World Sailing - Men's RS:X experience in abundance; Santos aims to inspire
By Daniel Smith - World Sailing
27 July 2016
Experience in abundance will be prevalent in the Men's Windsurfer (RS:X) fleet at the Rio 2016 Olympic Sailing Competition with World Champions and Olympic appearances aplenty across the 36 strong fleet.
The Men's RS:X will start racing at 13:00 local time on Monday 8 August on the Pão de Açucar race course and will see Dorian van Rijsselberge (NED) return to defend the title he won with a race to spare at London 2012.
In addition, 2013 World Champion, London 2012 silver and Athens 2004 bronze medallist Nick Dempsey (GBR) will be in the pack alongside 2015 World Champion Pierre Le Coq (FRA) and 2016 victor Piotr Myszka (POL).
The depth of talent and experience in the Men's Windsurfer is amongst the highest in the Olympic sailing events with Portugal's Joao Rodrigues set to make his seventh Olympic appearance and Brazil's Ricardo Santos ready to make his fifth.
For Santos, affectionately known as Bimba, Rio 2016 holds a special place in his heart. The first ever Olympic Games to be held in South America and in his homeland, he will be using the experience to inspire.
Santos runs Bimba Windsurf School in Buzios, Brazil, a project that allows young aspiring sailors from poor backgrounds the opportunity to get involved with the sport he loves and cites the establishment of the project as one his best trophies.
With the Olympic Games in his native country, he will show his protégés what the experience is all about, "I feel very proud because we don't have this opportunity often. Being at home is even more special because it will be with you forever.
"I'm sure we are not going to have an Olympics in Brazil for the next 200 years so to have this opportunity to be there, sailing at home, showing my friends and the boys from my social program in Buzios is very special.
"I spoke to them and said, 'I want to have you close to me during the Olympics. I want to try and give you the opportunity to try to feel the Olympics.'
"It's a unique opportunity in their life and I hope it will be great and they enjoy it. We don't get this opportunity very often.”
Inspirational athletes like Santos can leave a lasting legacy on aspirational youngsters. From a chance meeting with a hero, to active engagement, youngsters' dreams are set as they aim to be like the ones they look up to.
For Byron Kokkalanis from Greece, he aspires to be like his compatriot, Nikos Kaklamanakis, Atlanta 1996 gold medallist and Athens 2004 silver medallist in windsurfing. Kaklamanakis also had the privilege of lighting the Athens 2004 Olympic flame.
"I want to top him and compete against him,” explained Kokkalanis, "I want to prove I can do the same as him, if not better. This is my goal to achieve a medal in the Olympics. I hope I can bring home a medal for Greece in windsurfing as it's been two Olympics now where we didn't get any.”
Kokkalanis missed out on Olympic selection to Kaklamanakis at Beijing 2008 but made his first Olympic appearance at London 2012, finishing sixth. Four years on, older and wiser, Kokkalanis knows what it takes to master the Olympic Games.
"It's more of a mental game for me,” he explained. "To deal with the pressure of the Olympics and the pressure my country might give me, I want to deal with it like a normal event and if I can do that, it will help me.
"I will try to make an approach like I usually do, keep calm and not be affected by the people around. At the Olympics you have lots of media, guys from the federation, asking and telling you to do your best like, 'bring a medal, we want a medal' and stuff like that, all of this is not so easy to handle, especially if it's your first time of dealing with it. For now, I can deal with it now because this will be my second Olympics so we will see.”
Kokkalanis has enjoyed success on the Rio 2016 Olympic waters, finishing fourth at the 2014 test event and second in 2015 and is widely considered a major contender. He also knows who some of the main rivals will be, "Dorian [Van Rijsselberge] is a favourite, he's always a favourite in every event. He's proven it on many occasions and at every event he's always at the top.
"He's one of the top guys and he's going to be the guy to beat. Also, Piotr from Poland, Pierre Le Coq from France and Aichen Wang from China. All these guys have proven themselves over the last couple of years. They are always at the top. The competition is going to be really high.”
China's Wang has risen up the ranks in the Men's RS:X since Tom Ashley, New Zealand's Beijing 2008 Men's RS:X gold medallist, started coaching him. Wang won gold at the 2015 Olympic Test Event and will be a front runner.
Further contenders include Ivan Pastor Lafuente (ESP), Toni Wilhelm (GER) and Beijing 2008 bronze medallist Shahar Zubari (ISR).
The Men's RS:X will be the first fleet to start racing at the Rio 2016 Olympic Sailing Competition with their first start at 13:00 on Monday 8 August on the Pão de Açucar race course.