How learning the ropes helped Rio medal haul
Despite a lot of consternation in the months leading up to the events about the quality of the water in Guanabara Bay (according to the BBC, a taskforce had to remove 25.4 tonnes of waste from the Bay's waters during last year's test event), the sailing events at Rio 2016 were held without incident and much congratulations are due to British gold medallists Giles Scott, Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark, along with all the other medallists in the sailing events and the rest of the Olympic Games.
In this article, Russell Hurst, founder and owner of Ropes Direct, outlines the factors that contributed to the medallists’ success, before making the case for why he feels the ropes are the most important part of the vessel on a racing craft.
I found the coverage of this year’s sailing events at Rio 2016 very frustrating. This is nothing against the BBC, who I thought did an excellent job, though. It’s merely that it seemed like every time I tuned in to watch the coverage, the events had been delayed due to the weather as it simply wasn’t windy enough.
When the competitors eventually were able to get on the water though, a number of factors contributed to their successes. Conditions, tactics, the ability to quickly respond to the actions of other competitors and the inherent knowledge that comes from being an experienced sail racer, along with many others, will all have played a part in deciding who went home with a medal.
As the weather delays demonstrated though, one of the most important factors is the sailor’s ability to respond to changes in wind conditions, the actions of their competitors and the like. To do this then, they need to have the upmost confidence in their vessel and its’ ability to respond to their actions. Therefore, this makes the boat’s halyards and rigging an integral part of any racing boat as it controls much of a vessel’s movement in the water.
Whether they are attempting to tack into a clear lane or have come to the leeward mark, competitive race sailors need to be able to rely on the ropes on-board to get the job done quickly and easily. This is particularly true in Olympic sailing where the boats are one-design and thus, the events really are a test of the athlete’s tactical knowledge and ability to use the craft and the conditions to their advantage.
This then is why it will have paid for the competitors to familiarise themselves thoroughly with both the craft and its rigging prior to their races. In particular, what were the characteristics of the ropes used on these one-design crafts? Did they have a smooth or coarse finish? How well did they react to coming in contact with water? How much give did they have?
By taking the time to literally learn the ropes, along with the rest of the craft, competitors will have given themselves the best possible chance of success at the Games, as they will have known how the boat and its parts would react when they needed to react to either changing conditions or the actions of their competitors during the races.
I would also argue that the winners were the ones that used the rules to their advantage too. For example, establishing rights of way from the mark is usually a good idea, as not only does it help to give you a dominant position in the field, but it will often also have the effect of making your competitors come up on the wind too, thereby making them lose time.
In this sense then, tactical racing also played its part, particularly in the fleet racing events. Much like in the road race events in cycling, where the peloton can work together to hinder the progress of a competitor, as was arguably the case for Mark Cavendish during the road race at London 2012, vessels can work together using the rules of racing to actively target and hinder their opposition.
Thankfully, these kinds of tactics didn’t seem to have any effect on the results of the sailing events at Rio 2016 though. Once again, a boat’s halyards are integral to these types of racing tactics as establishing rights of way or avoiding the hindering tactics of others is reliant on a sailor’s ability to quickly manoeuvre their sails and take advantage when they see an opportunity to.
Finally, I’d like to take the time to give special mention to two of this year’s gold medallists. Anyone representing Great Britain in the Finn class had a tough act to follow after Sir Ben Ainslie’s Olympic achievements, so much credit must go to Giles Scott for having the mental toughness to deal with the expectation and the ability to pick up where Sir Ben had left off.
Congratulations to Argentina’s Santiago Lange too for his gold in the Nacra 17 mixed category alongside Cecilia Carranza Saroli. Not only was Lange this year’s oldest competitor in the sailing events, but he also had to battle back to racing fitness having lost part of a lung to cancer last year. That demonstrates tremendous will on his part and he deserves all the plaudits he is currently receiving.
All that is left to say then is all the best to all those who will now be competing at next month’s Paralympic Games, particularly those in the sailing events.
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