Mark Reynolds and crew Magnus Liljedahl came back from oblivion to win an Olympic gold medal at Sydney two years ago, and they have a special inspiration for doing it again: a young woman lying unwell in a Greek hospital.
"This victory was for her," Liljedahl said after they beat another pair of former Star champions, Australia's Colin Beashel and crew David Giles, by 10 seconds on the fourth day of the Nautica 2002 Star Class World Championship---their first win of a week full of alternate ups and downs.
Kimberly Birkenfeld, 37, of Miami, would be happy to hear the news. Liljedahl's girlfriend, a member of the U.S. Sailing Team, was critically injured last week by the propeller of a chase boat while sailing her Mistral sailboard in a test event at the 2004 Olympic sailing site.
Birkenfeld's family has been with her in Greece after encouraging Liljedahl to sail the Star Worlds with Reynolds, as planned. It hasn't been easy.
"One thing about sailing is it makes you think about other things," Liljedahl said. "Now I can send her an e-mail with good news in time for her to speak again."
Reynolds, of San Diego, and Liljedahl, who were ISAF's sailors of the year after sweeping the Olympics and the Star Worlds in 2000, are still in 17th place with two races remaining but should move up considerably by discarding their worst finish---Sunday's 78th place---after Race 5 Thursday, barring further missteps.
The leaders are still Brazil's Torben Grael and crew Marcelo Ferreira with 18 points after Wednesday's ninth place, their worst finish, but England's Iain Percy/Steve Mitchell and San Francisco's Paul Cayard/Hal Haenel are closing in at 27 and 28.
There also may be a sleeper lurking quietly in ninth place. San Diego's Rick Merriman and Bill Bennett have logged a 7-8-4 string the last three days and will discard a 53 after Thursday.
"We still have a tough road," Merriman said. "We've already used our throwout so we don't have any room to falter. But it can happen."
Percy and Mitchell, Tuesday's winners, were third Wednesday. If the discards had already been tossed, they would be leading Grael by one point, with Cayard 11 points behind despite all single-digit finishes.
Percy said, "If you start thinking about points you're in big trouble. We just need to keep sailing well."
Consistency hasn't come easily on Santa Monica Bay, although the winds have been steadier the last two days. Wednesday the breeze was 9 to 12 knots. A larger problem, most crews felt, was getting off the starting line when the race committee---forestalling a replay of five general recalls in the previous two days---hoisted the "I" flag for the first start, requiring any transgressors to restart by rounding the ends of the 1,000-meter-long line---a mortal penalty to pay.
It worked. Nobody was over early, but most complained later about poor starts.
The right side of the 2.1-mile windward-leeward course was a popular destination after recent successes there, but this time it was a minefield. Reynolds and the other top finishers all started or went left, a move that paid off when the wind shifted that way a few minutes after the gun.
"We got lifted and continued to get lifted," Reynolds said.
Results after 4 of 6 races:
1. Torben Grael/Marcelo Ferreira, BRA, (3-1-5-9) 18 pts
2. Iain Percy/Steven Mitchell, GBR, (19-4-1-3), 27 pts
3. Paul Cayard/Hal Haenel, USA, (7-9-4-8) 28 pts
4. Xavier Rohart/Yannick Adde, FRA, (6-8-2-33) 49 pts
5. Mark Mansfield/Killean Collins, IRL, (2-13-17-25) 58 pts
6. George Szabo/Austin Sperry, USA, (1-20-10-30) 61 pts
7. Alan Adler/Ricardo Ermel, BRA, (26-3-22-17), 70 pts
8. Peter Bromby/Martin Siese, USA, (33-2-32-5) 72 pts
9. Rick Merriman/Bill Bennett, USA, (53-7-8-4) 72 pts
10. Colin Beashel/David Giles, GBR, (41-19-11-2) 73 pts