The Good News...
Today at the Skandia Sail for Gold regatta in Weymouth, England, Anna Tunnicliffe advanced to the women's match race finals, assuring a gold or silver medal finish tomorrow with Sally Barkow competing tomorrow for a bronze. That's the good news. The bad news is that in the other nine Olympic classes, only three American teams have qualified for the medal races.
The real significance for some of the sailors is not how they finished in relation to the international fleet, but in relation to their US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics teammates, as this year's Sail for Gold counts for one half of the US Olympic Team trials series. The teams with the best combined scores in Weymouth and at this December's ISAF Worlds in Perth, Australia, will be the US representatives at next summer's Olympic Games. While these stakes may add to the pressure of this regatta, they should have had no effect on the way our sailors approach their sailing. In these large fleets, each boat can only be focused on themselves, not their American competition.
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For the past few years, USSTAG has continually expressed its goal for 2012: winning medals. We have seen the organization bring in new coaches, tweak the system for earning funding, overhaul the trials system and define the new team training philosophy, all with that goal in mind. Starting this week and following through the Games, we get to see if those changes will lead to the realization of the goal.
Clearly, coaches Dave Perry and Dave Dellenbaugh, along with the sailors on the Women's Match Race circuit, Teams Barkow, Tulloch and Tunnicliffe, are doing something right. All three teams are ranked in the ISAF top ten and both teams sailing in Weymouth have a shot at a medal. But what is the current state of health of the nine fleet racing classes?
For Storck/Moore in the 49er, McNay/Biehl in the Men's 470, Zach Railey in the Finn and Paige Railey in the Radial, there is no other significant US competition. These athletes are free to focus on their international rivals and gain invaluable venue experience for their assumed participation in the 2012 Games. Our 2008 silver medalist Zach Railey is ranked #1 in the Finn class, but only just managed to squeak into the medal race today. Paige Railey, ranked third in ISAF, has chalked up an uncharacteristic fourteenth place finish. Erik Storck and Trevor Moore, who climbed into the 49er together two years ago and have steadily climbed up the rankings to their current ISAF ranking of fourteen, struggled this week and finish in Weymouth seventeenth overall.
For the sailors in the Women's 470, Laser and Star classes, the stakes for a good performance are arguably higher, and for the most part, that seemed to pay off. Erin Maxwell and Isabelle Kinsolving Farrar will sail tomorrow's Women's 470 medal race from seventh place, while their training partners Amanda Clark and Sarah Lihan just missed, finishing eleventh overall. In the Stars, Mark Mendelblatt is in tenth entering the medal race, with George Szabo and Andrew Campbell finishing close behind, in thirteenth and fifteenth, respectively. In the Lasers, Brad Funk, Clay Johnson and Rob Crane have some work to do, all finishing in the thirties.
In the RS:X Men's and Women's board classes, no Americans finished in the top half. The lack of competitiveness of board sailing in the US will have to be the subject of another blog altogether.
There is one factor that significantly distorts the results of this year's Sail for Gold: the British. The UK's Skandia British Sailing Team made quite an impression this week, picking up spots in all nine medal races and in match racing finals. They dominate the 49er and Finn classes, and their depth of talent crowds out a good portion of the fleet in all classes. Despite this domination, the rules allow for only one British entry in each class at next year's Games. As a matter of fact, only one entry from each country will be allowed. Just for fun, let's imagine this year's Sail for Gold had been the Olympics. Assuming today's results were final, and deleting duplicated entries from other countries, here are the hypothetical finishes of USSTAG in the 2011 Weymouth Hypothetical Olympic Sailing Regatta:
|470 Men's||Stu McNay||17th|
|470 Women's||Erin Maxwell||7th|
|RS:X Men's||Bob Willis||28th|
|RS:X Women's||Farrah Hall||26th|
|Match Racing||Anna Tunnicliffe||1st|
The good news is that all US hypothetical finishes are good enough to at least fall within the total number of entries allowed in Olympic sailing (varying by class, from 12 to 48.) The bad news: only one medal earned, down from two at the 2008 Games and continuing the Americans' downward slide since the shift from part-time amateur Olympic campaigning of the 1980's to full-time, high-cost, very-high-level Olympic training of today.
The very good news: this week's regatta was not the Olympics. Our athletes now have just over a year to analyze what they saw this week and find areas for improvement. Excepting Tunnicliffe, the sailors listed above will get another chance to compete in Weymouth at the end of July at the 2011 Weymouth and Portland International Regatta, the Olympic test event. There, only one sailor from each country will compete, more closely simulating Olympic competition, and once again giving the sailors, coaches and the public, a chance to evaluate USSTAG's chances in 2012. From there, we can only watch and wait, counting down the days until the real thing.