It was "one race, one chance" today at US SAILING's 2010 Rolex Miami OCR, the second of seven stops of the ISAF Sailing World Cup 2009-2010.
After gold, silver and bronze medallists were determined yesterday in three Paralympic classes, it was now the turn for sailors in 10 Olympic classes to claim podium positions, but the plot came with a twist. Just as will happen at the Olympics in 2012, only the top-10 finishers - determined after five days of fleet racing - earned the right to sail in today's single Medal Race for each class, except for in Women's Match Racing. In that event, which makes its Olympic debut in 2012, sailors competed in finals and petit-finals to determine medallists.
The Rolex Miami OCR, which this year hosted 448 teams (633 athletes) from 45 nations, is one of the world's most competitive regattas for 2012 Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls. As such, each nation's medal tally is closely watched; USA had the most medals with 10, followed by Great Britain with six, France with five and Spain with four.
In the Women's Match Racing finals, Anna Tunnicliffe, Molly Vandemoer and Debbie Capozzi (USA) defeated Lucy MacGregor's GBR team in a highly charged, best-of-five series. Team MacGregor hadn't lost a race since the first round until today's race three against Tunnicliffe. Tunnicliffe went on to win the fourth race as well, tying up the score 2-2, so the tie-breaker became a do-or-die match for the gold. After a tough start, Tunnicliffe trailed MacGregor on the first beat, but MacGregor hit some waves and slowed down and Tunnicliffe caught up by the bottom mark. On the downwind leg, MacGregor jibed early, and Tunnicliffe extended on port and jibed, catching the waves. From that point on, Tunnicliffe defended the starboard layline and narrowly edged out MacGregor by half a boat length.
"We had a great day on the water," said Tunnicliffe. "My team did a great job of staying in the game despite the two losses in the beginning. We fought back and kept it calm and pulled off the moves we needed to and are so happy we came out on top."
Thanks to a substantial 35-point lead in the Laser Radial, Paige Railey (USA) wrapped up the gold medal a day early in the 57-boat fleet, but today she added another bullet to her collection. Following in second was Spain's Alicia Cebrian who sailed a consistently strong event, and the bronze medal went to GBR's Alison Young. Railey's strengths this week were her boat speed and being able to see the pressures and realizing the phase of the shift a few seconds ahead of her competition. By the end of the regatta, she had found her groove and won several races comfortably. Coach Luther Carpenter said she managed risk very well in very difficult conditions.
"I'm so pleased about winning the gold," said Railey. "I wasn't thinking about the results. I was out there taking one race at a time and pushing myself to use new techniques I've incorporated into my sailing. I've been learning when to take risks and when to stay conservative."
2008 Olympians Amanda Clark and Sarah Chin (USA) won an impressive gold medal in the Women's 470, after taking a year off since the 2008 Games in Qingdao, China. Leading into today's Medal Races, they were two points away from the top (the top three were only separated by one point each) and finished fifth in today's race, which secured their overall win. France's Ingrid Petitjean and Nadège Douroux won silver and Denmark's Henriette Koch and Lene Sommer won bronze.
"It was a very tactical regatta; we couldn't necessarily rely on being fast in a variety of conditions to pull us through," said Clark. "It was the best racing we could ever ask for.
"It's great to win our first major regatta back," she added. "This was a huge positive for us. We wanted to enter this quad with a strong start, proving we still have what it takes. This time around, we're ready to be on the podium."
Norway's Eivind Melleby and Petter Morland Pedersen won a gold medal in the Star class in a come-from-behind victory over USA's Andy Horton and James Lyne, who led the 24-boat fleet throughout the regatta. Only three points separated the two teams going into today's race. Horton and Lyne went back at the start for an unforced error, so they played catch-up for the rest of the race and finished fifth in the race and second overall, only one point behind the Norwegian team. Mark Mendelblatt and John Von Schwarz (USA) rounded out the podium with a bronze.
