.

On Thursday, Cook and Lowden finished eighth in their eighth race of 15 (most other sailing classes sail only 10 races to get to the medal race, but 49ers do 15). They started off the regatta with a third place, a hint of brilliance. They are fast, indeed. At one international regatta this year, with a GPS device attached to boats to calculate speed, Cook and Lowden emerged as the fastest boat of all.

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However, there’s a difficult choice to make in sailing, says John Curtis, president of Wind Athletes Canada, a fund-raising organization for sailors: sail fast or cut the angles, take the shortcuts if you can’t be fast. And sometimes when conditions deteriorate, it’s sometimes wise to weigh which of the best approaches work.

In the past, Cook and Lowden haven’t quite figured out how. But they are a fascinating combination of abilities. Cook is a brilliant, mathematical sailor, who is “at the far end of the calculating spectrum,” Curtis said.

Lowden, on the other hand, is the opposite. He sails “by the seat of his pants,” with intuition and instinct.

Coach Jason Rhodes has been trying to figure out how the twain shall meet. “He’s using the strength of both guys to create a style that is better than they are on their own,” Curtis said. “Once they crack that nut, they will be unstoppable.”

Cook admits it’s been an “up and down,” and a “hot and cold” experience so far. “We’ve had some moments when we’ve been learning together,” he said diplomatically.

They teamed up 2 ½ years ago. Cook had finished 14th at the Olympics in Beijing with a different partner. Cook, of Toronto, had known Lowden, of North Vancouver, as a competitor. “We gave it a try to see if we could compete as a team,” he said.

“The good thing is that they have the speed nailed,” Curtis said. “Technically, they are as good as anybody they are competing against, in terms of the way they move in the boat, their boat handling, their understanding of how the boat works. It’s really a question of strategy and tactics and you’ve got to have the right mix of intuition and all the technical stuff.”

Rhodes wasn’t selected as a coach to accompany them. He’s at home, crossing his fingers. But he’s not surprised at the good efforts of the team, now in 15th place. They need to edge themselves into the top 10 to make the medal race on the final day next week.

 

For Cook, he has unfinished business, wishing for better results than he had in Beijing. After the 2008 Games, he had stopped full-time training to get a job, hopefully in his field of engineering. But the job offers didn’t start to roll in until after he dedicated himself to training again.

“We’re both dedicated,” Cook said of his partner. They’ve been working on the basics and teamwork on a boat that is challenging because it’s such a lightweight craft, it can get out of hand in a wind.

Windy conditions? “It’s called surviving,” Cook said. But they are doing more than that.