'It is not the end of the world' - Appel

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 September, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 September, 2000, 12:00am

No worries, mate! Sadly Hong Kong golden girl Lee Lai-shan cannot utter that popular 'strine' phrase after a disastrous start to her Olympic gold medal title defence yesterday.

In the worst possible opening to her Sydney 2000 campaign, San San finished in sixth place at the end of the crucial opening day in the women's mistral event. Crucial because she knew it was of paramount importance to get a momentum going in the 11-race series. Unfortunately for Hong Kong, she finished the first two races in fifth and 10th position respectively.

This left her clinging precariously to rung number six in the overall ladder. Top of it was surprise package from Germany Amelie Lux, while arch-rivals Alessandra Sensini of Italy and New Zealander Barbara Kendall were second and third.

'It's not been a great day,' were coach Rene Appel's first words when asked to describe the start of San San's campaign. 'We have had worse starts before. It would have been nice to have got a good start.'

Appel added: 'It is not the end of the world. She is experienced enough to come back from here. It is too early to be worried. A lot of people have had worse starts.'

Reigning world champion Sensini also echoed Appel's views and said San San, winner of the windsurfing gold medal four years ago at the Atlanta Games, couldn't be written off after today's performance.

'It is too early to say who can win. There is still a week of racing to go - nine more races. San San still has a chance,' said Sensini. But truly, it is cold comfort, if any, for San San.

The reason behind San San's poor results yesterday were two collisions, one in each race. The first was with American Lanee Butler and the second with Latvian Vita Matise. On both occasions San San was forced to do a 720-degree turn - circling her board twice - thus losing time.

The Hong Kong camp filed a protest to race officials over the first incident and happily for San San, it was upheld. The end result was San San moving up one place in the ladder - she was originally placed seventh. Butler was disqualified from race one and penalised 30 penalty points. But in the final outcome, it might not mean much as both Kendall and Sensini were on song.

'They are both sailing really well. There is nothing San San can do about it, except try and do better tomorrow,' said Appel.

San San can discard two of her worst results at the end of the 10th race. Yesterday's second race result will have to be discarded and this just increases the pressure on her, for she now knows that she cannot afford to turn in any more poor results. Another bad day in the office today - in the third and fourth races - could virtually see her kiss goodbye to her hopes.

Her rivals are in top form. Kendall had a second and third finish in the opening two races. Sensini a 3-1, and surprise package Lux a 1-2. The latter is a two-time world junior champion who seems to be coming into form at the correct time. The common denominator amongst them all is that they have an insurance policy, one which San San has already half used up.

San San's nerves were stretched at the very outset when the start of the first race was delayed by one hour due to a lack of winds. It seemed as if fate wanted some fun and games. After weeks of heavy winds, there was hardly a ripple yesterday at noon across the glass-like surface of Sydney Harbour.

The waiting increased the tension. The 29-strong women's field tried to relax as best they could out in the water. San San sat waiting on the dinghy allocated to Appel. It is part and parcel of the sport. There is no just turning up and competing. Sailing depends on the weather and mother nature was up to her usual tricks, deliciously prolonging the agony.

'The waiting did not help. But she should be used to it by now. She is very experienced,' said Appel.

The inexperienced Ho Chi-ho, Hong Kong's entry in the men's mistral, finished in 21st place overall at the end of day one. He registered a 12th and a 29th finish in his two races. Ho has the luxury of knowing that no one expects too much from him. As coach Lisa Neuburger said, the Olympic newcomer is here for the experience.

The same cannot be said of San San. She is here to retain the gold medal. 'She was not happy with her performance today. But she is experienced enough to know where she stands. She knows what has to be done,' said Appel, hiding his worry.

No worries? San San has plenty to worry about.