In the Men's 470 class, the Swedish team of Anton Dahlberg and Sebastian Östling was third going into today with the knowledge that whoever finished first among yesterday's top-four boats would secure the gold medal. "There is so much to tell," said Dahlberg about today's action on the race course. "It was one of the closest races yet, and every inch counted." He explained that yesterday's leaders (and eventual bronze medallists) Gideon Kliger and Eran Sela (ISR) became part of a "tough lineup" and got caught up on the top mark. "They had been in second and had to do penalty turns; a lot of boats did turns." Dahlberg and Ostling, in eighth at the time, scooted clear. By the second windward mark, France [not in medal contention] was leading with the Swedes in second and eventual silver medalists Mathew Belcher and Malcolm Page (AUS) behind them. "We all did a jibe set," said Ostling, "and we were focused on our position with Australia when suddenly they jibed away [to make sure they covered ISR], and we were glad. We managed to get a boost for boat lengths at the end and won."
Dahlberg and Ostling competed here three years ago but admittedly were beginners trying to get experience. "Now we have a lot more confidence, for sure on the downwind legs," said Ostling. "This is our first gold; it's big for us, big for Sweden." The duo is hoping that the same scenario might play out at the 2012 Games if they are fortunate enough to represent their country there. "In Beijing we were 15th, and with more experience, hopefully we can medal," said Dahlberg.
For the French 49er team of Emmanuel Dyen and Stéphane Christidis, it was important to finish in front of the Austrian team of Nico Delle - Karth and Nikolaus Resch and the Danish team of Simon Karstoft and Jonathan Bay. The three were one-two-three going into today and finished the regatta in the same order. "After a really good start, our goal was to control them and we managed to do that," said Christidis matter-of-factly. "Usually we have a longer rest after our Worlds, which this year were held in January in the Bahamas [the team finished fourth], but we came right to Miami because this event and the World Cup is very important to us.
In RS:X Men's windsurfing, The Netherlands' defending champion Dorian Van Rijsselberge watched Spain's Ivan Pastor most closely in his play to win the gold. With a short 500-meter windward leg, Rijsselberghe's entire race took less than 30 minutes to complete. As he tells it, he was next to Pastor at the start boat, and in the beginning Pastor was controlling him. "But the more we were going the more I got control," said Rijsselberghe, "just by speed and hard work." Then it was the tacking game. "My goal was first to get rid of him to be sure he was not in front, then start racing others."
The light 7-9 knot breezes were typical of "pumping conditions" that have prevailed here for the windsurfers and continually tested their physical strength. "In these conditions you have a maximum heart rate of 4-5 times normal, and you have to get 'over the hump,' as we say and get up on a plane. Today there was not a lot of wind, but just enough to have a nice race." Pastor took the silver, while France's Julien Bontemps won the bronze.
In RS:X Women's, the battle between Spanish teammates Marina Alabau, the defending champion, and Blanca Manchon, yesterday's leader, wound up with Alabau snatching gold and Manchon settling for silver. "I was worried for the French as well at the start," said Alabau, "but it was me who rolled Blanca, and she had to tack to the wrong side. I was more concentrated on not losing second, but thinking maybe to get a first. By the first mark, I was second behind Laura [Laura Linares of Italy], and I just had to keep my position."
Linares, who won today's race, took the bronze and epitomizes the up-and-coming youth contingent at this regatta. Coming into today in fourth, the 19-year-old said, "I was determined more than in any other of the races. I was calm; I believed in myself. I just finished a youth period and now I am not anymore a youth, so I am entering another period where it will be my job to be a professional sailor trying for the Olympics."
"Not only did we have terrific racing this week by the best sailors in the world," said Gary Bodie, Regatta Co-Chairperson, "but also we had the best, most qualified group of volunteers we've ever had. They worked tirelessly to run a superb event."
Medals were awarded tonight to the top three boats in each Olympic and Paralympic event at a ceremony held at Coral Reef Yacht Club. In addition to her gold medal, Paige Railey was chosen to receive US SAILING's Golden Torch Award, given to the American sailor deemed to have the best overall performance among all classes. Tunnicliffe was the last athlete to win the award in 2006, so she presented Railey with the trophy.
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.
You can follow live coverage of this year's event on Sailgroove via the link below.
Click here for live the Sailgroove Miami page.