Of the seven athletes to emerge as winners of the Olympic Team Trials in their respective events, three have one thing in common. They have been there before.
Lanee BUTLER-BEASHEL (Dana Point, Calif.) in the Mistral Women's event, along with Paul FOERSTER (Rockwall, Texas) and Kevin BURNHAM (Miami, Fla.) in the 470 Men's event were all members of the U.S.A.'s 1992 Olympic Team that competed in Barcelona. They will return to the Mediterranean next summer for the Games of the XXVIII Olympiad, which will be held August 13-29, 2004, in Athens, Greece. Joining them will be first-time Olympians Mark MENDELBLATT (St. Petersburg, Fla.) in the Laser, Peter WELLS (La Canada/Newport Beach, Calif.) in the Mistral Men's event, and Katie MCDOWELL (Barrington, R.I.) and Isabelle KINSOLVING (New York, N.Y.) in the 470 Women's event.
For the boardsailors competing in the Mistral (men and women) events sailed from the US Sailing Center - Martin Co. (Jensen Beach, Fla.), racing on the penultimate day of the series was cancelled when the wind was a no-show. In both fleets, 14 races were sailed, of the planned 16, with two drops counted for the series overall scores.
As she did four years ago, Lanee BUTLER-BEASHEL (Dana Point, Calif.) turned in a flawless performance to win the Mistral Women's event at U.S. Olympic Team Trials. After 13 races had been scored, Beashel once again found herself able to sit ashore during the final race of the series and contemplate her fourth trip to the Olympics. She has competed in the Olympic boardsailing events in Barcelona ('92), Savannah ('96) and Sydney ('00), the latter where she posted her best performance - a fourth. Finishing second to Beashel was Beth WINKLER (Cocoa Beach, Fla.) who moved up from third after the layday, displacing Taylor DUCH (Savannah, Ga./Cocoa Beach, Fla.) by a slim two-point margin.
"It's not one of those 'been there done that' things for me,"
said Beashel about going to the Olympics again. "I will be going to perform the best that I can. It was in Greece that I competed in my first international regatta, representing my country at the 1986 youth worlds. So I feel that I will have come full circle to be back in Athens."
In the Mistral Men's division, Peter WELLS (La Canada/Newport Beach, Calif.) won five of eight races to head into the layday in the lead with a solid seven points over Ben BARGER (St. Petersburg, Fla.). Wells deepened his lead in the second half of the series to hold BARGER and Kevin JEWETT (Deephaven, Minn.) in their established positions -- second and third, respectively.
"Barger was my closest competitor,"
said Wells at the conclusion of racing. "He was fast upwind. I was having some trouble with my speed upwind but I had good tactics and good downwind speed. We had strong winds the first half, 25 knots on one day and other days 15-20. I really wasn't expecting that and had done more preparation in light air."
"It's totally awesome to know I'm going the Olympics,"
added Wells. "I had my dad there going out on the coach boat each day, so that was really neat. After all, he and my mom made it possible for me to get this far. Now I will go back to do some fundraising. I will have to do that in order to start training again because I put all my resources into winning the Trials and for the first time ever had a private coach."
In La Porte, Texas, where the 470 (men and women) and Laser events were sailed from Houston Yacht Club, the sailors logged only six of the expected eight races heading into the layday when no wind equaled no racing on day three of the series. The organizers managed to catch up until the Laser fleet lost one race when they were sent in after poor visibility from a rainstorm interrupted the schedule. The two 470 fleets were able to complete their circuit of the course in their respective races which were already underway at the time.
Mark MENDELBLATT (St. Petersburg, Fla.) set the pace from the outset of the Laser series with his domination of that 32-boat fleet. He held the lead throughout while the faces in the positions below him changed regularly. That consistency paid off in the end as Mendelblatt was able to sit out the last two races of the 15-race series and still post a whopping 16 points on runner-up John Myrdal (Kailua, Hawaii), to whom he had lost the 2000 Trials. Brad Funk (Clearwater, Fla.) held onto third overall, six points further back.
"It was a good all-around regatta,"
said Mendelblatt about race management and wind conditions. "I don't think I was the fastest guy out there in any one condition, but a couple of the guys had some bad races early and I was fortunate to stay out of trouble."
Mendelblatt added that qualifying for the Olympics is a goal he recognized as worthy way back when he was a junior sailor. "The U.S. has such a dramatic way of picking who goes to the Olympic Regatta,"
he said, referring to the winner-takes-all Trials process. "For that reason, it represents one of the toughest regattas to get into."
In the 470 Men's fleet, Paul FOERSTER (Rockwall, Texas) and Kevin BURNHAM (Miami, Fla.) were able to take a pass on the last three races of their series after they notched a string of first-place finishes marred only once - with a eighth when the pair had equipment failure. Consistent sailing by the youngest competitors placed Mikee ANDERSON-MITTERLING and Graham BIEHL (both San Diego, Calif.) in second for the series, with Mark IVEY (Huntington Beach, Calif.) and Howard CROMWELL (New Orleans, La.) third.
Foerster, a three-time Olympian ('88, '92 and '96) with two silver medals ('92 in the Flying Dutchman and '00 in the 470), flew home to Dallas each night after racing to be with his wife and first child. The couple's son Luke was born three days before the Trials started. "Well, Kevin reminded me when I needed to concentrate on sailing, and when I was with my family I didn't think about sailing at all,"
said Foerster when asked if it was hard to concentrate while going back and forth between the regatta and home to see the baby. "It was perfect. We sailed really well and hit just about every shift and were pretty fast. It would have been hard for anyone else to beat us if they weren't at the top of their game."
"Sometimes you just have those regattas where everything just seems to click and this was one of those,"
said Burnham a two-time Olympian ('92 and '96) with a silver medal from Barcelona in this event. He casually noted that "we had something like 10 firsts, and we didn't have to sail the last three races. I think it will be really special to go to Athens where it all started. And I consider myself lucky to be sailing with Paul. He is usually such an intense person about racing. This was just really nice, because we talked about his child a lot going out and coming in from the race course."
Katie MCDOWELL (Barrington, R.I.) and Isabelle KINSOLVING (New York, N.Y.) started the 470 Women's event strong, with three back-to-back bullets. However, their hold on the event appeared tenuous at times as they fought off the challenge from Amanda Clark (Shelter Island, N.Y.) and Sarah Mergenthaler (Colts Neck, N.J.) with whom they were tied at one point in the regatta. But the pair worked out the bugs and after winning the first race (of two) on the final day of the series, they too were able to retire from racing with the win mathematically secure. Clark/Mergenthaler finished in second overall, three points back, followed by Erin Maxwell (Stonington, Conn.) and Jen Morgan (Shoreline, Wash.) in third.
"One goal down, one to go (winning a medal in Athens),"
said McDowell. "In some conditions we're blistering fast and in others we need some work. Our learning curve is still steep, but we've competed in Athens three times and feel comfortable there. It's a great feeling -- especially after so much hard work -- to come out on top."
For additional background information, please visit the trials website at the address below.