Tita and Banti (ITA) working on Olympic low score
It was not meant to go like this. The Nacra 17 fleet is an assembly of incredibly experienced, accomplish, and on form sailors and the title was meant to be wide open. After the opening series of twelve races held in a full variety of conditions, the Italian team of Ruggero Tita and Caterina Banti have dominated. The pair have only 23 points counting from 11 races, averaging just over 2 points per race. By contrast, the joint leaders in the 49erFX are tied on 70 points heading into the medal race.
The Italian pair were impressive in the powered-up conditions to start the regatta over the first two days. They have been fantastic in wavy and windy conditions all quad, so there remained doubt as to whether they could keep up the pressure. The wind backed off over the recent two days of qualifying, but the Italians surged even farther forward and finished the regattas with a 3, 2, 2, 1, 2 over the last five races to build a twelve-point lead over Britain’s John Gimson and Anna Burnett.
The Italian pair, made of a converted 49er helm and a converted laser radial crew have shown they have every tool available to them. Silky smooth boat handling, good starts with plenty of savvy when necessary, good boatspeed on the unwinds, and blinding speed on the downwind, if there is a fault in their sailing game is has yet to be found in Tokyo.
For all their prowess and incredible scoreline, the Italians have not yet secured gold. While they cannot fall worse than Silver, John Gimson and Anna Burnett (GBR) are themselves having an incredible Olympic regatta. They sit twelve points behind the Italians and could yet win it all if the medal race falls their way. The British pair have won three races and had three, second place finishes as well. Their worst race is a 10th and they have only 35 points over 11 counting races. In most regattas and most fleets this would put them into a comfortable lead, but with the Italians sailing even better, they are more likely to settle for silver.
The British pair also had to deal with an occasionally aggressive Italian team in the final few races. With the Italian’s sporting an eighth as a drop, it made sense they might try to push the British team back in a race to try and get a few extra points ahead in the medal race.
This starting line combat was in race 11, and despite the pre-race hijinx between the two teams, they are such the class of the field that they still ended up 1 and 2 in the race. They simply are too fast for the remainder of the feet to sail their way back into overall contention.
Gimson is 38 years old and is in his first games while Burnett is in her twenties and also in her first games. Gimson has had a 16-year Odessy chasing the games between the Tornado class, Star Class, and now Nacra 17 Class. He’s put in his time and shown his tenacity and love for the sport. Despite missing games selection behind a very tough British Sailing team line-up, they are assured to get a medal so long as they are not disqualified from the medal race.
The Chasing Pack
Paul Kohlhoff with Alica Stuhlemmer (GER) have a seven point lead over defending Silver medalists Jason Waterhouse with Lisa Darmanin (AUS). The Germans are also only 12 points behind the British so could also move up to Silver if things break their way. The pair are one of the youngest teams in the Nacra 17 fleet and have also been somewhat of heavy air specialists. They won a windy Kiel week in 2019, but otherwise only featured at the front of the fleet in windier conditions. The extra year of preparation has shown they’ve picked up lighter air skills as well, and have sailed well on each day so far in the competition.
The Aussies are the only medaling team from Rio that have a chance to repeat. A seven-point deficit in a medal race is a doable chase, and they will be highly motivated after being relegated to training domestically since covid locked down the World. While teams like the British and Italians trained together, and the Spanish and Danish trained together, the Australians sailed almost exclusively against their up and coming domestic teammates, with the occasional training camp with the New Zealanders and didn’t get a single important competition in since the World Championship in February 2020.
The Spanish team of Tara Pacheco with Florian Tritell are in fifth and have a fifteen point deficit to third. Sixth is Lin Cenholt with CP Lubeck (DEN) who are a further four points behind. These two teams have been training together and represent the highest placing female-helmed teams in the Olympic fleet. The Danish had a fantastic final day of the opening series scoring a 1, 3, 1 on the back of great starts and elite speed around the course in the middle power conditions.
2016 Rio Gold medalists Santi Lange and Cecilia Saroli (ARG) will not get the fairy tale ending again as they’re in seventh place and outside the medal hunt, points-wise. Still a great result for Santi, who has children older than the German team he is chasing and the American team chasing him.
Stay tuned for the medal race via the Nacra 17 Olympic page for full results, photos, and start times.