Olympic and Paralympic Trials, USA

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176 entrants
9 days of racing
Two coasts
12 of 13 Olympic classes

THE EAST COAST TRIALS

Newport/Middletown, R.I.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
After a 16-race series off Aquidneck Island, in shifty winds that ranged from light and fluky to sustained 18 knots and surfable seas, winners in five classes have been named to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Teams and are slated to represent the United States at the 2008 Games in China. Hosted by the Rhode Island Sailing Foundation, working with Sail Newport, New York Yacht Club, and Ida Lewis Yacht Club, the nine-day regatta drew 87 competitors from throughout the country.

Winners of the largest classes racing at the East Coast Trials were Andrew Campbell (San Diego, Calif.) in the 33-boat Laser class and Anna Tunnicliffe (Plantation, Fla.) in the 22-boat Laser Radial fleet.

Competition in the Laser class kept race-watchers on the edge of their seats. Four-time collegiate All-American Clay Johnson (Toms River, N.J.), who finished third, captured an early lead in the regatta. But Brad Funk (Plantation, Fla.) rose to that position on the second day of racing, soon to be joined by Andrew Campbell (San Diego, Calif.). But as Funk and Campbell sailed farther from the fleet in the point standings, the competition between the two of them only intensified as they flip-flopped as class leaders.

Campbell sailed into the final day with a five-point edge, which was erased when Funk won Race 15 to once again reverse the leading order. Campbell's second in the last race and Funk's third put these two rivals into a points tie that was taken into the protest room over an altercation at the weather mark.

The protest was disallowed, and Campbell won the Laser berth on a tie-breaker. But the long round of applause that Campbell got at the awards ceremony and the standing ovation that Funk received were telling signs of what this contest had become. These Laser peers were clearly honoring two Herculean talents who had given it everything they had—and essentially ended up even.

The Laser Radial class was decided before the start of the final race. Anna Tunnicliffe—ranked number one in her class in the ISAF World Rankings—won the opening race of the regatta and then proceeded to build a points edge over her closest opponent, Paige Railey (Clearwater, Fla.), which she never relinquished. Heading to the starting line today, both sailors were carrying a third place as their worst race. With a four-point lead going into the final day, Tunnicliffe only needed to finish third or better to seal the class win.

After an altercation at the start in Race 15, Tunnicliffe did penalty turns for insurance and ducked the fleet on port tack after the start. But the move put her in good position in relation to the wind patterns to work back to the top of the class; she won the race by a strong margin, with Railey second. With the class win decided, Tunnicliffe and Railey sailed off the course and did not compete in the last race.

The competition for the Laser Radial berth had escalated into a two-boat battle, and after regatta's end, Tunnicliffe commended the talented opponent she has faced in many Laser Radial events: "If Paige wasn’t as good a sailor as she is, I would not be where I am now … She is a great sailor, and it was a tough battle." Sarah Lihan (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) captured third.

The Sonar team of Rick Doerr, Tim Angle, and Bill Donohue (Clifton, N.J./Marblehead, Mass./Brick, N.J.) captured this triplehanded Paralympic class by four points. Victory aside, as Doerr surveyed the past nine days at regatta's end, he depicted a long and sometimes rugged road to first place. After taking three bullets in the first four races, Doerr and his crew were shaping up to be the odds-on favorite—but that trend did not continue.

Back-of-the-fleet finishes and tough competition from second-place Paul Callahan (Newport, R.I./Cape Coral, Fla.), racing with Roger Cleworth and Tom Brown (Lithia, Fla./Northeast Harbor, Maine), and Albert Foster (Wayzata, Minn.), racing with David Burdette and Jim Thweatt (Lutherville, Md./W. Sacramento, Calif.), ensued. The long, high-stakes regatta was also developing into a strategic mindgame for Doerr and his crew: "It's a long regatta—and it was easy to get torn between protecting your lead, and sailing your own race."

Doerr found the tough battle to be good preparation for the international arena of the Paralympic Games: "The strong competition here in the U.S. has only pushed us to another level."

Competition for the 2.4mR berth developed into the closest points situation of the East Coast classes. John Ruf (Pewaukee, Wisc.) and Mark LeBlanc (New Orleans, La.) came off the water tied in points today, with Ruf capturing the berth in this singlehanded Paralympic class on a tie-breaker. He sailed strong in the second half of the regatta, winning Race 10 and proceeding to take all bullets in the next three races. Finishes of 2-2 for Ruf on the final day moved him from second overall and into the lead.

