The 2016 Rio Olympic Games opening ceremony gets under way at midnight tonight and runs into the early hours of tomorrow morning.
Lee-on-the-Solent sailor Alain Sign is part of Team GB’s contingent in Brazil, and ahead of the greatest sporting event on earth he caught up with sports writer Jeff Marshman...
Alain Sign has set his sights on maiden Olympic medal glory.
And the Lee-on-the-Solent sailor is hoping his telepathic understanding with 49er skiff class partner Dylan Fletcher will help him to achieve that in Rio.
Having narrowly missed out on qualification for London 2012, Sign and Fletcher are ready to make up for lost time.
And with a decade of racing under their sails, the duo are determined to ensure overwhelming favourites New Zealand do not have it all their own way in Brazil.
Kiwi duo Peter Burling and Blair Tuke have been victorious in 27 successive regattas since the London Games – winning every single event on the World Cup circuit for the past two years.
But the 2012 Olympic silver medallists, who were pipped to gold by fellow Rio contenders Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen of Australia, have not had it all their own way on South American waters.
Last month’s two-day warm-up event for the Olympics was won by the Australians, with Team GB’s Sign and Fletcher leading after day one in windy conditions.
Lighter air saw their challenge falter on day two but Sign saw enough to suggest an upset may be on the cards.
He said: ‘They (Burling and Tuke) have been on top of the game since London and have dominated the 49er class.
‘But last time out in Rio they didn’t win the event.
‘So that shows how tricky the venue is and how things aren’t straightforward in drag racing.
‘It is a bit more tactical and anything can happen out there.
‘The pressure is on them at the moment but we are happy with how we are approaching the Games and we want to use this as an opportunity to race as well as we can and challenge for medals.
‘It is going to be a shorter regatta than London 2012 but I think it is still going to be quite tricky.
‘It is very unpredictable with the tide and the wind coming in off the mountain.
‘And I think at the end of the week there might be a little upset or a random team coming up through the ranks.
‘We are especially happy with the fact it is a smaller fleet – it is only 20 boats which really suits our racing style.
‘We will try to make the boat go really fast and head out and attack the race course as we see it.’
Sign and Fletcher have enjoyed an impressive 2016 campaign so far, claiming bronze at the Sailing World Cup in February out in United States. They followed that up with a silver medal on home waters in Weymouth and Portland in June.
And the best mates believe their recent Rio showing bodes well heading into this month’s all-important Olympic regatta.
Sign said: ‘Our preparations have gone really well – we were happy with how that lead-up event went for us.
‘We had a really good first day.
‘We had three races in standard sea breeze for Rio, which was really good, we had 15 knots or so.
‘But then, the second day, we had a northerly breeze which was really fluky and we were struggling a little bit to get our heads around how shifty it was.
‘Also, the airport is really close to the race course.
‘The planes were coming in and affecting it but for the Games that is all going to be shut off.
‘It was a little bit like Mario Kart, where people at the back were getting quite lucky!
‘We have been working pretty hard to get quite quick in the breeze because you will find the teams who are dangerous, such as New Zealand and Australia, are quick in the breeze and have always been quite quick in the lighter stuff.
‘We have worked hard this season to find an extra bit of speed in the breeze and seemed to have found that so feel more comfortable and able to take it to the top guys.’
Key to Sign and Fletcher’s chances of success will be the duo’s understanding on the waters – honed over a decade of friendship.
‘We are best mates and have grown up together through the 29er class in the youth system,’ said Sign.
‘We have been sailing together for 10 years so we know what makes each other tick.
‘Out on the water it is the same – we are both in sync.
‘Sometimes you get into situations where you can’t talk quickly enough to react and I think that is where our strength comes in as we can adapt to situations pretty quickly because we don’t need to talk.
‘We can guess what the other guy is going to do at that point.
‘The communication side of things is important and ranges from talking about the boat speed, direction, wind shifts, the other boats immediately around us and the wider picture of what is going on on the race track.’
Having narrowly missed out on London 2012 selection, Sign is keen to make the most of his maiden Olympic experience – at the age of 30.
He added: ‘Looking back, we had a good season leading into London 2012 but were outsiders for selection.
‘I think it was just a little bit of naivety and being quite young in knowing how to campaign a 49er properly.
‘Seeing the hole spectacle in your home country and thinking: “I want to be a part of that” was a big motivation
‘But now to be out here experiencing it is amazing.
‘Seeing everyone on the plane on their team kit was a real realisation of “this is it” and we cant wait to get going.’