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Competitors take part in the men's star class keelboat medal race sailing competition at the London 2012 Olympic Games in Weymouth and Portland, southern England August 5, 2012. (PASCAL LAUENER/REUTERS)
Competitors take part in the men's star class keelboat medal race sailing competition at the London 2012 Olympic Games in Weymouth and Portland, southern England August 5, 2012. (PASCAL LAUENER/REUTERS)

London 2012

Canadian sailing flounders off the English coast Add to ...

Let’s call it a washout.

Of the 11 Canadian sailors in seven boat classes at the London Olympics, only two qualified for the finals and neither is expected to reach the podium.

The sailors favoured to win a medal in the Star class, Richard Clarke and Tyler Bjorn, did not reach the event final in spite of a well-financed, well-managed campaign and an impressive record of top-three finishes in the international racing calendar in recent years.

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If there was one thing they got wrong, it was their down-wind performance. Clarke and Bjorn have never excelled when the wind was at their backs, so they put a lot of effort into fixing their faults, all for naught.

By Monday evening, the two Canadian sailors still in the theoretical running for medals were both windsurfers in the RS-X class.

Zac Plavsic was tied for seventh going into Tuesday’s final; Nikola Girke was in eighth. Only a heavy gust of luck would land them on the podium.

“None of the Canadians are going to win a medal in sailing,” said John Curtis, president of Wind Athletes Canada, a fund-raising organization for sailors. “Zach will probably have our best finish, but it will not be better than fifth.”

Canada has boats in the Star, RS-X, Finn, 49er, 470, Laser and Laser Radial (women’s) classes.

The showings overall were mediocre at best.

On Monday, the 49er team of Gordon Cook and Hunter Lowden finished their 15th race in 16th position (out of 20 boats). At the start of Olympic regatta, they were in third.

But it is Clarke and Bjorn who are the heart breakers, given their raw talent, fierce dedication, long experience and groaning trophy cupboard.

Clarke, the son of an Olympic Finn sailor, was ranked first in the Finn, a one-man dinghy, in 2000. London was his fifth Olympics. Bjorn’s father and brother were Olympic sailors and he was also skilled in the Finn.

They have been together on the Star since 2009. Their best result was gold in 2010 in the Western Hemisphere races. They placed third in the European championships in 2010 and 2011.

Every top Star sailor on the planet considered the Canadian duo a medal contender for London. But they got outgunned in every race.

Sailors depend on skill, technology, healthy funding and sheer dumb luck to win races. Some of the very best can lose if the wind shifts go against them or they jump the starting-line gun (as Clarke and Bjorn did the other day) or a piece of rigging snaps. The trick is to sail better than average more often than not and avoid choking under pressure.

On the trick count, the Canadians came up short in 2012.

Curtis thinks the Olympic races, which were held off the seaside resort of Weymouth, about 200 kilometres southwest of London, exposed the lack of depth among the Canadian racing classes.

“We don’t do a very good job at the grassroots level,” he said. “We need a deeper pool of talent to draw from.”

The top racing countries – Britain, United States, Australia, among others – have many impressive competitors in each class. Canada, Curtis says, also needs to be more strategic.

He notes the Canadian women did not enter a boat in the 470 class, which is not a very competitive group internationally. In other words, a decent 470 team might have been a medal contender.

“We going to have to go back and rethink our strategy,” he said.

Indeed, Canada does not need a repeat of London at Rio de Janeiro in 2016. A lot of dreams died in Weymouth.

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