London 2012: Olympic sailing

Congratulations to Nick Dempsey for winning a silver medal in the Men's RS-X windsurfing competition!  Windsurfing may not be the most popular Olympic event on the planet, but we have a special interest in Nick, because we actually got to see him compete last week.  After stalking the London 2012 ticketing website for nearly a year after the initial ticket lottery, I managed to get sailing tickets for the whole family, so on August 1st, we drove down to Weymouth and Portland, host to all the sailing events for London 2012.  Here's a recap of our day:

We parked our car in a special Olympics park-and-ride parking lot, where dozens of new double-decker buses were waiting to shuttle spectators from the parking lot to the town of Weymouth.  Even at 10 in the morning, the streets were already bustling with people headed to Nothe Gardens (the ticketed spectator site) or to Weymouth Beach (a live site for people without tickets).

We had to walk about 30 minutes to reach Nothe Gardens, and by the time we reached the entrance, a line had formed at the security bag check.  Again, I was impressed by the effort the Games organizers put in to make sure everything runs smoothly: this was the longest line we had encountered so far, and we only had to wait about 10 minutes or so.  Each bag was searched manually, and officers were quite strict about the rules, i.e. 1 small bag per person, no long umbrellas, no knives, etc..

Once inside, we headed to the spectator lawn to stake out a spot.  Finding the right spot hours before competition is tricky, because the race course has not yet been set.  Depending on the wind, it could end up near or far away from the shore, to the right or to the left, so we wanted a spot that would cover all bases.

We also wanted to see the big tv screen that would give us close-up shots of the sailors and updates on other sports during breaks.   Once we chose a spot, we lay down some plastic sheets (with the British flag printed on them!) to keep our bottoms dry, and settled in.

This is our view of Weymouth Bay.  It was awesome!  I know nothing about sailing, but Alfie said there was enough wind to make for a really exciting day of sailing.  

First up: the men's RS-X windsurfing preliminaries.  We were lucky that the racecourse was set to right in front of our viewing area, so close that we could actually see the groovy stars and stripes tights on USA's Robert Willis.

I managed to snap a photo of all the windsurfers just as the starting gun went off (look closely at the clock time in the photo;  it's right at 0:00).  I loved seeing all the colorful windsurfers, with their national flags printed on the sails.

The windsurfers had to go through a series of races and gain points for placing first, second, third, etc... to qualify for the finals.  We saw two of the races that day; in the second race, Nick Dempsey of Team GBR came from behind to beat Byron Kokalanis of Greece.  It was a real photo finish, which is something you don't see often in sailing, so it's extra-exciting when it does.

There was usually a break of 20-30 minutes between races, which was enough time for people to get something to eat (Weymouth being a seaside town, the fish and chips were sublime!), grab a cup of coffee, check out the Olympic sailboat display -- and of course, buy a souvenir at the merchandise kiosk.

Ticketed spectators also got to visit the historic Nothe Fort, located at the very tip of Nothe Gardens, facing right out to sea.  Nothe Fort was built in 1872 to protect Portland's harbour, and it was a British and American navy base during World War 2.  Today it's a museum with all kinds of memorabilia, including World War 2 uniforms, equipment, cannons and guns.

There were 3 other kinds of races that day:  Men's Laser, Women's Laser Radial, and Women's Elliott 6m (all qualifying races).  Unfortunately, the laser racing course was set much too far away from the viewing area for us to see it very well, but from time to time we would see updates on the big tv screen , so we were able to cheer on Team GB's Paul Goodison, Team USA's Rob Crane, Team GB's Bryony Shaw and Team USA's Farrah Hall.

The final races of the day, the Women's Elliott 6m, was held after all the RS-X races of the day had completed, on pretty much the same racecourse, so we got the same great view.  Unlike the other sailing events, the Elliott 6m has a one-on-one round-robin format; instead of all competitors racing at the same time, competitors race each other in pairs, gaining 1 point when they win, and 0 when they lose.  Alfie says this means you have to sail in a completely different way, since you all you care about is beating your opponent.

Unfortunately, both Team GB and Team USA lost their races, but that didn't stop the crowd from cheering their heads off for Team GB.  The atmosphere was amazing; lots of energy and enthusiasm, but despite the obvious support for Team GB, the crowd displayed good sportsmanship, cheering for all the competitors and the winners of each race.

Each competitor, in turn, showed their appreciation for the crowd by sailing right in front of the spectator area and giving a big wave, before and after the race.  I really loved hearing the announcers say each competitors' name and country as each one approached the spectators and gave their salute.

We had such an amazing day; although we enjoyed our visit to Olympic Park, there is nothing like cheering your team on during a live competition!

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