Martha Mason's Olympic Commentary
This may be the Olympics, but you'd hardly know it from the amount of excitement outside the sailing venue. There are no food stalls, no T-shirt vendors, no one selling pins or hats, no parking lots, no obvious spectator boatsin fact, nothing to imply that this is one of the worlds most high-profile sailing events. Even out on the water, the kind of hype that TV viewers are seeing in the swimming and biking events just isn't present for the sailing. Yesterday, in perfect viewing conditions, there were only about 10 or 15 spectator boats watching the Solings, along with about 30 individual inflatables holding coaches and officials, and a small handful of police boats.
Interestingly, security seems a bit looser than expected, as well. Certainly at the compounds it is impossible to get access without a pass. The individual country areas are screened from the street by fencing covered by stretches of blue nylon fabric that is visitor-proof but is in no way bomb-proof. Although there are plenty of blue-shirted volunteers, real security guards are nowhere to be seen. And out on the water, team support boats were seen passing beers to their Olympic representatives after the race, which would be normal sailing practice on an average Saturday race, but is somehow unexpected here at the Olympics.
Its also surprising that not all the sailors are staying in the Olympic Village. A few do stay there, but the sailing venue is on the eastern side of the city near the Cruising Yacht Club of Sydney (the well-known CYC), and the Village is a good hour's drive away. Consequently many of the sailors and coaches have taken apartments near the docks, moving them easily accessible to the public as they walk home after a long day on the water.
While the sailing may not be drawing crowds by the thousands, it is definitely colorful and entertaining. The facilities include a large area of temporary docks where there are seemingly dozens and dozens of red inflatablesclearly the choice of boat for coaches, officials, and country support boats. The Mistrals (sailboards) in particular have very bright, colorful sails, and the spinnakers on the Solings sport large, bold graphics that are representative of their countries in an "artsy" way. The New Zealanders, for example, have a huge black fern on their spinnaker, and the Australian kite is covered with the stars from their national flag.
After the days racing, everyone converges on the CYC for an after-sailing libation and some race analysis, and the mood is very upbeat. Yesterday's main topic of discussion was the fault in the spinnaker material for the 49er class. The sails are brand new and were imprinted with the flag of each country. Unfortunately, something in that printing process is breaking down the resin material in the sail, and the races have been postponed until new spinnakers are either found or made.
So, there are lots of spirit and lots of color, and the quality of the sailing is of course excellent, but the buzz is just not as big as expected. Perhaps as the week goes on, and we get to the match racing finals, the wind will pick up and the number of spectators will increase as well. For now, it's just the serious business of racing and winning at the Olympic level.