Canada's sailors got off to a soggy start in the preliminary Olympic races, with back-of-the-pack finishes in brisk weather. But they have plenty of other opportunities to get their act together.
In the Star, the biggest boat in the Olympic events, the team of Richard Clarke and Tyler Bjorn placed 16th and 10th in two races Sunday. The 16th place finish put them dead last. In the Finn, single-man dinghy class, Greg Douglas placed 16th and 23rd in two races, putting him 20th overall.
Colleen Coderre, spokeswoman for the Canadian sailing team, said spirits were still high in spite of the disappointing results.
"Morale is really good," she said in Weymouth, about 200 kilometres southwest of London.
The weather offered some tricky conditions for both fleets. The wind velocity was up and down dramatically from 8-18 knots. This wide variation was also accompanied by some very large wind shifts – as much as 25 degrees. These conditions resulted in some dramatic turn-arounds in positions during the racing.
Clarke and Bjorn had two decent starts and showed why they have developed a reputation for strong upwind speed, grinding down two boats that started just ahead of them off the line in the first race. They were ninth at the first mark and well within striking distance, but a dramatic shift on the second beat sent them to the back of the fleet.
Race two was close, with Clarke and Bjorn in fourth rounding the first mark, losing ground downwind and then gaining back eight places in the second beat to get back up to sixth. Ultimately, they lost four spots in a very tight pack going downwind to the finish.
"In the first race we had a nice start, maintained good contact with the pack and it all went pear shaped on the second beat.," Clarke said at the dock. "We were a bit out of phase and a bit unlucky. On the second race, we had a great second beat, rounding in fourth but just couldn't hang on."
Only the top two boats – Brazil and the Ireland – had much success posting good finishes. The rest of the fleet struggled with the fickle conditions.
In the Finn class, the Canadian Douglas got on the wrong side of some large wind shifts. His speed was not enough to make up for the big shifts.
The Canadians get a chance to reverse their fortunes on Monday, when the Star, Finn, Laser and Laser Radial (women) sailors face the second round of preliminaries. The Star and Finn sailors will know on Aug. 3 whether they have placed well enough to compete in the medal races on Aug. 5. The Laser and Laser Radial finals are on the next day. There are high hopes for Clarke and Bjorn. The duo have raced Stars together since 2009 and their best result was gold in the 2010 Star Western Hemisphere races in the Bahamas. They placed third in the European championships in both 2010 and 2011. In spite of their skills, they did not shine in the Star World Championships in Hyères, France in May, which was the last competitive race before the Olympics.
Clarke, the son of an Olympic Finn sailor, is sailing in his fifth Olympics and has said that London is his last act on the Olympic tiller.
In both the Star and the Finn classes, the British are the men to beat. Ben Ainslie, who is competing in the Finn class, is considered one of the greatest Olympic sailors of all time, with three gold medals to his name. In the Star, the big name is Iain Percy, who has won Olympic gold in both the Star and Finn classes.
There are ten races in the two classes, with each sailor discarding his worst finish. The top 10 advance to the finals.