Augie DIAZ and Hannah SWETT will have to work as hard as anyone this week to rise above the stellar fleet of Olympic hopefuls, America's Cup veterans and world champions that have assembled in Coconut Grove for the Rolex Miami OCR.
The annual event, which runs from today until Friday 30 January, is in its fifteenth year and hosts ISAF Grade 1 racing in the classes chosen for the 2004 Olympic games, as well as the Paralympic Regatta. With over 300 boats and 700 sailors ready to start, the racing will feature athletes already chosen for the 2004 Olympic Regatta in Athens competing alongside others who are still working toward being their country's representative. There are 37 nations represented.
Diaz, though not shooting for the 2004 Olympics himself, will compete in the Star class, which has 67 entries and is shaping up to be one of the largest and most competitive classes of the 11 participating. In fact, with the two-person, 22-foot open keelboat due to have its U.S. Olympic Team Trials from 18-28 March at Coral Reef Yacht Club, it was a given that this country's best sailors in that class would turn out for the Rolex Miami OCR. The regatta gives the U.S. athletes not only a chance to test the Trials venue but also the opportunity to tune up against their top American rivals. Also, because of its importance on the international sailing calendar, the Rolex Miami OCR pits the U.S. Star sailors against the foreign competitors they are most likely to battle if they go on to the Olympics.
Diaz has pegged as the fleet's greatest international threats three Star World Champions: Xavier ROHART from France; Iain PERCY from Great Britain; and Fredrik LOOF of Sweden.
"I sail against these guys all the time,"
said Diaz, who nevertheless secured his Rolex Yachtsman of the Year title for achievement in three different one-design classes, among them the Snipe, in which he won the 2003 world championship.
"I call them the "Finnsters" because they all are very good Finn sailors who have moved to the Star class and are dominating."
From among his own countrymen, Diaz will be on guard for three California skippers: Paul CAYARD (Kentfield), Howie SHIEBLER (San Francisco) and Mark REYNOLDS (San Diego). Both Cayard and Reynolds are Star World champions, with Cayard known better for his America's Cup sailing of late. Reynolds counts three Star Olympic medals, the most recent a gold in 2000, among his accomplishments.
"Paul has become very active in the Star class recently, and he's going to be right in there,"
said Diaz. "Mark will sail with Steve ERICKSON, who won the '84 gold medal in the Stars as crew, so they will be a strong team. Howie is sailing fast with his crew Will Stout, and they have something that the rest of us have found difficult to master. They have the ability to fall behind, get in trouble and then come back."
As for his own crew, Diaz has something to crow about, too. Hal HAENEL, who won a gold medal crewing for Mark Reynolds at the 1992 Olympic Regatta, will sail this event with him.
Hannah SWETT, who is one of USA's leading contenders for an Olympic Yngling berth, sees Karianne EIKELAND from Norway as one of the biggest overseas threats at this regatta. "She's speedy and she's been going the right way,"
said Swett, who beat Eikeland by only one point in a local regatta held this past weekend in Miami. "Her team's not just coming out of anywhere; they were their country's representative at the Pre-Trials."
Denmark's Dorte JENSEN is another Olympic hopeful, whose third at the 2003 world championship was consistent with her world-class ability, but Swett's toughest competition may come from her U.S. compatriots. Teams led by Jody SWANSON (Buffalo, N.Y.), Betsy ALISON (Newport, R.I.), Carol CRONIN (Jamestown, R.I.) and Sally BARKOW (Nashotah, Wis.) are constantly mixing it up with Swett on the international Yngling circuit, and it is anyone's guess which one of these Olympic hopefuls will put the others behind them.
When the Rolex Miami OCR concludes, sailors from four of the competing classes will stay nearby to prepare for their upcoming Olympic Trials. In February, the Lauderdale Yacht Club will host the Europe and Finn classes; the Key Biscayne Yacht Club will host the 49er and; and Miami Yacht Club will take on the Tornado Trials.
The Rolex Miami OCR will feature six racing circles on Biscayne Bay. Regatta Headquarters will be located at the US Sailing Center in Coconut Grove. Other Hosts for the event are the Coral Reef, Key Biscayne and Miami Yacht Clubs; the Coconut Grove Sailing Club; and Shake-A-Leg Miami.
Further details and full results will be available on the event website at the address below.