2.4mR sailor Mark Bryant (Estero, Fla.) finished third, only one point behind the winner. These three Paralympic sailors raced a lethally close contest: at different times during the regatta, each of them held the class lead and only one point separated the top three boats in the final tally.

The SKUD-18 class was also decided before the final race. Nick Scandone (Fountain Valley, Calif.) and Maureen McKinnon-Tucker (Marblehead, Mass.) had mathematically sewn up a victory before the last day of competition. Scandone, the 2005 US SAILING Rolex Yachtsman of the Year, and McKinnon-Tucker are a new pairing in this doublehanded class making its Paralympic debut in 2008—and one to be watched. They were also silver medalists at last month's IFDS Disabled World Sailing Championships. SKUD sailors Scott Whitman and Julia Dorsett (Brick, N.J./West Chester, Penn.) won the final two races to move into second place, with Karen Mitchell and JP Creignou (Deerfield Beach, Fla./St. Petersburg, Fla.) taking third.

THE WEST COAST TRIALS

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA---It's not supposed to be easy, winning a bid to the Olympic Games in any discipline, but that makes it more satisfying for the winners, if heartbreaking for the losers. So it was in Sunday's climax of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Team Trials – Sailing on the West Coast.

While some winners won comfortably, the Stars and Tornados and---it seemed for a few hours---the women's RS:X sailboards, were settled by competitors coming from behind on the last day and winning the last race. But well into the evening the latter result was reversed on a protest that put everyone through an emotional wringer, as if the competition wasn't tense enough. Details below.

Star keelboat
California Yacht Club, Marina del Rey:
John Dane III and Austin Sperry
Attention, AARP---you have a new poster boy. Fifty-seven-year-old John Dane III of Gulfport, Miss., sailing with his son-in-law Austin Sperry, 29, as crew, won the biggest race of his life Sunday to claim the U.S. Olympic berth for the Games' most venerable class. They nosed out Rick Merriman and Phil Trinter by seconds in the only race remaining. Their only lingering rivals among 19 boats, George Szabo/Andrew Scott and Mark Mendelblatt/Magnus Liljedahl, finished sixth and seventh. Winds were 8-12 knots but Santa Monica Bay offered more straightforward sailing than it had most of the week. Dane and Sperry whooped and hugged after crossing the line. "I'm glad it's over," Sperry said. "JD did a great job, everything clicked, and we're going to the Olympics." They've been sailing together for three years, since sailing on different boats in the 2004 Trials. Their key improvement going into the Trials was downwind speed, following an intense nine days of concentration on that aspect working with Robert Scheidt, a triple Olympic medalist in Laser and current Star world champion. "We passed Merriman in the last 100 yards," Sperry said. "It was pretty cool." ---Tom O'Conor reporting

Tornado multihull
San Diego Yacht Club
John Lovell and Charlie Ogletree:
Savannah, Sydney, Athens .. and Qingdao! John Lovell and Charlie Ogletree's Tornado tour of Olympic sailing venues marches on after they pulled off a comeback for the ages by winning the last four races to outscore Robbie Daniel and Hunter Stunzi by one point---the first time in the 16-race regatta that the latter didn't own at least a tie for first place. Thus, Lovell and Ogletree, who turned 40 together Thursday, will try to upgrade their 2004 silver medals to gold next August. In winds of 5 1/2 to 8 knots, they won Sunday's races by 59 and 71 seconds, after their protest Saturday against Daniel/Stunzi and Norman and Gary Chu for team racing against them was disallowed the night before. The competition got feisty at times. "We’ve consistently come up trumps this week in our spirited pre-start match racing against our younger opponents, but they have displayed an uncanny ability in getting out of jail more times than we care to remember," Ogletree wrote in their daily newsletter. Lovell said, "Robbie and Hunter pushed us harder than we've ever been pushed in Trials conditions. We just kept thinking every day, 'We're still not mathematically eliminated. We can still win.' We finally got 'em in the last start when we pushed them off on the committee boat." ---Mike Foster reporting

