Sea Wars: A New Hope
They will have to start referring to Jonas Hoegh Christensen as ‘Luke Skywalker’ if he continues where he left off on Sunday in the Finn sailing class at the 2012 Olympics, which resumes today with two more races in the waters off Weymouth in southern England.
The force was clearly on the side of the 31-year-old Dane, who finished sixth at the last Olympics, as he dominated to win the opening pair of races, seeing off a field that includes British sailing legend Ben Ainslie, who is chasing a fourth straight gold medal in the sport.
Willing on Christensen’s bid to derail Ainslie’s empire from afar is 84-year-old compatriot Paul Elvstrøm (Yoda), the most successful Olympic sailor ever, who won four straight sailing golds from 1948-60.
While Ainslie needs to win gold to match Elvstrom’s haul, his record will surpass Elvstrøm’s as he will have won four golds at five Olympics, while Elvstrøm competed in eight, including one in 1988 aged 60!
“I think he was on a hotline to Paul Elvstrøm today,” Ainslie told British press agency PA last night. “He sailed fantastically well. So all credit to him. We'll see how things develop the rest of the week.”
Christensen conceded that he hadn’t heard from Elvstrøm yet, but probably would as the legend follows his career and tends to send emails or text messages when he sails well. “It's been a while since I did well,” he said.
Ainslie, who finished second in both of Sunday’s races, will also be extremely happy following his start – he is already some distance ahead of his main rival, America’s 2008 silver medalist Zach Railey, who finished 10th and 15th in the opening two races – but concerned by the way Christensen dominated. He finished 17 seconds clear in the first race and then 19 seconds ahead in the second.
“If he can end up winning and helping Paul Elvstrøm, I'm sure that will be a major bonus for him,” Ainslie said. “But, you know, it's a long way to go to start talking about things like that.”
“It's not something I focus too much on,” said Christensen, who contended that, whatever the outcome, Elvstrøm would still be the “greatest sailor of all time” because of his legacy. “If I get in a position where I can defend his honour, that would be great. But guys, it's day one. He's only two points behind. Let's keep it real and see how it goes tomorrow.”
In Olympic sailing, there are ten races over five days after which only the top ten qualify for the ‘medal race’, which is scheduled for August 5 and carries double points (i.e two points for first place instead of one etc). The worst finish is then discarded from each sailor’s tally to decide the final standings.
The medal race was introduced this century following allegations of ‘piracy’ in previous Olympics. In 2000 Ainslie memorably secured gold by deliberately blocking Brazilian sailor Robert Scheidt, his main rival who had already endured one poor finish and could not afford another: he finished 22nd and fell to second. It was sweet revenge for identical tactics employed by Scheidt to edge Ainslie out into silver in 1996.
While Christensen will face no dilemma, he does face the prospect of returning to his work desk in just two weeks time. He is currently employed by concert promoter Live Nation where, he told PA, he “made sure there was beer in the taps and people bought tickets”.