On 6 October the USA's top Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls will sail to starting lines on the east and west coasts to compete in the do-or-die US Olympic & Paralympic Team Trials.
Coordinated by US SAILING and six host organizations, this winner-takes-all regatta determines which sailors will represent the USA at the 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Upon approval from the US Olympic Committee (USOC), the athletes who win the Trials will be named to the US Olympic and Paralympic Teams. The regatta concludes on Sunday 14 October.
According to Dean BRENNER, chairman of US SAILING's Olympic Sailing Committee, the ability to select the Olympic and Paralympic teams concurrently in 11 classes and nearly a year before the 2008 Games will have a great benefit to the US team.
"Up until this point, the focus of the Olympic Sailing Committee has been preparing all our athletes for these Trials,"
said BRENNER. "But once the Trials are over, we will all shift into the next phase together, as a team - and the focus of our energies and resources becomes concentrated on those sailors who will represent our country at the 2008 Games."
Among the 240 sailors competing at the Trials, the diversity in sailing resumes is vast. From Star sailors Mark REYNOLDS
(San Diego, Calif.) and crew Hal HAENEL
(Los Angeles, Calif.), who have already raced two Olympic-medal performances together (REYNOLDS captured a third medal in 2000), to young sailors to watch - such as Lake Forest high school student Anne HAEGER
, who captured a silver medal at this summer's 2007 Volvo Youth Sailing ISAF World Championship and will race her first Trials in the Laser Radial class. But despite the variety in racing credentials, all sailors at the Trials face a singular consequence: for class winners, this regatta will be a gateway to their Olympic and Paralympic dreams; for all others, this event will bring medal aspirations for this quadrennium to an end.
Below is a snapshot of classes, contenders, and venues. The Yngling class is the only class not competing at this event. Team selection for the three-person women's keelboat is based on two international class events: last summer's ISAF Sailing World Championships held in Cascais, Portugal and this winter's Yngling Women's World Championship in Miami.
2.4 Metre, SKUD18, Sonar
Rhode Island Sailing Foundation, Newport, Rhode Island.
Sailing became a full medal sport at the 2000 Paralympic Games, and the USA has since shown its capacity for medals - capturing bronze in the 2.4 Metre one person class in 2000, and a silver (2.4 Metre) and bronze (three person Sonar) in 2004. The two person SKUD18 makes its Paralympic debut at the 2008 Games, and US sailors have already shown their promise in this boat. At last month's 2007 IFDS Disabled Sailing World Championship, the USA had four boats in the top 10; SKUD18 World Champions Karen MITCHELL (Deerfield Beach, Fla.), J.P. CREIGNOU (St. Petersburg, Fla.) as well as 2005 US SAILING Rolex Yachtsman of the Year Nick SCANDONE (Fountain Valley, Calif.), Maureen MCKINNON-TUCKER (Marblehead, Mass.), silver medallists at the Worlds, will be among the teams competing for a Paralympic berth. US Sonar sailors took first and second at the IFDS Worlds, and gold medallists Rick DOERR (Clifton, N.J.), Bill DONOHUE (Brick, N.J.) and Tim ANGLE (Marblehead, Mass.) and silver medallists Paul CALLAHAN (Newport, R.I., Cape Coral, Fla.), Tom BROWN (Northeast Harbor, Maine), Roger CLEWORTH (Lithia, Fla.) will be among the teams vying for a team spot. CALLAHAN represented the US at the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney. Rhode Island Sailing Foundation will coordinate with New York Yacht Club, Ida Lewis Yacht Club, and Sail Newport to host all classes racing in Rhode Island.
470 Men, 470 Women, RS:X Men, RS:X Women
Alamitos Bay Yacht Club, Long Beach, California
The Men's 470 team of Mikee ANDERSON-MITTERLING
(Coronado, Calif.) and crew David HUGHES
(San Diego, Calif.), seeking their first Olympic berth, have been on a roll in their all-out campaign the last three years, but they were outsailed by Stuart MCNAY
(Lincoln, Mass.) and Graham BIEHL
(San Diego, Calif.) after missing the first day of the Pre-Trials on these same waters a year ago. Justin LAW
and crew Michael MILLER
(both of Newport Beach, Calif.) rate a dark horse nod. The Women's 470 team of Amanda CLARK
(Shelter Island, N.Y.) and crew Sarah MERGENTHALER
(New York, N.Y.) rank eighth in the world and have won most of their majors the last three years. But in last year's Pre-Trials, they had to come from behind on the last day to beat their persistent rivals, Erin MAXWELL
(Norwalk, Conn.) and crew Isabelle KINSOLVING
(New York, N.Y.). If those two teams get distracted by their close rivalry, the team of Molly CARAPIET
(Belvedere, Calif.) and Molly O'BRYAN
(San Diego, Calif.) could steal the berth.
The Men's RS:X sailboard has become an American longshot event since Scott STEELE won silver when sailboards made their Olympic debut in 1984, followed by Mike GEBHARDT
's bronze in 1988 and silver in 1992. This year Ben BARGER
(Tampa, Fla.) is a favourite to win the slot after placing an uplifting third place at Kiel Week this summer and winning all eight races in last year's Pre-Trials at Long Beach. But there's an intriguing wrinkle: at age 41, GEBHARDT (Ft. Pierce, Fla.) is back. Stay tuned. The Women's RS:X sailboard is the only Olympic Class where the USA has not yet qualified, but that should not diminish the three-way battle among Nancy RIOS
(Miami, Fla.), Karen MARRIOTT
(Lakewood, Colo.), and Farrah HALL
(Annapolis, Md.). RIOS won six of eight races in last year's Pre-Trials. The last chance for the USA to qualify in this class will be at the RS:X World Championships, to be held in Auckland, New Zealand, this January.
