For as long as I can remember, Robert Scheidt has dominated sailing. The fact that it’s been in that most basic of classes, the Laser, on one hand and then that most technical of boats, the Star, on the other is remarkable. Scheidt has been the dominant force and the ultimate blocker to many an aspiring Olympian’s dreams. He has set the standard to which all others must rise and only a Ben Ainslie at his very very best beat him fair and square in his prime. Nine world championships in the Laser plus two Gold medals and one Silver in the class. In the Star is was three World Championships, one Silver in Athens and a Bronze in London. This is serial medalling and Scheidt is the man for the big time. Phew.
Now at 48, he’s doing it again and who’s to say he’s not going to ace another medal. It could well be Gold. But ranged against him is youthful brilliance in the form of Matt Weam from Australia who managed to displace the reigning Olympic champ for his slot, Elliot Hanson from Britain who is going super-quick, Pavlos Kontides, the two time World Champion from Cyprus and Philipp Buhl from Germany. For Scheidt though it’s an open field ripe for the picking, he’s seen this all before, and the fact that all eyes are on him is but par for the course.
Watching Scheidt kinetically sail the Laser – or ILCA – whatever, is a study in motion. It looks like he has ants in his pants, an itchy wetsuit and it’s an uncomfortable watch. The ooching and rocking, the flicks and the dives, the constant adjustments and relentless kinetics are like watching a madman at play. A future in the Brazilian breakdancing troupe for Paris 2024 beckons if Robert ever gets bored of sailing…which is unlikely but he’d win Gold at a canter if he wanted to.
But how he does it at 48 years of age is something else and the whole fleet are marking him, observing and watching his every move both on and off the water. He’s the model Olympian. the man to beat. The one to imitate. Just being in his presence is enough for many.
There’s an apocryphal story about Scheidt, that has been told to me several times, about him at a world championship sailing supplied boats. A competitor, some say he was an American, claimed that Scheidt had been given better equipment so he swapped with the complainant and went out and won straight races in the seemingly ‘deficient’ boat. Case closed. Genius. It’s not about the boat.
And as the sad news of the passing of Bruce Kirby, the designer of what was originally and very aptly called the ‘Weekender’ dinghy, filters through, his design is the red-hot class at this weird Olympics. Robert Scheidt winning Gold would be a fitting tribute from the best sailor ever to race in this class. It’s almost written in the stars and I’m certain that a wry Canadian smile would be emanated from the heavens if it were to happen.
Is this his last Olympics? I’m not taking that bet. Is it one of the best chances to add to an extraordinary sailing palmares? You bet. And just having him there is a treat. The Olympic family revere this affable but ultimately deadly serious Brazilian whilst in his home country he’s accorded with rock-star status.
The boy from Sao Paulo who trained at the Guarapiranga Dam before spending the rest of his life globe-trotting to venue after venue, scooping up Junior Championships at will before gatecrashing the senior circuit to such dynamic success is a phenomenon. Physically he’s imposing, mentally he’s nails and now that he’s tied Torben Grael’s record of five medals at five Games, going for a sixth to craft a record that is unlikely ever to be beaten is something of Olympic folklore. If he does it, the crown of greatest Olympian of all time is secured and you’d be a hard-nut to not wish him that title.
All eyes are on the ILCA fleet. It’s the stand-out showdown of this Games although I’ll be watching for Hannah Mills and Elidh MacIntyre (daughter of Mike MacIntyre who won that fabulous Gold in the Stars when everyone else broke their masts) in the 470, and Giles Scott in the Finns who I hear is coming very good just at the right time with the rumour being that he’s found another gear in training.
Pete and Blair are looking mighty in the 49er whilst Marit Bouwmeester is about a generation ahead in the Radials. The 470 Men’s fleet is a bit of a lottery but you’d have to say the Aussies of Matt Belcher and Will Ryan look strong whilst in the Nacra 17 fleet…I couldn’t really care less. Same too for the Windsurfers and 49erFX. I’ll cheer on the Brits but realistically only Charlotte Dobson and Saskia Tidey look like contenders if the breeze is up.
The big story is in the ILCA fleet and it’ll not only be one to watch but one to savour. Bet against Scheidt at your peril as he faces down old father time and takes it all to the youngsters wishing to topple the King. Fascinating, riveting, it’s a classic of the modern Olympic era that gives us all hope.
Go Robert – the sailing world is watching.