The impact of racing in Miami also looks set to be big, with the regatta the first ISAF Graded event to feature all eleven events that will contest the 2008 Olympic Sailing Competition, one of the very first to use the new Olympic Format, and big points up for grabs just a few days before the next release of the ISAF World Sailing Rankings on 8 February.
A one-design winter circuit organized by US SAILING with different Olympic class organizations surely contributed to the large turnout; however, the regatta has long held its own as a significant step in preparing athletes - both from the USA and abroad - in the sailing classes chosen for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. US SAILING's Rolex Miami OCR kicked off with opening ceremonies on Sunday 22 January and hosted five subsequent days of racing through to 27 January when gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded after a final Medal Race.
'It's good to see so many foreign competitors compete on our US waters,' said Dean BRENNER, chairman of US SAILING's Olympic Sailing Committee, which organizes the event. 'The competition was tough, the regatta was well organized, we tried some new things, and the results speak for themselves. The winners are all well known sailors and I'm sure we'll be seeing these names again in the years leading up to the 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games in China.'
|Anna TUNNICLIFFE's win in the
Laser Radial earnt her US SAILING's
Golden Torch Award
© Dan NERNEY/Rolex
Among the ranks of Olympic medalists and class veterans were no less than seven reigning World Champions. With a little over two years to go before the Olympic and Paralympic Games, they targeted this event to see how they would stack up against other Olympic hopefuls. As well as being an ISAF Grade 1 event, Rolex Miami OCR also counted for a potential spot on the 2006 US Sailing Team; and a country qualification for the 2007 Pan American Games.
This marked one of the first ISAF Grade 1 events for the newly selected Olympic windsurfer, the Neil Pryde RS:X, which replaces the Mistral as the equipment for the two Windsurfer events the 2008 Olympic Games. ''It's considered a hybrid design - wider and faster with a centerboard that can sail upwind and in lighter winds,'' said US Sailing Team Head Coach Gary BODIE. Gauging by the number of entries - 20 women and 39 men - the RS:X looks to be the success that its class architects had hoped it would be.
The 2006 US SAILING Rolex Miami OCR also represented the second time ever and the first time in the USA that the new Olympic Format - which calls for a single, compulsory, double-weighted, Medal Race contested between the top ten crews, to conclude the series for each of the classes - was applied.
Whereas a throw out was allowed in the series leading up to it, the Medal Race could not be dropped in each sailor's scoreline and counted for double the normal amount of points. Regardless of the size of a class's fleet, only the top ten made it into the Medal Race. Umpires resolved all protests on the water, and the results were final almost immediately.
|Xavier ROHART and Pascal RAMBEAU
were a class apart in the Star
© Dan NERNEY/Rolex
In the 69 boat Star fleet, France's two-time and reigning World Champions Xavier ROHART and Pascal RAMBEAU built up a whopping 48 point lead before the Medal Race. It seemed not to matter that every Star World Champion since 1999 was competing, or that amongst the headliners were the top nine teams on the ISAF World Sailing Rankings.
'There are positives and negatives on every team, but for us we are consistent always,' said ROHART, who with RAMBEAU also won the an Olympic bronze medal in the Star in Athens. 'There are no bad things - never. This is good, especially here, because everyone is so great.'
Defending champions Andrew HORTON and Brad NICHOL (USA) took home the silver medal.
USA's reigning Yngling World Champions Sally BARKOW, Carrie HOWE and Deborah CAPOZZI also had things sewn up before the Medal Race, but they chose to compete instead. With nine victories in twelve races, the trio won their Medal Race for good measure, proving why they are the most formidable team on the international Yngling circuit.
'We were on it tactically all week,' said BARKOW, recently named US SAILING's Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year. 'Our team has been in the boat the longest, which is not to say the competition wasn't tough, but when we make a mistake we try to only make it once.'
Taking home the silver was Hannah SWETT, Melissa PURDY and Liz FILTER (USA)
The USA's 2004 Olympic silver medallists and defending champions in the Tornado, John LOVELL and Charlie OGLETREE, also won their Medal Race, though they had the gold medal won the previous day. 'We put the whole package together,' said LOVELL matter of factly. 'We were going fast, sailing well.'
For the rest of the fleets the final Medal Race, held in 18-20 knot winds, set the stage for an exciting climax.
|Sally BARKOW, Carrie HOWE and
Deborah CAPOZZI were dominant in
© Dan NERNEY/Rolex
In the Laser Radial, USA's Anna TUNNICLIFFE turned in an outstanding performance to clinch the gold medal as well as US SAILING's Golden Torch Award, given to the American sailor deemed to have the best overall performance among all classes. She had ten points on Canada's Jennifer SPALDING going into the final day. 'I had to finish ahead of her or at least within five boats of her to win, and I knew because of the high winds that I had the advantage,' said TUNNICLIFFE. 'At the start, there were some boats over the line early. I wasn't sure if I was one of them, but Jennifer was 'bow out' on me, so I figured if I was, she was, too. In other words, I didn't need to go back if she didn't - I'd still win.'
When at the first windward mark TUNNICLIFFE saw a posting that SPALDING was OCS, she knew she had won. Near the end of the race, TUNNICLIFFE capsized. 'I got a little excited and was caught off guard,' she said, adding that at that point it did not matter that she lost four boats in the process and wound up finishing seventh.