RS:X sailboard, Women
Alamitos Bay Yacht Club/US Sailing Center
Long Beach, Calif. / Nancy Rios: After winning the previous six races to reach the threshold of the 2008 Olympics, it appeared the diminutive Nancy Rios had lost the bid by one point to a bigger, stronger Farrah Hall by finishing fourth in the final race in 14-knot winds, as Hall swept the day 1-1. But Rios, inconsolable when she reached shore, requested redress over a collision with third-place Monica Wilson after the start of the last race that tore her sail. The jury agreed and dropped her four-point score to two, putting her back in front of Hall, 28 points to 29. Oh, my! "I'm happy [now]," Rios said. "My plan today was to get two seconds, and I was right behind Farrah when I had the collision. If it was Farrah in this situation, she also would have protested." Rios won seven of the 16 races to Hall's six. Meantime, the technicality remains that the women's RS:X is the only class in which the U.S. has failed to qualify as a country. The last chance will be the RS:X Worlds at Auckland in January. "I'm going to the Worlds and have all the confidence we'll qualify," Rios said. "No problem." ---Rick Roberts reporting

49er skiff,
Southwestern Yacht Club, San Diego
Tim Wadlow and Chris Rast:
"Go win some gold medals!" With that sendoff from the U.S. Navy, Tim Wadlow, 33, and crew Chris Rast, 35, a native of Switzerland with dual citizenship, won the U.S. Olympic berth by finishing second to Morgan Larson and Pete Spaulding in the next-to-last race, sailed in bright sunshine in 7 knots of wind. For the third day of the 49er Trials, a Navy ship anchored near the course to watch the action, then cheered the winners as they sailed into the spectator fleet and capsized their boat to mingle with the fans and swig some champagne. Wadlow and Spaulding finished fifth as teammates in the 2004 Olympics when Rast, then sailing for Switzerland, was their tuning partner. They went their separate ways when Wadlow remained uncertain about doing another campaign, then he and Rast started sailing together 18 months ago. Their key: "You have to believe in yourselves," Wadlow said. "The transition from skipper to crew is huge, but Chris was willing to do it, and we found we worked together really well." Rast said, "It's not easy. I bulked up from 145 to 158 pounds, [and] I believe I'm one of the best crews right now." He plans to move to San Diego. "I met a pretty sweet girl here," he said. ---Margo Hemond and Jerelyn Biehl reporting

Finn dinghy
Newport Harbor Yacht Club, Balboa
Zach Railey:
It may have looked easy, running with a double-digit lead most of the week, but "it was an extremely tough week," Zach Railey assured any skeptics. Railey, 23, was among the youngest competitors in the Trials' largest fleet of 42 boats that included veterans up to 72. "You have to respect the experience," Railey said. "You know that no one's giving up." Racing was delayed two hours Sunday until 2 p.m. when the wind came in at 12 knots. As fourth-place Bryan Boyd won both races, Railey finished second in the first race to clinch the win without sailing the 16th race. "It was a true test," he said. "I'm glad I did all the work beforehand. The first goal was to win the Trials, but the ultimate goal is to be on the podium in China." ---Jeff Johnson reporting

RS:X sailboard, Men
ABYC
Ben Barger:
Barger, 26, made it hard on himself when he spotted his rivals an early lead by sailing the wrong course in the first of 16 races. Otherwise, he won eight races, including the last four, to ruin double-Olympic medalist Mike Gebhardt's dream of sailing in his fifth Games. Winds started light at 4-5 knots but built to 14, and Barger handled it all. "It's awesome," he said. "For 10 years I've been working toward this. I feel like I've grown a few gray hairs. The Trials can be intense, and this was no different." ---Rick Roberts reporting

470 dinghy
Men and Women
Stuart McNay/Graham Biehl and Amanda Clark/Sarah Mergenthaler: They could have won the women's 470 Olympic assignment by merely finishing the first race Sunday, but Amanda Clark, 25, and Sarah Mergenthaler, 28, kept sailing like winners and clinched it in style. Their victory means they'll join Stuart McNay, 26, and Graham Biehl, 21, who won the men's 470 Trials a day earlier, in Qingdao, China next summer. The victory actually allowed Clark/Mergenthaler to finish on top of the combined fleet standings after McNay/Biehl elected not to sail Sunday and accepted two 14-point DNC (did not compete) scores, one of which they were allowed to discard. Clark said, "We knew we just had to finish at least 11th [in the first race] so we were being conservative. Yeah, I know. We were psyched. It's a dream come true. We've been working toward this together since 2002. When I think about it I get teary-eyed." Mergenthaler said, "You can try all you like and never get it right, but when you do it feels really great. This is the start of a new phase. We're not just going to the Olympics. We're going to China to bring home a medal." ---Rick Roberts reporting

For updated Olympic Trials coverage, click here

Final leaders:

STAR (19 boats; 16 races; 1 discard): 1. John Dane III/Austin Sperry (Gulfport, Miss.), 1-10-6-2-8-1-5-4-(12)-2-3-4-3-3-6-1, 59; 2. George Szabo (San Diego)/Andrew Scott (Annapolis), 2-1-(1)-1-7-3-4-9-6-2-1-1-8-6-4-3-6, 63; 3. Mark Mendelblatt (St. Petersburg, Fla.)/Magnus Liljedahl (Miami, Fla.), 3-3-1-8-1-3-6-2-5-10-4-(12)-2-9-5-7, 69.

