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8 October 2007, 05:23 pm
Wild, Wacky And Windy At US West Coast Trials
Amanda CLARK and Sarah MERGENTHALER
Amanda CLARK (left) and Sarah MERGENTHALER are

US Olympic & Paralympic Team Trials 2007
Newport, Rhode Island, USA

If it's true that challenging conditions bring the best sailors to the top, the USA maybe on its way to sending one of its stronger teams to the Olympic Games because they saw plenty of that on Sunday up and down the Southern California coast.
There were only two leader changes in the eight fleets: 41-year-old four-time Olympian Mike GEBHARDT moving up to first place in the RS:X sailboards at Long Beach and another veteran, Darrell PECK, taking over the Finn lead at Newport Beach. Here's how the battles look after two days:

49er

Southwestern Yacht Club, San Diego

The mood turned tense for Tim WADLOW and Chris RAST even as they extended their lead with a 1,3,1 second day of sailing in winds swinging from 15 to 11 to 18 knots through the afternoon. At press time, after winning four of the six races so far, they were facing a protest filed against them by Morgan LARSON and crew Pete SPAULDING over a non-contact incident in Sunday's first race. LARSON and SPAULDING also had their second early start in two days and now carry two OCSs that will eat up their two discards due to kick in later. Veteran campaigners Dalton BERGAN and Zach MAXAM remain in second place after a strong 4,1,2 day.

RAST said, "We like the conditions we're seeing right now. It's windy and a lot of teams had been practicing for light air."

"But you have to get there first," RAST added. He and WADLOW overcame a poor start in the first race but nailed a jibe-set at the weather mark that set them up to fly from fifth to first downwind. - Margo HEMOND reporting

Finn

Newport Harbor Yacht Club, Balboa

Survival is paramount when the wind gods start throwing curves the way they did Sunday. "It got crazy," said Darrell PECK, a 43 year old class veteran from Gresham, Ore. "Big shifts and big holes." With a first and third in the 42-boat fleet, PECK took over first place from Zach RAILEY (12,1) by four points. After Principal Race Officer Jeff JOHNSON delayed the start for one and a half hours waiting for some stability, the breeze off Balboa built from 9 to 16 knots through the afternoon with wild swings to the right, including one that caused the second race to be abandoned on the first try.

"I just sailed in the middle of the course and tried to look for the biggest winds," PECK said, describing how rivals playing one side or the other usually came to grief. PECK also had a plan coming in. "I re-optimized my boat and my body for light wind," he said. - Jeff JOHNSON reporting

Star

California Yacht Club, Marina del Rey

With unsettled and erratic wind across the board, this was the only West Coast venue to start on time Sunday, which allowed just enough time for the allotted two races before conditions turned impossible as the last boats finished. Mark MENDELBLATT and crew Magnus LILJEDAHL remained in first place by eight points with an 8,1 day as George SZABO and Andrew SCOTT (7,3) settled into a second place with the 1988 and 1992 silver and gold medallists, Mark REYNOLDS and Hal HAENEL. The conditions with 8 to 10 knots of fickle breeze tested all of them.

"The race committee did a fine job of getting the races in," SZABO said. "It was doing 20-degree shifts left and right and not where you're expecting them. We had to recover a few times and we got lucky a few times." SZABO, who sailed in a Olympic Test Event in China last year, said that compared to Marina del Rey Sunday, "The wind at Qingdao was steady." - Tom O'CONOR reporting

Tornado

San Diego Yacht Club

It's still a two-boat race after Robbie DANIEL and crew Hunter STUNZI and three-time Olympians John LOVELL and Charlie OGLETREE swapped firsts and seconds for the second day, the latter winning by 1 minute 49 seconds after the former ruled by 54 seconds. One of their secrets: "We learned how to deal with San Diego's terrible kelp," OGLETREE wrote in a pre-regatta report. "When you're going 20 knots, hitting a kelp island can make you very slow." - Mike FOSTER and Jared WOHLGEMUTH reporting

470

Alamitos Bay Yacht Club/US Sailing Centre, Long Beach

The secret to Stuart MCNAY and crew Graham BIEHL's early success in the men's fleet is apparent. "We have to keep sailing consistently," BIEHL said after they followed Saturday's 2,2 score with a 1,2 Sunday. "It got us to where we are now." But it's easier said than done. Unstable breeze - not the norm at Long Beach - is proving difficult to handle for everyone, especially the race committee, which postponed the start of racing for one and a half hours. "We haven't practiced in conditions like that," BIEHL said. Another of the top teams, Michael ANDERSON-MITTERLING and crew David HUGHES, were in second place but eight points back after a 6,3 afternoon.

No big deal, says Amanda CLARK, who with crew Sarah MERGENTHALER not only lead the women after two days but outsailed all the men in Sunday's first race and stand second in the combined fleet. "We do a lot of competing with the men," CLARK said, "and for this event with only five [women's] boats it's better to be in a combined fleet because it's closer to what we'll have in China with only 18 boats." With the tricky conditions prevailing Sunday, CLARK said, "We're looking upwind and making sure we're in the right place for whatever comes, and we're not taking any big chances. We're also trying to have fun. It's all for nothing if we're not enjoying ourselves." - Rick ROBERTS reporting

RS:X

Alamitos Bay Yacht Club/US Sailing Centre, Long Beach

The only board sailor to be involved in every Olympic Games since the class was introduced at Long Beach in the 1984 Games is on top of his game again. Mike GEBHARDT, 41, scored first and second places Sunday to take a three-point lead over early leader Robert WILLIS. GEBHARDT's 20 year old protégé, Ben BARGER, also figures to be a factor once he discards Saturday's DSQ for sailing the wrong course. "I just needed to clean up my starts," GEBHARDT said. "I haven't been racing much, but I'm back in the racing mode now." GEBHARDT was silver medallist Scott STEELE's tuning partner in 1984, then won bronze and silver himself in 1988 and 1992 and continued to represent the USA, in 1996 and 2000. In 2004 he coached Gal FRIDMAN to winning a gold medal for Israel.

In the women's fleet, the top four are fighting to define their competition. Lisa KREMER's early lead shrank to one point as rivals Farrah HALL and Nancy RIOS swapped wins to share second place, one point ahead of Monica WILSON. - Rick ROBERTS reporting

For complete information on the US Olympic and Paralympic Team Trials - Sailing, please visit www.ussailing.org/olympics/OlympicTrials. Video from the event with commentary by Gary JOBSON will be available daily on the website of the NBC network at www.NBCOlympics.com.

Rich Roberts (As Amended By ISAF)
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