The Olympic Sailing Committee of US SAILING, has recognized five athletes as the sport's U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) Athletes of the Year.
Recognized in the Team category are Yngling sailors Hannah SWETT (Jamestown, R.I./New York, N.Y.), Joan TOUCHETTE (Newport, R.I.) and Melissa PURDY (Tiburon, Calif.). Laser sailor Mark MENDELBLATT (St. Petersburg, Fla.) and Europe sailor Meg GAILLARD (Jamestown, R.I./Pelham, N.Y.) 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. The USOC award winners will be selected from the Athletes of the Year recognized by each Olympic sport's national governing body.
Team of the Year - Hannah SWETT (Jamestown, R.I./New York, N.Y.), Joan TOUCHETTE (Newport, R.I.) and Melissa PURDY (Tiburon, Calif.) were recognized for their performance in the Yngling - the class that makes its Olympic debut in 2004 as the women's keelboat event. Two medal winning performances this summer -- silver at the 2003 Athens Regatta in Greece and gold at the 2003 ISAF World Championship in Spain - capped a year that started well when Swett, Touchette and Purdy won the Yngling Olympic Pre-Trials (the practice event for the US Olympic Team Trials).
Winning three races early in the 2003 Athens Regatta (sailing's second and final Olympic Test event) put them in the medal hunt in the elite 13-boat fleet. By the regatta's midpoint they held the lead, with a gold dot on their sails indicating their first-place position in the overall standings. In the final two races, with tricky conditions and tight racing, finishes of 5-10 earned them second-place overall and the silver medal - their second in as many years.
After a slow start at the 2003 ISAF World Championship - double-digit finishes in the first two races - Swett, Touchette and Purdy posted a string of top-10 finishes, including wins in three races that moved them into the lead in the 41-boat fleet. On the penultimate day of racing, finishing 12 in race 10 dropped them into second, one point behind the German team. However, in the final race of the series, after a general recall, the team placed fourth in a dying breeze to claim the championship and the gold.
Male Athlete of the Year - Laser sailor Mark MENDELBLATT (St. Petersburg, Fla.) was recognized for his performance in three key events in 2003, which started with a bang when he won the Laser title at the Rolex Miami OCR. On the last day of the series, Mendelblatt, only two points behind defending champion Paul GOODISON (GBR), finished 6-1 to Goodison's 14-2. Mendelblatt' s sixth was a remarkable comeback from a crippling wind shift that had him 30 out of 49 boats at the first mark. His win in the second race came after he passed Goodison - the leader at the top mark - on the second beat to win the race and the series. Mendelblatt received the "Golden Torch" - an Olympic Torch from the boycotted 1980 Olympics presented by the Russian Olympic Committee to US SAILING's Olympic Sailing Committee - awarded for the best performance by a U.S. sailor at the international event and presented for the first time in 2003. Mendelblatt's win was even more notable having come straight to Miami from the One World America's Cup campaign that had contributed to his absence on the Laser circuit, and, as a result, the US Sailing Team, to which he had not been ranked since 2000.
Mendelblatt followed with wins at the Laser Pacific Coast and Gulf Coast Championships before travelling to Athens for the Saronikos Gulf Regatta, where he finished fourth out of 40 Lasers. And if there were any doubts that Mendelblatt had aged well during his absence from the Laser, they were put to rest with six top-three finishes, including a win in race four, at the Laser World Championship in Spain. His final placement of sixth overall in the 171-boat fleet was a personal world-best that also earned the U.S.A. its Laser berth for the 2004 Olympic Regatta.
For Mendelblatt, who has acknowledged setting his sights on the Olympics as a junior sailor at St. Petersburg Yacht Club, all the success of the year would be quantified at one event - the winner-takes-all Olympic Team Trials held at Houston Yacht Club. Mendelblatt set the pace in the 32-boat fleet from the outset. Holding a dominant lead throughout enabled him to sit out the last two races of the 15-race series and win with a commanding 16 points over runner-up John MYRDAL (Kailua, Hawaii), to whom he had lost the 2000 Trials. Mendelblatt was previously named US SAILING's Male Athlete of the Year in 1999.
Female Athlete of the Year - Meg GAILLARD (Jamestown, R.I./Pelham, N.Y.) showed her mettle early in the year at the Rolex Miami OCR where, after trading first and second finishes during a challenging 11-race series, she placed second overall out of 25 boats. With a win at the Europe Olympic Pre-Trials (the practice event for the US Olympic Team Trials) she solidified her first-place U.S. ranking in the class, a position she has held for three consecutive years.
By far, her most significant performance of the year took place in Spain at the 2003 ISAF World Championship. Competing in the 116-boat Europe fleet, she closed out a consistent performance with a tenth place finish in the final race of the series to take third overall and her second bronze medal at a world championship (her first was won at the 2000 Europe World Championship).
Significantly, in addition to ending the 11-race series with a place on the podium, Gaillard's bronze-medal performance guaranteed that the U.S.A. will have a Europe entry on the start line next summer in Athens. Gaillard was previously recognized as US SAILING's Female Athlete of the Year in 1998.
Further details on the awards are available on the US Sailing website at the address below.