LONG BEACH, Calif.—A small delegation from Long Beach’s Chinese sister city dropped in to watch the competition on the next-to-last day of Southern California’s US Sailing Olympic Pre-Trials Saturday, and the weather conditions made them feel right at home.
Whatever brought the towns together as sister cities 21 years ago, it wasn’t the wind, although it may have looked that way to the visitors. While Long Beach is famous for brisk afternoon sea breezes, Qingdao, site of the 2008 Olympic sailing, is already notorious for barely a breath of air.
The only real excitement Saturday came at the end of the 470 dinghy race when Erin Maxwell fell out of her boat.
We’re not making any of this up. It’s all part of the China Syndrome that has sailors all over the world refining the art of sailing without wind. This week it’s worked out well here.
On Saturday the 470s managed only one race in 3-4 knots before the wind quit entirely, while closer to shore the RS:X windsurfers squeezed in a pair of short races around a patient postponement.
Maxwell, of Norwalk, Conn., is one of the stronger contenders for the U.S. berth in women’s 470. Her crew is Isabelle Kinsolving of New York, who sailed to fifth place with Katie McDowell in the 2004 Olympics at Athens.
Maxwell and Kinsolving were fought their way to the finish line to nip regatta frontrunners Stuart McNay and crew Graham Biehl for second place behind winners Mikee Anderson and crew David Hughes.
“We did one big roll tack (see her demo in photo at right) and I missed my foot strap,” Maxwell said. “The boat hadn’t even completely crossed the line before I fell out.”
But the finish left them in clear second place overall, although 10 points behind McNay and Biehl with three races hopefully remaining Sunday.
“Isabelle and I are a pretty new team,” Maxwell said, “but we’re happy with the way we’re going. We haven’t had many bumps.”
Except, well . . .
The frontrunners, McNay of Chestnut Hill, Mass. and Biehl of San Diego, were reminded that they still face a dogfight with San Diego rivals Anderson and Hughes, who joined this competition a day late. The latter fought for the early lead with a brief tacking duel near the first windward mark, gave up the lead downwind but got it back to notch their first win in four races, with three remaining.
“We’re much better with their competition,” Biehl said. “They overstood the mark downwind and we sailed a little faster, but we didn’t do what we should have done on the second [upwind leg].”
On the RS:X course, Ben Barger of Tampa, Fla. stretched his perfect string to six, while Farrah Hall, Annapolis, broke Nancy Rios’ win streak at four by outfoxing her Cocoa, Fla. rival in the last race.
Barger said, “I’m trying to find as much training as possible in these kind of conditions. It’s good practice for China.”
A win her would be a big step toward earning him not only the U.S. slot for the Pan-Am Games but a chance to sail in the Pre-Olympics at Qingdao next year. The other two events counting in the latter equation are at Miami next January.
“That’s why this is one of the more important events,” he said.
“The ranking events mean a lot for all the sailors . . . medical coverage, pay for the trip to the Pan-Am Games and the Pre-Olympics.”
Hall said she finally beat Rios in the conditions that favor her lighter rival by picking the better side of the course.
“I was ahead and covering her, and then she and everyone else went the other way,” Hall said. “Every once in a while I get lucky.”
The 470s are sailing out of the US Sailing Center while the RS:Xs are based at Alamitos Bay Yacht Club down the street.
Previous Pre-Trials hosted this month: Tornado, San Diego YC; 49er, Southwestern YC, San Diego; Finn, Newport Harbor YC, Newport Beach; Star, California YC, Marina del Rey. Complete results are available at www.sdyc.org/trials/ or directly through the links in the right-hand column.
A year from now the same venues will host the formal Olympic Trials to select the one boat in each class that will represent the United States in the Olympics at Qingdao, China in 2008
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