Four hundred and thirty four sailors have flocked to Miami's Coconut Grove to compete in the classes that have been chosen for the 2004 Olympic Regatta in Greece.
Hosting all that energy and talent is the 2002 Rolex Miami OCR, which gets underway tomorrow at 11 a.m. and will continue through Saturday on Biscayne Bay.
The star-studded fleet includes Miami's Magnus Liljedahl, a 2000 Star class Gold Medallist from Sydney, whose explanation for the huge turnout is simple: "In Olympic classes, it's getting harder to be competitive because every country is getting better and better. You have to come here to compete against the best."
More specifically, the Rolex Miami OCR is the only international Olympic classes ranking event held in American waters. It also serves as a mandatory ranking regatta for the US Sailing Team.
"I think it's fair to say that this is the biggest international one-design regatta in this country," confirmed US Sailing Team Coach Luther Carpenter. The final sign-up tally after registration today was 282 boats from 26 countries.
Considering this year's addition of long-time sailing sponsor Rolex in the event's title; some interesting developments in several of the classes; and the expansion of the regatta to include the 2004 Paralympic classes, the Rolex Miami OCR might even go down as one of the most exciting in the 13-year history of the event.
A new rig on the Tornado will have these souped-up catamarans flying around the course at warp speeds. According to Michael Grandfield, president of the International Tornado Association, the sail area has increased two-fold with the expansion in size of the main sail and the addition of a spinnaker. "The tornado has been made more powerful," said Grandfield. "As if we needed it!," he added with a chuckle.
Six racing circles will be run on Biscayne Bay, with Tornados and 49ers -- another super-fast vessel with both skipper and crew hiking out on trapezes -- speeding together on one of the circles. The other Olympic classes competing are Europe, Finn, 470, Laser, Mistral, Star and Yngling. The two Paralympic classes -- 2.4 Metre and Sonar -- add a new dimension to "competitive sailing at its best" when sailors leave their wheelchairs at the dock to join the action on the water.
The Laser class is sporting the largest number of entries at 64. Following that are the Stars at 49. Talent-wise, all classes are showing some real teeth, and it's anybody's guess who will rise to the top of the scoreboard tomorrow.