London Olympics 2012—Starlight but not bright on North America tonight

Richard Clarke and Tyler Bjorn (CAN), competing in the London 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition.
Today was a day of reckoning for Star sailors, with the top ten teams in this hyper-competitive, extremely cerebral class progressing to Sunday’s medal race. Sadly, today was also the day that some sailors flaked their sails for the last time of this Olympiad. Given the Star’s current exclusion from the 2016 Games, this could well be the last day of serious Olympic competition that some of these athletes will experience…at least in their current class.

North American medal prospects twinkled softer today after the Canadian team of Richard Clarke and Tyler Bjorn earned a proud a fifth-place finish in the first race, followed by a 13th in race ten. While the fifth-place finish was the Canadian team’s best effort of the 2012 Games, unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to keep them in the top-ten. Instead, Clarke and Bjorn had to settle with a twelfth-place finish, overall, thus ending their Olympic run.

'It just hasn’t been our week,' reported a disheartened Clarke in the mixed-media zone after today’s racing. 'We have struggled in conditions that have normally been our strength, lacking a bit of pace, particularly off the wind. It has really been a frustrating event for us. We got officially eliminated today from the medal race so our regatta is over.'

As far as preparation, the Canadians aren’t quite sure how or why the wheels came off of their medal dreams. '[We felt] really prepared,' said Clarke. 'Certainly before the event I felt very prepared. I still can’t put my finger on what exactly what went wrong or why it all went wrong. We’ve spent a lot of time here. We’ve spent a lot of time working with the Brits who are leading this regatta. Sometimes it’s just not your week and unfortunately for us this week hasn’t been ours.'
Team GBR is currently leading the Star class going into the medal race


The American-flagged team of Mark Mendelblatt and Brian Fatih faired much better than their northern neighbors, racking-up an impressive third-place finish (their second of this regatta) in the first race, followed by an eleventh in the day’s second contest. These results, coupled with their efforts throughout the week, leave the Americans sitting in sixth-place, overall. This keeps Mendelblatt and Fatih in the medal hunt, but—points wise—it doesn’t exactly make their lives easy going into Sunday’s medal race.

Interestingly, Mendelblatt began working with Robbie Doyle, of Doyle Sails, in 2008 to develop his own Star sails, rather than simply placing an order with North Sails (the majority of the Star fleet) or Quantum Sails. 'I've known [my sailmaker] Jud Smith for a long time through Etchells sailing and I've always respected his work,' reported Mendelblatt earlier this year. 'I started using his sails in 2008. Since then, we've made a lot of improvements and done a lot of testing, and I've had no reason to look back. It's been a really good experience.'

When queried about this decision a few days ago, Mendelblatt remained positive about his sail inventory. 'Judd at Doyle has done a great job for us,' reported Mendelblatt. 'We feel like our sails are as good if not better than anyone else out there.'

Today’s sailing was a case-in-point example of the hard yards that the team has logged to develop their sails, especially in the first race. 'The boat felt a little better upwind [than other days],' said the always-analytical Fatih about his team’s first race. '[But] for some reason the second race just wasn't feeling so good… We were a little sticky on the runs on race two.' Given that each sailor is provided a boat at the beginning of the Games there are obviously a lot of variables at play, but it’s clear that the team’s sail-development program was a smart move.

USA Star Mark Mendelblatt Brian Fatih - London 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition

As far as angles, Fatih reported that it’s hit or miss, but that—on the whole—he and Mendelblatt feel as though their boatspeed is quicker upwind than off-the-breeze. He also admitted that he and Mendelblatt—like all sailors—are partial to certain windspeed windows. 'We seem to like it either from 8-11 [knots], or really breezy. It seems like that stuff in the middle—we’re just not getting it done.'

One interesting question pertains to how both of the North American teams approached the regatta from an urgency perspective, given that this could prove to be the Star’s last Olympiad, at least until a different sensibility returns to the Olympic class-selection process. 'I was pretty sure this was going to be my last Olympics,' said Clarke. 'The Star being in [the 2016 Games] or not—I don't think it really affected our preparation.'

For the Americans, however, the Star’s endangered legacy lent an extra air of urgency to their approach. 'We did feel that going into [the Games] a little bit,' said Fatih. 'We wanted to do well. It might be the last chance. Hopefully Brazil is able to make [the Star class] come back in one more time. We will see… We want to be in contention but we are not, so we don't feel that great but we are going to just go out and do the best we can.'

From an admittedly American perspective, us 'Seppos' (lighthearted Aussie rhyming slang for Americans…Yanks...septic tanks…) can only hope that the weather gods either deliver the light stuff or present a howling wind during Sunday’s medal race. Please stay tuned for the latest news from this class, as it unfurls.