LONG BEACH, Calif.—America’s best prospects for success in the 470 dinghy and RS:X windsurfer classes at the 2008 China Olympics will complete the month’s round of Southern California’s US Sailing Olympic Pre-Trials Thursday through Sunday.
About a dozen men’s and women’s 470s will sail out of the US Sailing Center in east Long Beach while about 10 RS:X windsurfers—the new Olympic sailboard—will be based at the nearby Alamitos Bay Yacht Club, launching off the beach across the street and racing the same waters where sail boarding was introduced to the Olympics in 1984.
Also, the first women’s Olympic sailing gold medal was won by an ABYC member, Allison Jolly, sailing a 470 with crew Lynne Jewell at Pusan, South Korea, in 1988.
The dual regattas feature one of America’s stronger Olympic classes—the 470—and another—the RS:X— that faces an uphill battle to achieve a globally competitive level.
The 470s and RS:Xs are scheduled for 10 races each on adjacent ocean courses east of the breakwater. The 470s will start at noon the first three days and at 11 a.m. Sunday, conditions permitting. The RS:Xs will start at 1 p.m. daily. The men and women 470s will sail together, the RS:Xs separately.
No Olympic medalists and only one former Olympian are competing, but some Olympic medalists and past participants will be assisting in coaching roles.
Paul Foerster, who with crew Kevin Burnham won his country’s only gold prize in the 470 at Athens in 2004, is coaching Erin Maxwell, Norwalk, Conn., and her crew, 2004 Olympian Isabelle Kinsolving of New York, in their women’s 470 campaign.
Burnham is working with the Fox family siblings of Cumberland, Maine. Charles is in men’s 470 with Adam Bennett pf East Moriches, N.Y., as crew; Sara is crew for Kathleen Love of San Diego in women’s 470.
Also, Pease Glaser, a silver medalist with JJ Isler at Sydney in 2000, is coaching “Team Molly”—Carapiet of Tiburon, Calif. and O’Bryan of Annapolis.
Foerster said he and Burnham will offer Olympic insights to the competitors—”as many as we can remember”—plus the fact that “there’s a lot more pressure [in the Olympics] because you get only one chance every four years.”
The RS:X class has no coach assigned to it and hasn’t been sailed extensively by Americans, which partly explains why no U.S. sailors are ranked higher than Ben Barger (No. 57), of St. Petersburg, Fla. Barger finished second to Peter Wells of Newport Beach in the men’s Trials in 2004 before the Mistral board’s swan song at Athens.
Of the RS:X, Wells said, “You weren’t even able to buy the equipment until two years ago, plus while other countries have dedicated programs, windsurfing in the U.S. is ignored.”
The top women competitors at the moment are Nancy Rios, Cocoa, Fla. and Farrah Hall, Annapolis, in the women’s. They and Barger will be sailing this week. The winner in each class also qualifies for the Pan-Am Games.
“They’re all experienced windsurfers,” Wells said, “so all they need is the time and opportunity to learn the new board.”
The new RS:X is “shorter and a lot wider,” Wells said. “It’s supposed to be able to plane sooner in light wind and has a larger sail, [but] it’s heavier than the old board, [which] is faster in light wind.”
Scott Steele won a silver medal for the U.S. in the sailboards’ first Olympics in ’84, but four-time Olympian Mike Gebhardt won the only other two—a silver in 1992 and a bronze in 1988.
US Sailing Olympic coach Skip Whyte, who oversees the 470s, said this event is important for all Olympic aspirants not only because “it allows them to acclimate to the conditions they’ll see in the [final] Trials next year,” but, like the previous four Pre-Trials this month, it’s the first of three events that will determine the top three contenders who qualify for campaign funding from the Olympic Sailing Committee.
The US Sailing Team membership eligible for funding has been reduced from five to three in each class, according to a US Sailing statement, “as part of US Sailing’s Olympic Sailing Committee ongoing mission to facilitate the success of elite performance athletes.”
The 470s not only had a gold medal performance by Foerster and Burnham at Athens but a fifth place by Katie McDowell and Kinsolving. McDowell opted to finish school so Kinsolving hooked up with Maxwell, but Amanda Clark, Shelter Island, N.Y., and crew Sarah Mergenthaler, Matawan, N.J., have the highest international ranking at No. 8.
“Erin and I have been sailing against each other our whole lives,” Kinsolving said.
Mikee Anderson and crew David Hughes of San Diego, ranked No. 10 by ISAF, and Stuart McNay, Chestnut Hill, Mass, and crew Graham Biehl, San Diego (No. 18), are the top-ranked U.S. 470 teams. Both sailed in the Olympic test event at Qingdao, China in August, placing 11th and 8th, respectively.
Anderson will be unable to race Thursday because of a school commitment at USC, so he will probably spot his rivals the first day’s races, but there will be one throwout after five races.
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