The world's best Olympic and Paralympic sailors are counting down the days to US SAILING's 2010 Rolex Miami OCR, the second of seven stops of the 2009-2010 ISAF Sailing World Cup, and this year's first showcase for the major talents looking to represent their countries at the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The event kicks off this Sunday 24 January with six days of racing beginning on Monday. This event annually draws elite sailors from around the world, and this year is no different: Approximately 640 registered sailors from 44 nations are ready to battle for medals on Miami's Biscayne Bay.
"Our athletes on the US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics (USSTAG) have spent a lot of hours training and competing over the winter leading up to this event, and I know their hard work will pay off," said High Performance Director Kenneth Andreasen. "We'll see some tough competition across the fleets, so this will be a good test to see where our athletes stand - and assess where they need to improve in order to win medals at the 2012 Games."
The Rolex Miami OCR is not only an elite international competition but also an especially important regatta for American sailors hoping to qualify for the 2010 US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics, which annually distinguishes the top sailors in each Olympic and Paralympic class.
Andreasen and Olympic Coach Luther Carpenter pointed to some of the American stand-outs, including 2008 Olympic gold medallist Anna Tunnicliffe
who has transitioned from single-handed fleet racing to skippering a Women's Match Racing team of Molly Vandemoer
and Debbie Capozzi
in the new Elliott 6m. Women's Match Racing will make its debut as an Olympic event at the 2012 Games. Tunnicliffe, who dominated the Laser Radial class over the past several years, is the current ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year
and was just named US SAILING's Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year for the second year in a row, as well as US SAILING's SportsWoman of the Year for the second year in a row.
"Anna knows what it takes," said Carpenter. "She's a strong athlete with an experienced team."
USSTAG's Genny Tulloch
and 2008 Olympian Sally Barkow
will also skipper US teams in the Elliott 6m, competing against 22 other teams, including those from France (skipper Claire Leroy
is a 2007 and 2008 ISAF Women's Match Racing World Champion), Great Britain (skipper Lucy MacGregor
was the winner of the recent Busan Cup), Sweden (skipper Anna Kjellberg
was a bronze medallist at the 2009 ISAF Women's Match Racing Worlds), and The Netherlands (skipper Renee Groeneveld
with crew Annemieke Bes
and Brechtje Van der Werf
won Skandia Sail for Gold in 2009, while a second skipper Mandy Mulder was 2008 Olympic silver medallist in the Yngling).
Overall, the Dutch are expected to come on strong across many classes. Last November, the Royal Dutch Sailing Federation presented its new Delta Lloyd Kernploeg, an elite programme that has grown from six sailors to 18 in six different Olympic classes. The federation's long-term ambition is to compete in all 10 Olympic sailing events during the 2020 Games with a fighting chance to win a medal in each event.
During the Rolex Miami OCR, all 18 sailors of the "Delta Lloyd Team NED" will compete, including the match racing team of Groeneveld, Bes and van der Werf; Laser sailors Roelof Bouwmeester, Marc De Haas, Gijs Pelt; Laser Radial sailor Marit Bouwmeester (fourth at the 2009 Worlds and first at the first ISAF Sailing World Cup event of the 2009-2010 season, Sail Melbourne held in December); the Women's 470 teams of Lisa Westerhof and Lobke Berkhout (2009 World Champions) and Margriet Fokkema and Marieke Jongens (second at 2009 Semaine Olympique Francaise in Hyeres); the Men's 470 teams of Sven Coster and Kalle Coster (first in ISAF's World Rankings) and Steven Le Fevre and Steven Krol (the 2008 Junior World Champions); and RS:X sailor Dorian Van Rijsselberge (third at the 2009 Worlds).
Skandia Team GBR, with the 2012 Olympics slated for its own backyard in Weymouth, has incentive to build on its already formidable reputation as a powerhouse in sailing.
"Competing at a home Olympic Games is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for any athlete," said the Royal Yachting Association's Olympic Manager Stephen Park, "and certainly it's something which every day motivates our sailors and the support team around them to be the best they can be."
Park said GBR's windsurfer Nick Dempsey, who will compete in Miami, is a great example of that drive and determination to succeed on home waters. "After the heartbreak of placing fourth in Beijing, his sole focus in 2009 was to become the RS:X World Champion in his hometown of Weymouth. And that's exactly what he did, laying down an early marker that he's the man to beat come 2012."
