Rio de Janeiro, Brazil- Robert is still Laser sailing. He started by winning a gold medal in 1996, beating Ben Ainslie in Savannah, Georgia, in a place that had a real magic aura, where the boats where kept on a pontoon in the middle of the estuary of the river. The heat and mother nature were powerful there, with caimans and all sort of birds around. He is the only one who beat Ben Ainslie in the Olympics. Four years later Ben managed to even up the scorecard with a memorable and ultimate match race in Sydney Harbour. Ben moved to the Finn, Robert to the Star where he collected two more medals, crossing his career with Iain Percy, Freddy Lööf, Xavier Rohart and Mateus Kusznierewicz, the Finn gang of Sydney 2000.
He won the Star Worlds in 2012, but did not dominate the Star as he did in the Laser. All in all the Star may have been a bit too powerful for him, favouring the bigger and stronger Finn sailors; also because of the weight rule that allowed a slightly heavier overall weight with a heavy helmsman. So Ben had only a few left of the Sydney Finn gang to fight with, myself, with a couple of slipped disc in my back, and Rafa Trujillo, forced by his federation to sail Star with José van der Ploeg in 2000: he gave Ben a tough fight in Cadiz at the 2003 Finn Gold Cup.
Getting older, I was racing even less than before and at the Finn Europeans in Cesme, Turkey in 2002, Ben and I had a memorable fight for the European title. He got a Rule 69 …with no disqualification, for trying to beat me up with his paddle after a match race in a pre-start that got called off. A general recall saved him from losing the championship …and me from getting a wooden paddle on the head as I was leading overall and he had a DSQ on his scorecard. The only reason I managed to put him in a corner was probably my almost twenty years in the Finn versus his few months.
After that he became unstoppable and won almost everything, training as hard as humanly possible, never giving up, fighting for every inch. He was not the right size for the Finn, but was able to channel his unlimited aggression into being the unbeatable best. Innumerable tiller extensions and the odd camera man were victims of the times when this energy was getting a bit out of control. His back was a victim also, as by pushing so hard, at times his body told him to stop, but despite the pain he fought until the end and only the gods of the winds tilted the fight his way against a super Jonas Høgh-Christensen in London in 2012.
Ben has moved to the America’s Cup and has a chance to bring the Cup back to the UK after a century. Robert, once the Star was erased from the Games in the name of ‘evolution’ had no chance as to get back to the Laser at age 43. The Olympics in Brazil was something he really could not say no to. He has worked hard – harder that ever – and just won the last pre-regatta here in Rio. If he makes it to the podium he will be the legend of this Games, the legend of a country that gave birth to Joeg Bruder and to Torben Grael. Passional, dangerous, magic, brutal Brazil!