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31 January 2008, 09:30 am
Champions Rising At Midway Point In Miami
Rick MERRIMAN and Brian SHARP lead the Star fleet

Rolex Miami OCR 2008
Miami, Florida, USA

After three days of fleet racing at US SAILING's ISAF Grade 1 Rolex Miami OCR, the cream is rising to the top for the 369 sailors competing from 34 countries.
The regatta, which is hosting fewer classes than normal due to conflicting World Championships overseas, has shown no shortage of intensity or talent in the four Olympic classes (Laser, Laser Radial, Star, Yngling) and three Paralympic classes (SKUD18, Sonar, 2.4 Metre) competing here on Biscayne Bay. On the subject of attracting top sailors, as well as the regatta counting towards the ISAF World Sailing Rankings, it's an opportunity to see the plays that athletes must still make in this Olympic/Paralympic year. Not only must some still gain a nod of selection to their national teams but also several countries themselves must qualify for berths in China. With the Yngling World Championship following this event here next week and the Star Worlds scheduled for here as well in April, these two classes have proven to be the deepest in talent.

"At the last Star Worlds there were teams from 32 countries, and only 15 countries can qualify for the Olympics," said Olympic gold medallist Mark REYNOLDS (USA). "Now there are four slots left and 12 countries vying for them, so out of all the Olympic classes, this is the toughest for getting into the Games."

REYNOLDS noted that this year's Worlds will be the end of the line for poor performers, though "poor performers" is a relative term in this fleet. It is sprinkled with no less than six World Champions and a slew of national champions and Olympic medallists. REYNOLDS, himself a World Champion and two-time Olympic gold medallist qualified the USA for its Olympic berth with his performance at the 2007 ISAF Sailing World Championships but will not represent the USA in 2008. Instead John DANE and Austin SPERRY (USA), who won the US Olympic Team Trials, will sail for the USA. DANE and SPERRY today landed in 16th overall after today's single race was added to the score line of four previous races, while REYNOLDS, sailing with Steve ERICKSON, logged in at seventh.

Starting with tomorrow's racing, the fleet of 66 boats will split into gold and silver fleets, and by Saturday, the gold fleet will have narrowed down to the top ten for a single Medal Race that will count double in scoring, simulating the new format that will be introduced for all Olympic sailing classes at the 2008 Games.

The seemingly unlikely leader in the Star class is the USA's team of Rick MERRIMAN and Brian SHARP, who are posting a low-point score of eight with two victories in their line up.

"Things have been going our way," said MERRIMAN, casually mentioning that he only got together with SHARP two weekends ago. "We work well together, stay laid back and keep the communications open."

Though MERRIMAN has been sailing a Star for less than six years and his best finish at a Star Worlds is a fifth (2002), he is highly regarded by the other veterans, who also put value in SHARP's having been a grinder on Alinghi's America's Cup team.

Sadly, no one will get to see these "underdogs" take it to the end. The duo will sail tomorrow and then MERRIMAN will fly out for his mother's funeral on Saturday. She passed away the Saturday before the regatta started, after a bout with cancer.

Behind MERRIMAN and SHARP with 13 points is the Swiss team of Flavio MARAZZI and Enrico DE MARIA, followed by Eivind MELLEBY and Petter Morland PEDERSEN from Norway, with 14 points. Both of these teams have been training full-on for the mission of qualifying their countries for the Olympic Games and then continuing on as representatives to the Games, so they will be the forces with which to be reckoned from here on out.

In Ynglings, Sally BARKOW and her crew of Carrie HOWE and Debbie CAPOZZI (USA) are also in the unlikely position of eighth after a total of seven races. Though it's not their style to be anywhere out of the top few positions, BARKOW was calm about it after getting off the water this afternoon.

"There are some specific things we need to work on, and the good thing is we don't have the pressure on us that others do," said BARKOW, explaining that her team has yet to be confirmed for Qingdao but that she is 90% sure of the appointment. "It's cool to see that the fleet has accelerated on increasing its skills. All the other countries have elevated their game and we have to elevate ours again."

The Russian team of Ekaterina SKUDINA, Diana KRUTSKIKH and Natalia IVANOVA currently lead the fleet of 28 boats with 23 points to the Netherlands' 34. BARKOW's team has 55 points.

In the Laser Radial fleet, Paige RAILEY (USA) and Anna TUNNICLIFFE (USA) are locked in a points battle for first. They are tied with ten each but the tiebreaker currently goes to RAILEY.

In Lasers, Poland's Marcin RUDAWSKI leads, with Kyle ROGACHENKO (USA) in second. ROGACHENKO is on the USA's Elite Youth Development Team, what US SAILING's Olympic Sailing Committee Chairman Dean BRENNER calls "the next generation of Olympians."

Results - click here
Rolex Miami OCR -

Barby MacGowan (As Amended By ISAF)
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