The Olympic Sailing Committee of US Sailing, national governing body for the sport, has recognized four athletes as the sport's U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) Athletes of the Year.
Recipients of the honor in the Team category are 49er World Champions Jonathan McKee and Charlie McKee (both Seattle, Wash.). 2.4 Metre sailor Tom Brown (Northeast Harbor, Maine) and Laser Radial sailor Paige Railey (Clearwater, Fla.) are Male and Female Athlete of the Year, respectively. Bestowed annually, the USOC Athlete of the Year awards are based on outstanding performances in competition.
As US Sailing's USOC Athletes of the Year, these sailors will be considered for the overall USOC Team of the Year, Male Athlete of the Year and Female Athlete of the Year Awards. Slated for announcement on January 23, 2002, the USOC award winners will be selected from the Athletes of the Year recognized by each Olympic sport's national governing body.
"The success these sailors have had this year serves as a reminder that sailing is a sport at which you can excel, no matter your age or physical limitations," said Olympic Sailing Committee Chairman Fred Hagedorn (Chicago, Ill.). "From the seasoned veterans (the McKee brothers), to the disabled (Brown), to the rising star (Railey), these four athletes not only represent the broad spectrum of our sport, they offer inspiration to us all."
Team of the Year - 2000 49er Olympic Bronze Medallists Jonathan and Charlie McKee (both Seattle, Wash.) were among several Olympians who competed in the 2001 49er World Championship held on Lake Garda, Italy, in late September. The event attracted a record-setting turnout of 155 teams representing 28 countries (especially notable for the first year of an Olympic cycle). A 10-race qualifying round was held to determine the breakdown of the teams into gold, silver, bronze and emerald fleets, with the McKees finishing the preliminary series in ninth to qualify for the gold fleet. After posting a 1-3 the opening day of the final series, the McKees got their worst finishes -- a 14-12 which they ultimately discarded -- on day two. With consistently strong finishes of 4-4-4-1-2 in the final days of the event, the McKees won the world championship title just three points ahead of the second-place finisher.
Although the McKees spent most of 2001 preparing for the next America's Cup, and sailed only one other major 49er event (the 2001 Gorge Games in Oregon) their win of the 2001 49er World Championship speaks reams about these talented siblings. Jonathan, a 1984 Flying Dutchman Olympic Gold Medallist, and Charlie an '88 470 Olympic Bronze Medallist, were well-established dinghy sailors before teaming up to race the 49er, a 16-foot double-trapeze skiff with wings which made its Olympic debut at the Sydney 2000 Games. They were previously named Athletes of the Year in 1997, also for their success in the 49er class. Past winners of the US Sailing's Team of the Year honors include Mark Reynolds and Magnus Liljedahl (2000); Eric Doyle and Tom Olsen (1999); and Morgan Larson and Kevin Hall (1998).
Male Athlete of the Year - At the 2001 IFDS (International Foundation of Disabled Sailing) World Disabled Sailing Championships, Tom Brown (Northeast Harbor, Maine), the U.S.A.'s 2000 Paralympic 2.4 Metre Bronze Medallist, faced five days of challenging conditions that were considered tougher than those found in Australia during the 2000 Paralympic Games. Competitors in the 14-boat 2.4 Metre fleet almost disappeared between the 2-4 foot waves churned up by the near-constant 15-knot winds at the championship held last October in Florida. Brown's consistency throughout the regatta earned him the silver medal despite his being disqualified from the final race. A member of the 2001 US Disabled Sailing Team, Brown also has been ranked on the able-bodied team (1999 US Sailing Team). Past winners of the US Sailing 's Male Athlete of the Year honors include Russ Silvestri (2000); Mark Mendelblatt (1999); and John Myrdal (1998).
Female Athlete of the Year - Paige Railey (Clearwater, FL) was recognized for her win at US SAILING's U.S. Junior Women's Singlehanded Championship for the Leiter Trophy held in California last August. In the final race of the series, Railey rounded the top mark in third, pulling into first place by the leeward mark. She won the championship with a low-point score of 13 - 19 points ahead of the second-place finisher. Now a high school freshman, Railey credits her brother Zach (a member of the US Sailing Team) with pushing her to the next level, whether on the water or off. "I have watched him sail since I was 5 years old and have always wanted to be out there with him striving to do my best," said Railey. Past winners of the US Sailing's Female Athlete of the Year honors include: Lanee Butler ('91, '93, '94, '99, 2000); and Meg Gaillard (1998).