Despite cooler-than-normal temperatures in Southern Florida, 526 athletes sailing 328 boats generated their own kind of competitive heat yesterday as they began racing in the 2003 Rolex Miami OCR.
The global importance of this, the first Grade 1 event this year in the northern hemisphere, which hosts competition in 11 Olympic and Paralympic classes, is evident in the number of foreign sailors -- representing 34 countries -- lured here by the knowledge that they would find excellent competition against the best American sailors.
More than half of the 328 boats sailing are foreign entries. Canada has the largest contingent with 55 entries, followed by Germany with 13, and Great Britain with 12. In its 14th year, the Rolex Miami OCR features six racing circles on Biscayne Bay, providing a spectacular show for spectators as well as high-rise dwellers.
Sixty-eight Stars make for the largest class at this year's event and perhaps the most intriguing line-up of internationally recognized sailing names. Olympians from Greece, Ireland and Switzerland are among the foreign entries, who comprise over half the fleet, but it was Peter Bromby of Sandys, BER, who leads after three races today.
US sailors are already at the top of the scoreboard in seven classes. Skipper Meg Gaillard of Jamestown, R.I. leads the Europe fleet, while Steve Hunt of San Diego, Calif. leads 470 Men's; Katie McDowell of Barrington, R.I. tops 470 Women's; and Andy Mack, White Salmon, Wash., leads the 49ers.
In the Laser class, Mark Mendleblatt (St. Petersburg, Fla.), came straight from his One World America's Cup campaign to take a one-point lead over Great Britain's Daniel Holman after today's three races. The class is the second largest here, with 49 entries.
The much anticipated Yngling debut at the 2004 Olympics was previewed by skipper Betsy Alison's overall win today in that class. Alison, of Newport, R.I., is a five-time Rolex US Yachtswoman of the Year.
US Yngling hopefuls (from front) - Suzy Leech, Lee Lcyda, Betsy Alison
For the second year, Rolex Miami OCR, is including the Paralympic Events, a trend being followed by some of the other Olympic Class events. The leaders in the two Paralympic classes each posted three straight victories: John Ross-Duggan (Newport Beach, Calif.) in the Sonar, and Germany's Heiko Kroeger in the 2.4 Metre. Kroger is reigning Paralympic Gold Medallist and IFDS World Champion.
A perennial favorite on the Olympic circuit and a gold medallist from 1996, Greece's Nikos Kaklimanakis won all three races in the Mistral Men's class, while Switzerland's Anja Kaeser topped the women's class.
Other leading foreign skippers are Chris Cook (Whitby, CAN) in Finn, and Santiago Lange/Carlos Espinola (ARG) in Tornado.
Golden Torch Award
- This year, for the first time, an award will be presented for the best performance by a U.S. sailor. Andy Kostanecki, Chairman of the Olympic Sailing Committee from 1985-88, had been given a Torch from the 1980 Olympics by the Russian Olympic Committee, which he in turn presented to US SAILING. Kostanecki, who was instrumental in the creation of the US Sailing Team and the establishment of the Miami Olympic Classes Regatta, which started as one of a series of American-Canadian training events, asked that the Torch be connected to the regatta and the efforts of U.S. sailors with Olympic aspirations. The "Golden Torch" along with a Roll of Honor, will be maintained at US SAILING's headquarters in Portsmouth. A keeper trophy will be presented to the winner.
US Sailing Center
- The new US Sailing Center in Miami was dedicated at a ceremony Monday-evening. The Schoonmaker Center and Herman Whiton Pavilion - named for the Schoonmaker family and Herman Whiton, whose contributions made the center possible - will serve as a training facility for many Olympic hopefuls. It will also be the site for many regattas, boat storage and sailing on Biscayne Bay. The Sailing Center is open just in time to host the Rolex Miami OCR which starts today.