August 18, 2016

Gary Jobson's Rio Letter #11: "No Wind Off Rio"

Sailing, Rio 2016

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

No Wind Off Rio


By Gary Jobson

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For centuries, a sailor's worst nightmare is getting becalmed. The 40 sailors slated to compete in the men's and women's 470 Medal Races spent the day waiting for an afternoon sea breeze that never arrived. At one point the Race Committee sent the women's fleet out to the race course off Flamingo Beach. A few thousand loyal teammates, families, friends and fans dutifully waited. There is a lot at stake. On the women's side, four crews are separated by just four points.

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Americans Annie Haeger and Briana Provancha were among the patient, but anxious, sailors hoping to get underway. The Race Committee was right to wait. No one wants an unfair race. On Thursday the winds are forecasted to be blowing in sooner. Tuesday the committee was able to run four Medal Races. We could easily finish the Olympic Regatta on Thursday. After the 470 races, the 49er skiffs will have their Medal Races.

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The Olympic Broadcast unit kept feeding images from the boat park, beach, race course and scenics around the city. We got to see the sailors trying to stay calm, but ready to race on a moment's notice. The same people who produced the 2013 America’s Cup races in San Francisco are managing the international feed. Our job at NBC is to use the pictures for three purposes: to broadcast the races live on the Internet at NBCOLYMPICS.COM, produce highlight packages of 10-25 minutes for MSNBC or CNBC cable channels, and provide news reports.

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In the broadcast booth: Randy Smyth & Gary Jobson. Producer Chris Lincoln in background.

We are a small team. Randy Smyth and I are the commentators. It is certainly challenging to try to make something out of nothing. We talk about sailing, the Olympics and all the scenarios that could take place, when and if the racing ever got going. Randy and I also called the 2010 America's Cup for ESPN. He was the wing trimmer for Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes crew in 1988. Randy also won two Olympic Silver Medals in 1984 and 1992 in the Tornado Class. In advance of Rio, he spent some time coaching Bora Gulari and Louisa Chafee , the USA Nacra 17 crew. His focus was on speed. Randy was very interested in their performance. Unfortunately, two breakdowns kept them from the top tier, but they did make the Medal Race.

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Rio 2016 sailing World Feed crew: Chris Lincoln, Randy Smyth, Gary Jobson,  Jessica Kurtzman.

Our producer, Chris Lincoln is from Palo Alto, California. He is a long time television producer, who just happens to be a passionate sailor. He grew up sailing out of Sausalito on San Francisco Bay. He brought along Jessica Kurtzman as our production assistant. She is a rising senior at the University of Washington in Seattle. Jessica is studying film and dance.

The World Feed focuses on one class at a time. We narrate every race they produce live, and then edit the highlights for television. The weather delays make it difficult to get regular scheduled programming. The USA has qualified to race in three of the four Medal Races tomorrow. Annie Haeger and Briana Provancha have a good chance to win a second medal for the USA. I hope you will log on or tune in to cheer them on.

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My editorial comment of the day is about the water quality on the race course. For months leading up to the Games, several major newspapers, including the New York Times, Washington Post and USA Today, published articles about the terrible water off Rio. ESPN (Disclaimer: I spent 31 years on ESPN's payroll) also broadcast several reports about the dirty water on television and the radio. I have spoken to many people around the venue including sailors, coaches and race officials. There has not been a single complaint or protest regarding trash in the water. The health authorities that have been monitoring the water quality for World Sailing, the governing body of the sport (second disclaimer: I serve on the Board of Directors) has reported that the water offshore is clean. In March, the sewage normally emitted from a pipe at The Marina da Gloria was redirected to a treatment plant. Each day a helicopter is launched to search for debris. If they see a log or something near any of the race courses an "Eco boat" will go and pick it up. I would actually describe the Eco boats as garbage scows. You can see the water along the shoreline is clear. The sailors have no problem jumping in after winning medals. Many young people swim off the beach. There was one report of a female sailor being i
ll, but she recovered and sailed the next day.

I am very sensitive about water quality. I grew up sailing (and swimming) in Barnegat Bay on the New Jersey coast. For over 30 years a Swiss company named Ciba-Geigy dumped lethal residue into the Toms River. At one stage the river was closed to swimmers in the early 1960s. But we kept sailing. Ciba-Geigy's solution to the problem was to build a pipe that discharged the sludge 1500 feet off the ocean beach. Eventually, their plant was declared a polluted superfund cleanup site. Many of my friends and classmates have been diagnosed with cancer. I had my own two-year battle with Lymphoma. While it might be difficult to prove, I believe Ciba's irresponsible chemical production was the cause of my cancer. So I hope you understand that I am very sensitive to "dirty water." I doubt we will read any articles that the Rio water quality warnings were overblown, but the water off Rio is better than anyone indicated. Now we just need some wind.

We will be live on Thursday at 1150 Eastern time on . There will additional features on MSNBC during the day and CNBC in the evening.

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