TUNNICLIFFE's nemesis, and Laser Radial World Champion Paige RAILEY (USA) took the silver medal ahead of SPALDING's bronze medal finish. RAILEY won the Worlds last December (TUNNICLIFFE finished third) and looked to be the favorite at this regatta until day four when she, too, was over the starting line early. It was the second in her one dropout series, which meant she had to claim 48 points. 'That really helped me out,' said TUNNICLIFFE.
Great Britain's Paul GOODISON, a three-time winner of the event, secured the gold in the Medal Race for the Lasers by holding off France's Felix PRUVOT, who took silver. He had hoped to have a point spread great enough to secure his victory before the finals but found the regatta's light shifty winds on day three to be an obstacle. 'It was really tricky out there,' said GOODISON. 'I didn't start out well, but I did a good job of getting back; I probably passed 60-70 boats total in three races.'
In the final race, GOODISON finished second to PRUVOT's sixth. 'It was hard, as you start looking at everyone in this small fleet,' said PRUVOT about the ten boat fleet as compared to the original 89 Lasers he sailed against to get to the finals. 'It is important to beat your other competitors, more than in normal racing.' The Laser fleet was the largest at the regatta and split into gold and silver fleets after a two day qualifying series.
Nick DEMPSEY (GBR), the leader since day one in the Neil Pryde RS:X Men's fleet, won the Medal Race to secure his gold. DEMPSEY won the Olympic bronze medal on the Mistral in the light breezes in Athens and seemed to relish the light air conditions on day two, winning both of that day's races. In fact, he showed eight bullets in his ten race lineup. Taking silver was Nicolas HUGUET (FRA), a favorite in Miami who last year won one of the first ever RS:X events in Cadiz, Spain.
|Nick DEMPSEY (right) leads Nicolas
HUGUET round the mark
© Dan NERNEY/Rolex
Britain was also successful in the RS:X Women's event, thanks to Bryony SHAW (GBR). SHAW had dominated proceedings until Thursday when she slipped behind Spain's Marina ALABAU. In the finals, she came back, finishing third to ALABAU's fourth, which handed her the gold and ALABAU the silver.
The final British gold came in the Men's 470 fleet. After watching Israel's Gideon KLIGER and Udi GAL take the lead on day four, Nic ASHER and Elliot WILLIS (GBR), got to work in the Medal Race, leading at all marks to win it and get back to the top of the scoreboard. They claimed the gold medal, while France's Benjamin BONNAUD and Romain BONNAUD took the silver and Israel settled for bronze.
'We were anxious to get this race done,' said ASHER. 'We weren't sure what it was going to be like, but the conditions helped make it a great event. It was pretty gusty with quite big waves.'
The Women's 470 fleet, long time leaders of the ISAF World Sailing Rankings Ingrid PETITJEAN and Nadege DOUROUX (FRA) led on day one but quickly fell behind the Christina BASSADONE and Saskia CLARK (GBR) for the rest of the week. The medal race was their comeback as the duo finished second to the Brit's fifth and secured the gold medal.
About the new final race format, PETITJEAN said, 'I think we had to do something to make the racing better and more popular. I think it was a good thing.'
The gold medal standings in both the Men's and Women's 470 events replicated the final results of the ISAF Grade C1 470 North American Championship, held in Miami the week prior to this event.
In the 49er Medal Race, Italy's Pietro SIBELLO and Gianfranco SIBELLO finished second to clinch the gold medal over Great Britain's Olympic bronze medalists Chris DRAPER and Simon HISCOCKS. DRAPER and HISCOCKS had dominated all week until the Italian team took over on day four. Reigning World Champions from the Ukraine Rodion LUKA and George LEONCHUK settled for bronze.
|Rafa TRUJILLO clinched Finn
victory in the Medal Race
© Dan NERNEY/Rolex
Spain's Rafael TRUJILLO went into Friday's Finn Medal Race with only a two point lead over Canada's Christopher COOK, the defending champion and a formidable contender all week. 'It is a good format, and the race committee did a great job with the distance and timing of the race,' said TRUJILLO, who won a silver medal at the Olympic Games in Athens. It was a narrow window in which to do his job, but TRUJILLO successfully covered COOK in the 30 minute race over a trapezoid course, finishing fourth, just ahead of COOK's fifth, to clinch the gold medal, while COOK earned the silver.
Also included in racing here was the Sonar, one of the three classes chosen for the 2008 Paralympic Games. In that class, standings from day four determined class medallists when sailing had to be canceled due to the fifth day's high winds. David SCHROEDER, Keith BURHANS and Bill MAUK (USA) won the gold medal, with Rick DOERR, Ezra CULVER and Mike ROSS (USA) finishing two points behind for the silver.
In addition to Rolex, sponsors for US SAILING's Rolex Miami OCR are Nautica, Extrasport, Gill, Harken, McLube, New England Ropes, Nikon, Sperry Top-Sider, Vanguard Sailboats, Vineyard Vines, and Zodiac. Rolex and Nautica are also sponsors of the US Sailing Teams. Nautica also hosted a spectacular mid-regatta dinner on Wednesday.
Headquarters for US SAILING's 2006 Rolex Miami OCR were at the US Sailing Centre, with classes hosted by the US Sailing Centre; Coral Reef, Key Biscayne and Miami Yacht Clubs; the Coconut Grove Sailing Club; and Shake-A-Leg-Miami.
Video from the last two days of racing, produced by T2P TV, can be viewed at www.t2p.tv.For a complete list of all the news about the Rolex Miami OCR 2006 CLICK HERE.