49ER (13 boats; 24 races; 2 discards): 1. Tim Wadlow (Beverly, Mass.)/Chris Rast (San Diego), 1-2-1-1-3-1-4-3-3-1-1-1-1-1-3-3-3-2-3-2-2-(14/OCS)-2-(14/DNC), 44 points; 2. Dalton Bergan (Seattle, Wash.)/Zack Maxam (Costa Mesa, Calif.), 2-4-3-4-1-2-2-2-(14/OCS)-3-4-3-(4)-3-2-2-2-3-2-3-1-1-3-1, 53; 3. Morgan Larson (Capitola, Calif.)/Pete Spaulding (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.), (14/OCS)-1-2-2-9-(14/OCS)-1-1-1-2-2-2-5-2-1-1-1-1-1-1-4-14/OCS-1-3, 58.

TORNADO (6 boats; 16 races; 1 discard): 1. John Lovell (New Orleans, La.)/Charlie Ogletree (Kemah, Tex.), 2-1-1-2-2-1-1-2-(4)-3-1-2-1-1-1-1, 22 points; 2. Robbie Daniel (Clearwater, Fla.)/Hunter Stunzi (Charleston, S.C.), 1-(2)-2-1-1-2-2-1-1-1-2-1-2-2-2-2, 23; 3. Norman Chu/Gary Chu (Houston, Tex.), 5-(6)-4-6-3-3-6-5-6-2-3-3-4-3-4, 60.

FINN (42 boats; 16 races; 1 discard): 1. Zach Railey (Clearwater, Fla.), 1-2-12-1-1-1-1-1-3-8-3-1-2-2-(43/DNC), 40 points; 2. Geoffrey Ewenson (Annapolis), 2-3-(10)-4-3-2-2-4-3-1-3-7-4-1-4-3, 46; 3. Darrell Peck (Gresham, Ore.), 4-4-1-3-2-3-4-3-4-(6)-5-5-1-5-6-3-4, 52.

RS:X MEN (6 boats; 16 races; 1 discard): 1. Ben Barger (Tampa, Fla.), (8/RAF)-1-2-1-2-1-3-2-2-1-2-2-1-1-1-1, 23 points; 2. Mike Gebhardt (Ft. Pierce, Fla.), 2-(3)-1-2-1-2-1-3-1-2-3-3-2-2-3-3, 31; 3. Robert Willis (Chicago, Ill.), 1-2-5-3-(6)-3-2-1-4-4-1-1-6-3-2-2, 40.

RS:X WOMEN (7 boats; 16 races; 1 discard): 1. Nancy Rios (Miami, Fla.), 2-(4)-1-3-2-2-4-4-1-1-1-1-1-1-2-2, 28; 2. Farrah Hall (Annapolis, Md.), (4)-1-4-1-3-3-1-1-2-3-2-2-3-2-1-1, 29; 3. Monica Wilson (Newport, R.I.), 3-3-3-2-1-4-3-3-3-4-4-4-2-3-4-(5), 45.

470 COMBINED FLEET/Official scoring* (13 boats; 16 races; 1 discard): 1. Amanda Clark (Shelter Island, N.Y.)/Sarah Mergenthaler (New York, N.Y.), 4-3-1-6-3-3-2-4-1-5-1-6-3-4-1-(14/DNC), 47 points; 2. Stuart McNay (Lincoln, Mass.)/Graham Biehl (San Diego), 2-2-2-2-1-2-4-1-6-4-2-1-6-1-(14/DNC)-14/DNC, 50; 3. Mikee Anderson-Mitterling (Coronado, Calif.)/David Hughes (San Diego), 5-1-6-3-4-4-1-5-5-(7)-5-4-5-3, 51; 4. Erin Maxwell (Norwalk, Conn.)/Isabelle Kinsolving (New York, N.Y.), 9-7-5-5-2-1-5-3-3-2-8-3-4-(14/OCS), 57. *--For purpose of selecting Olympic representatives.

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