The USA's representatives at the 2008 Olympic Sailing Competition have been decided after a tense final day at the West Coast trials.
It's not supposed to be easy, winning a bid to the Olympic Games in any discipline, but that makes it more satisfying for the winners, if heartbreaking for the losers. So it was in Sunday's climax of the US Olympic & Paralympic Team Trials - Sailing on the West Coast.
While some winners won comfortably, the Stars and Tornados and - it seemed for a few hours - the women's RS:X sailboards were settled by competitors coming from behind on the last day and winning the last race. But well into the evening the latter result was reversed on a protest that put everyone through an emotional wringer, as if the competition wasn't tense enough.
California Yacht Club, Marina del Rey
Attention, AARP - you have a new poster boy. Fifty-seven-year-old John DANE
III of Gulfport, Miss., sailing with his son-in-law Austin SPERRY
, 29, as crew, won the biggest race of his life Sunday to claim the US Olympic berth for the Games' most venerable class. They nosed out Rick MERRIMAN
and Phil TRINTER
by seconds in the only race remaining. Their only lingering rivals among 19 boats, George SZABO
and Andrew SCOTT
and Mark MENDELBLATT
and Magnus LILJEDAHL
, finished sixth and seventh. Winds were 8-12 knots but Santa Monica Bay offered more straightforward sailing than it had most of the week.
DANE and SPERRY whooped and hugged after crossing the line. "I'm glad it's over,"
SPERRY said. "JD did a great job, everything clicked, and we're going to the Olympics."
They've been sailing together for three years, since sailing on different boats in the 2004 Trials. Their key improvement going into the Trials was downwind speed, following an intense nine days of concentration on that aspect working with Robert SCHEIDT
(BRA), a triple Olympic medallist in Laser and current Star World Champion. "We passed MERRIMAN in the last 100 yards,"
SPERRY said. "It was pretty cool."
- Tom O'CONOR reporting
San Diego Yacht Club
and Charlie OGLETREE
's Tornado tour of Olympic sailing venues marches on after they pulled off a comeback for the ages by winning the last four races to outscore Robbie DANIEL
and crew Hunter STUNZI
by one point - the first time in the 16-race regatta that the latter didn't own at least a tie for first place. Thus, LOVELL and OGLETREE, who turned 40 together Thursday, will try to upgrade their 2004 silver medals to gold next August. In winds of 5-8 knots, they won Sunday's races by 59 and 71 seconds, after their protest Saturday against DANIEL and STUNZI and Norman CHU and Gary CHU for team racing against them was disallowed the night before.
The competition got feisty at times. "We've consistently come up trumps this week in our spirited pre-start match racing against our younger opponents, but they have displayed an uncanny ability in getting out of jail more times than we care to remember,"
OGLETREE wrote in their daily newsletter. LOVELL said, "Robbie and Hunter pushed us harder than we've ever been pushed in Trials conditions. We just kept thinking every day, 'We're still not mathematically eliminated. We can still win.' We finally got 'em in the last start when we pushed them off on the committee boat."
- Mike FOSTER reporting
Alamitos Bay Yacht Club and US Sailing Centre, Long Beach
After winning the previous six races to reach the threshold of the 2008 Olympics, it appeared the diminutive Nancy RIOS
had lost the bid by one point to a bigger, stronger Farrah HALL
by finishing fourth in the final race in 14-knot winds, as HALL swept the day 1,1. But RIOS, inconsolable when she reached shore, requested redress over a collision with third-place Monica WILSON
after the start of the last race that tore her sail. The jury agreed and dropped her four-point score to two, putting her back in front of HALL, 28 points to 29.
"I'm happy [now],"
RIOS said. "My plan today was to get two seconds, and I was right behind Farrah when I had the collision. If it was Farrah in this situation, she also would have protested."
RIOS won seven of the 16 races to HALL's six. Meantime, the technicality remains that the women's RS:X is the only class in which the USA has failed to qualify as a country. The last chance will be the RS:X Worlds at Auckland in January. "I'm going to the Worlds and have all the confidence we'll qualify,"
RIOS said. "No problem."
Amongst the men Ben BARGER
won his spot at Qingdao. BARGER, 26, made it hard on himself when he spotted his rivals an early lead by sailing the wrong course in the first of 16 races. Otherwise, he won eight races, including the last four, to ruin double-Olympic medallist Mike GEBHARDT
's dream of sailing in his fifth Games.
Winds started light at 4-5 knots but built to 14, and BARGER handled it all. "It's awesome,"
he said. "For ten years I've been working toward this. I feel like I've grown a few gray hairs. The Trials can be intense, and this was no different."
- Rick ROBERTS reporting
Southwestern Yacht Club, San Diego
"Go win some gold medals!"
With that send off from the US Navy, Tim WADLOW
, 33, and crew Chris RAST
, 35, a native of Switzerland with dual citizenship, won the US Olympic berth by finishing second to Morgan LARSON
and Pete SPAULDING
in the next-to-last race, sailed in bright sunshine in 7 knots of wind.
For the third day of the 49er Trials, a Navy ship anchored near the course to watch the action, then cheered the winners as they sailed into the spectator fleet and capsized their boat to mingle with the fans and swig some champagne. WADLOW and SPAULDING finished fifth as team mates in the 2004 Games when RAST, then sailing for Switzerland, was their tuning partner. They went their separate ways when WADLOW remained uncertain about doing another campaign, then he and RAST started sailing together 18 months ago. Their key: "You have to believe in yourselves,"
WADLOW said. "The transition from skipper to crew is huge, but Chris was willing to do it, and we found we worked together really well."
RAST said, "It's not easy. I bulked up from 145 to 158 pounds, [and] I believe I'm one of the best crews right now."
He plans to move to San Diego. "I met a pretty sweet girl here,"
he said. - Margo HEMOND and Jerelyn BIEHL reporting
Newport Harbour Yacht Club, Balboa
It may have looked easy, running with a double-digit lead most of the week, but "it was an extremely tough week," Zach RAILEY
assured any skeptics. RAILEY, 23, was among the youngest competitors in the Trials' largest fleet of 42 boats that included veterans up to 72. "You have to respect the experience,"
RAILEY said. "You know that no one's giving up."
Racing was delayed two hours Sunday until 14:00 when the wind came in at 12 knots. As fourth-place Bryan BOYD
won both races, RAILEY finished second in the first race to clinch the win without sailing the 16th race. "It was a true test,"
he said. "I'm glad I did all the work beforehand. The first goal was to win the Trials, but the ultimate goal is to be on the podium in China."
- Jeff JOHNSON reporting
They could have won the women's 470 Olympic assignment by merely finishing the first race Sunday, but Amanda CLARK
, 25, and Sarah MERGENTHALER
, 28, kept sailing like winners and clinched it in style. Their victory means they'll join Stuart MCNAY
, 26, and Graham BIEHL
, 21, who won the men's 470 Trials a day earlier, in Qingdao, China next summer.
The victory actually allowed CLARK and MERGENTHALER to finish on top of the combined fleet standings after MCNAY and BIEHL elected not to sail Sunday and accepted two 14-point DNC (did not compete) scores, one of which they were allowed to discard.
CLARK said, "We knew we just had to finish at least 11th [in the first race] so we were being conservative. Yeah, I know. We were psyched. It's a dream come true. We've been working toward this together since 2002. When I think about it I get teary-eyed."
MERGENTHALER said, "You can try all you like and never get it right, but when you do it feels really great. This is the start of a new phase. We're not just going to the Olympics. We're going to China to bring home a medal."
- 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