One of the most common questions I'm asked as a member of the US Olympic Sailing Team, and one of the harder ones to answer, is "who is your main competition?" To be truthful, everyone is the competition. The Olympics are one regatta and everyone starts out with zero points, no matter if they're the world champion or the last team to be selected for an Olympic spot. As soon as the top field seems to narrow down to a few teams, someone comes from deep in the rankings to win a major event. This happened at the European Championships this June when the New Zealand team of Simon Cooke and Edward Smyth won the championship. This team was ranked 30th in the world at the time and hadn't come close to winning a major event in the previous year. That said, there are a few teams that are consistently on the podium at major events and fortunately Paul and I make up one of them.
In the Men's 470 arena, the most consistent performer over the past year is definitely the French duo of Philippe Gildas and Tanguy Cariou. These guys are always fast and always smart. They won the 1998 World Championship and are now the top team on the ISAF World Ranking list. The French have obviously benefited from the country's depth of talent in the 470 class. Philippe and Tanguy's rivals for the Olympic spot, Benoit Petit and Jean-Francois Cuzon, were the world champions in 1999. The two teams spent years training together and it shows. Philippe and Tanguy have also proven that they can handle the unique conditions in Sydney Harbor as they finished third at the Pre-Olympic regatta last September.
Few venues offer the extreme tactical conditions of Sydney Harbor. The small harbor, surrounded by high bluffs and cliffs, makes for shifty and puffy conditions that reward heads-out of-the-boat sailors. That's not to say that speed will not be important. As confusing as the conditions on the harbor can be, the top five teams usually have nearly the same tactical plan and being able to execute that plan often requires a small speed advantage. Close to half of our races at the Olympics may also be sailed outside the harbor. The steadier breeze on the ocean courses, combined with big waves and current, will reward speed, good starts, and downwind surfing abilities.
Another team that has excelled in Sydney is the Portuguese team of Alvaro Marinho and Miguel Nunes. These two won the Pre-Olympics last September without needing to sail the last day. They also won the Pre-Olympics dress rehearsal in Sydney the previous year. Although the Portuguese fleet is not as strong as the French, Nunes and Marinho did have to beat out the '96 bronze medal team of Hugo Rocha and Nuno Barreto for their Olympic berth. Training with the '96 bronze medalists has helped Marinho and Nunes rise to the top of the class after only four years of 470 sailing. This pair has slipped a little this spring on the European circuit posting no top results at big regattas, but it has plenty of time between now and September to get over its slump.
While the Portuguese have faded this spring, the Australians have been on fire. Tom King and Mark Turnbull won the world championship in Maytheir first major victory. These guys have raised the bar when it comes to boat speed. Tom and Mark had always been one of the fastest teams in the breeze, but lately they've had something extra in all conditions. Much of the Australians' success is no doubt due to the help of team coach Victor Kovalenko. Kovalenko is the most experienced and successful coach in the 470 class. He coached the two-time medal-winning Tyniste brothers for the Soviet team as well as the men's and women's Ukranian 470 teams that won gold and bronze, respectively, in 1996. After winning the Worlds, the Australians used their newfound speed to win the Spa regatta, and most recently, Kiel Week. Though they have had trouble posting consistent performances, the Ukrainian team of Eugeniy Braslevits and Igor Matviyenko can't be ruled out for Sydney. These guys won the gold medal in Savannah at the '96 Games and have the ability to get in a groove and sail a great regatta. It's interesting to note that the Ukrainians were far from favored when they won in '96. Looking at the scores over the past year it is clear that any of the top 10 teams can put together winning scores at a big event. The current top 10 Men's 470 teams in the ISAF World Rankings look like this:
|Men's 470 Current Top 10|
|1.||Philippe Gildas and Tanguy Cariou||France|
|2.||Paul Foerster and Bob Merrick||USA|
|3.||Eugeniy Braslevits and Igor Matviyenko||Ukraine|
|4.||Tomaz Copi and Mitja Margon||Slovenia|
|5.||Johan Molund and Mattias Rahm||Sweden|
|6.||Andreas Kosmatopoulos and Kostas Trigonis||Greece|
|7.||Tom King and Mark Turnbull||Australia|
|8.||Alvaro Marinho and Miguel Nunes||Portugal|
|9.||Gustavo Martinez and Tunte Cantero||Spain|
|10.||Matteo Ivaldi and Francesco Ivaldi||Italy|
If the past three months provide any indication of how much the pecking order can change in a relatively short amount of time, most teams will be ignoring past results and concentrating their efforts on improving their own ability to perform well on the racecourse. Paul and I will continue racing as much as possible by sailing two regattas in France this July. Many of the top teams should be there as these events could be the last two real racing opportunities before the Games.