In the Men's 470 class, GBR's Nick Rogers, with two Olympic silver medals to his credit, will be sailing with his new campaign partner Pom Green. Teammates Nic Asher and Elliot Willis, who are two-time 470 World Champions, are certain to provide some stiff competition, since they have been working hard to make sure they get their chance at an Olympic medal after missing out on the team berth for Beijing.
"For others, there have been new challenges along the road to Weymouth," continued Park. "With the Yngling having been removed as an Olympic class, those sailors are weighing up their options, while Penny Clark has made the switch to the 470 from the Laser Radial." Park notes that a strong contingent of his country's Finn sailors - Giles Scott, Andrew Mills and Mark Andrews - has signed up for the Rolex Miami OCR.
"With the talent we have within the team and the groundwork we're putting in place, there's no reason why we shouldn't be looking for another great Olympic regatta in 2012, and hopefully we'll inspire our next generation of medal winners in the process!"
In the Rolex Miami OCR's three Paralympic classes - 2.4 mR, SKUD18 and Sonar - the fleets may be relatively small compared to the Olympic events, but they are deep with talent. "We may not have quantity, but we definitely have quality," said USSTAG's Paralympic Coach Betsy Alison.
The current 2.4 mR World Champion and 2008 Paralympic bronze medallist John Ruf (USA) will once again face Paralympic gold medallist Paul Tingley (CAN) and 2009 IFDS Disabled Sailing World Champion Thierry Schmitter (NED). Alison also predicts the competition will be tight at the front end of the SKUD18 fleet, where she expects to find USSTAG's Scott Whitman and Julia Dorsett, who were undefeated at last year's Rolex Miami OCR and who won a gold medal at the Skandia Sail for Gold last summer, and Canada's John McRoberts and Brenda Hopkin, who won a bronze medal at the 2008 Paralympic Games.
The Rolex Miami OCR hosts the same 10 Olympic and three Paralympic events chosen for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Sailing Competitions. At the same time, it closely replicates the format and feel of what sailors can expect at those regattas.
The events - equipment are:
Men's One Person Dinghy - Laser
Men's One Person Dinghy Heavy - Finn
Men's Two Person Dinghy - 470
Men's Two Person Dinghy High Performance - 49er
Men's Windsurfer - RS:X
Men's Keelboat - Star
Women's One Person Dinghy - Laser Radial
Women's Two Person Dinghy - 470
Women's Keelboat Match Racing - Elliott 6m
Women's Windsurfer - RS:X
Paralympic Single-Person Keelboat - 2.4mR
Paralympic Two-Person Keelboat - SKUD18
Paralympic Three-Person Keelboat - Sonar
The Rolex Opening Ceremony takes place at Coral Reef Yacht Club on Sunday 24 January. Staggered-start racing is scheduled for Monday through to Friday in all Olympic and Paralympic classes. For fleet racing in the Olympic classes, the event will include a double-point Medal Race on Saturday. The top ten finishers in the opening series of each event will advance to the Medal Race. Competitors in the Paralympic classes will have five days of fleet racing and no Medal Race. For the five-day women's match racing event, the regatta will consist of an opening series, a knockout series, and a sail-off for boats not advancing to the knockout series.
Medals will be awarded to the top three boats in each Olympic and Paralympic event on Saturday 30 January, at the Rolex Awards and Closing Ceremony at Coral Reef Yacht Club.
Regatta Headquarters will be located at the US Sailing Center Miami, an official Olympic training center, in the Coconut Grove section of Miami, Fla. Event organizers have partnered with the city of Miami to provide world-class venues for competition. Additional hosts for the event include Coral Reef Yacht Club, Key Biscayne Yacht Club, Coconut Grove Sailing Club, Miami Rowing Club and Shake-a-Leg Miami. These sailing organizations host classes onshore, as well as help run the on-the-water racing. The Coral Reef Yacht Club also hosts the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. In addition, the University of Miami Hospital will provide on-site medical care during the event.
In addition to title sponsor Rolex Watch U.S.A., US SAILING's 2010 Rolex Miami OCR is also sponsored by AlphaGraphics, Atlantis WeatherGear, Sperry Top-Sider, Harken, Team McLube, and the University of Miami Hospital.
A complete roster can be viewed at the event website, http://rmocr.ussailing.org, where real-time regatta results, photos and updates will be posted daily once racing begins. Video highlights, produced by T2Productions, will air Wednesday through Saturday and can be viewed on the event website. Fans can also visit the Facebook fan page and Twitter page.