Southwestern Yacht Club , San Diego, California
Racing with a different crew for the 2000 Games, 49er sailor Morgan LARSON
(Capitola, Calif.) lost a heartbreaker Trials to Jonathan and Charlie MCKEE for the US slot, and he's really had his game face on in this campaign racing with Pete SPAULDING
(Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.), a 2004 Olympian. Last year's Pre-Trials were sailed in lively breeze that produced a shootout with Dalton BERGAN
(Seattle, Wash.) and crew Zach MAXAM
(Costa Mesa, Calif.), and SPAULDING's former Olympic skipper Tim WADLOW
(Beverly, Mass.) and crew Chris RAST
(San Diego, Calif.). Look for the same kind of show. Unlike other classes, 49ers are slated to sail three races instead of two each day.
Newport Harbor Yacht Club, Balboa, California
With 41 boats, the Finn class will be the largest fleet at the Trials - and the class will be populated by sailors with a wide range of time in this one-man dinghy. At age 23, young Zach RAILEY
(Clearwater, Fla.), #16 in the ISAF World Sailing Rankings, will have his hands full of 40 other Finn-thusiasts - including several veteran campaigners who were sailing this boat since before he was born. The list includes Bryan BOYD
(Annapolis, Md.), Darrell PECK
(Gresham, Ore.), and local hope Andrew CASEY
(Fountain Valley, Calif.), who finished ahead of RAILEY in last year's Pre-Trials - in addition to Andrew KERN
(Long Beach, Calif.), Chris RAAB
(Sunset Beach, Calif.) and Geoff EWENSON
(Annapolis, Md.). RAILEY's younger sister Paige will be competing for a Laser Radial berth on the East Coast.
Laser, Laser Radial
Rhode Island Sailing Foundation, Middletown, Rhode, Island
Competitors in the one person Laser and Laser Radial classes have been engaged in intensive training programmes - crisscrossing continents and collecting trophies at world-class events. But despite past achievements, the Trials are the great equalizer and competitors begin the regatta with a clean slate. In the women's Laser Radial class, making its Olympic debut for the 2008 Games, Anna TUNNICLIFFE
(Plantation, Fla.) and Paige RAILEY
(Clearwater, Fla.) have both proven to be powerhouse talents. In 2006, the 20-year-old RAILEY was crowned both the Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year and the ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year, and wins for TUNNICLIFFE, 24, at the 2006 Rolex Miami OCR and The Good Luck Beijing - 2007 Qingdao International Regatta prove these two women are competitors to watch in this 22-boat class.
For competitors in the 33-boat Laser class - including Andrew CAMPBELL
(San Diego, Calif.), who captured gold at this year's Pan Am Games, and fellow US Sailing Team member Kurt TAULBEE
(Dunedin, Fla.) - Brad FUNK
(Plantation, Fla.), reporting to his supporters on the eve of the Trials, may sum up the sentiments of his peers, "I expect this to be the hardest regatta I've ever competed in and I expect a number of sailors will be right in the mix until the very end."
California Yacht Club, Marina del Rey, California
Historically, the Star is one of America's strongest Olympic Classes - and Mark REYNOLDS
(San Diego, Calif.) and crew Hal HAENEL
(Los Angeles, Calif.) did much to make it that way. They must feel the vibes that swept them to Olympic gold and silver in 1992 and 1988, and REYNOLDS added another gold with Magnus LILJEDAHL
in 2000 to become America's most successful Olympic sailor. Approaching ages 52 and 49, are they past their primes? "We have 100 years in the boat,"
REYNOLDS noted, laughing. "We're just having fun sailing together again, although we're not doing it as seriously as some of these guys."
But they were the top Americans in this summer's ISAF Sailing World Championship (12th overall).
The cluster of favourites also includes veteran campaigners John DANE
and Austin SPERRY
(both of Gulfport, Miss.), Andy HORTON
(Newport, R.I.) and Brad NICHOL
(Sunapee, N.H.), George SZABO
(San Diego, Calif.) and Andrew SCOTT
(Annapolis, Md.), Mark MENDELBLATT
(St. Petersburg, Fla.) and Magnus LILJEDAHL
(Miami, Fla.), and Rick MERRIMAN
(New York, N.Y.) and Phil TRINTER
(Charlottesville, Va.). Marina del Rey can be a tricky place to sail but, REYNOLDS noted, "not as bad as Qingdao,"
where he coached DANE and SPERRY this summer.
San Diego Yacht Club , San Diego, California
Few would bet against John LOVELL
(New Orleans , La.) and Charlie OGLETREE
(Kemah, Tex.) winning a fourth consecutive trip to the Olympic Games, especially coming off their silver-medal performance at Athens in 2004. They won five of seven races in last year's Pre-Trials, losing only to foreign rivals. Their strongest challengers figure to be Robbie DANIEL
(Clearwater, Fla.) and Hunter STUNZI
(Charleston, S.C.). Outside on Coronado Roads, they'll be alternating off-the-beach and far-out courses with the 49ers each day.
To follow the US Olympic and Paralympic Team Trials - Sailing, visit the event website at www.ussailing.org/olympics/OlympicTrials
. Daily reports from the East and West coasts, results, and photos will be posted during the event. Video from the event with commentary by renowned sailing broadcaster and author Gary JOBSON will be available daily on the website of the NBC network at www.NBCOlympics.com