In mid-August, we'll head down to Sydney and train there until the end of the month with our US training partners, Steve Hunt and Michael Miller, along with our coach Skip Whyte, as well as some of the top foreign teams. We will do some more speed testing to make sure that we are confident in how we set up the boat. We also expect to be able to run some races with other teams. By mid-August there should be plenty of teams in Sydney to race against. Of course, some teams will be guarded and not want to sail outside their training group, but plenty will be eager to keep racing. We are of the latter mindset.
These last few months before the Olympic Regatta will become a balancing act for us between training hard and avoiding burnout. There is always work to be done to improve speed, boat handling, and tactics, but the time for endless hours of training is waning as the priority starts to shift toward staying healthy, focused, and relaxed.
Bob and Paul's Big AdventureToday the wind was very puffy and shifty here at Kiel Week. It blew six to 13 knots out of the southwest. We had one general recall and the committee got 10 boats on that, including the New Zealanders and the Aussies. That gave them an automatic 6.8 points before they even started the race. We were a little too cautiousour starts really stinkso we had a third-row start near the pin and footed left. It was the correct way to go and our speed was pretty good, but it's hard to sail in bad air for half the beat. Anyway, we rounded in the teens, rolled a couple people on the first reach, but then had an awesome run going low and fast and passing the New Zealanders and a pack of five boats.
On the next beat we did OK, playing the left and passing the Greeks. We had another good run to move up to fifth place and that's where we finished. New Zealand finished 15th, Ukraine ninth, but Australia won.
We decided to stay away from the pin-end crowd in the second race and started near the boat. We played the shifts on the right, but missed the last good, right-hand puff, got stuck in the middle, and passed on both sides to round in the 20s. We had an OK first reach, but we should have gone low so as to pass a lot of boats. A great run moved us up into the teens, then we slowly picked off boats to finish 11th. The Aussies were third, Ukraine 23rd, and New Zealand 17th.
In Race Three, we had a poor start again near the pin. We held our lane though, and went left. We probably rounded in the high teens again and passed one boat on the reach, but got rolled by the Aussies. On the next run we were rolling well again and passed some boats, getting the Aussies right at the leeward mark. On the next beat we played the left and passed a couple more boats. We kind of got out of phase on the next run, but still managed to pass a German boat and held even to finish ninth. Ukraine finished second, the Aussies 12th, and New Zealand sixth.
Going into the final day, we've got 53 points, but the Aussies have 39.8, and the Ukraine team is right behind us with 54. Behind them the Russians have 56 and the Israelis have 59.8. We will have to try for better starts tomorrow.
|Top 10 Men's 470 Scores from Kiel Week|
|1.||Tom King and Mark Turnbull||Australia||8-1-1-5-2-6-2-2-3-1-1-3-12-4-7-2||45|
|2.||Paul Foerster and Robert Merrick, 0- ||USA||3-1-OCS-4-11-4-1-1-4-5-11-9-3-8-1||55|
|3.||Simon Cooke and Peter Nicholas||New Zealand||0-2-3-2-1-4-10-1-2-3-15-17-6-11-9-5||66|
|4.||Eli Zukerman and Elad Ronen||Israel||0-1-7-6-1-7-13-15*-3-5-3-4-3-10-10-3||67|
|5.||Dmitri Berezkine and Mikhail Kroutikov||Russia ||0-9-5-4-7-5-1-9-1-7-2-2-13-1-14-15||71|
|6.||Andreas Kosmatopoulos and Kostas Trigonis||Greece||0 5-6-3-6-4-10-3-4-4-10-13-4-12-1-10||72|
|7.||Tomasz Stanczyk and Tomasz Jakubiak||Poland||8-3-5-8-8-3-7-4-6-2-4-8-17-6-4-13||79|
|8.||Gabrio Zandona and Andrea Trani ||Italy||0-7-10-2-3-1-1-7-14-16-13-9-1-14-2-8||80|
|9.||Eugeny Braslavets and Igor Matvienko||Ukraine||0-2-3-5-3-2-2-2-10-1-9-23-2-DNF-DNF-4 ||93|
|10.||Gustavo Martinez and Tunte Cantero||Spain||8-6-6-4-11-3-8-6-4-3-8-10-14-5-11- DNF ||94|