As Olympic fever continues to set in, the 400 sailors from 69 nations that are attending the Games in Sydney, Australia, are making final preparations for the competition, which is just days away. Though the official practice races begin on the 16th, most of the US Team has been in Sydney for weeks, tuning up on the water as part of the US Teams systematic approach to achieving the best showing.
To gain some insight on what Olympic life is like, weve garnered the combined comments of Mens 470 crew Bob Merrick (who will be filing exclusive updates for SailNet), 470 coach Skip Whyte, and some notes from US SAILINGs Olympic Director Jonathan Harley. (Harleys complete diary can be found on the US SAILING websitewww.ussailing.org). Pass the torch and let the games begin.
Bob Merrick After spending the final two weeks of August in Sydney, Paul and I flew to San Diego to get processed with the rest of the US Olympic Team. We went through processing with the triathalon team, some of the weightlifters, and the table tennis team. After that, we turned right around and flew back to Sydney14 hoursfor more training. Since returning, weve had mostly good weather, no rain and moderate wind, except that 40-plus knot afternoon that you might have read about. It has been a bit cool though. Low temperatures are in the low 40s to high 30s and the highs in the 60s.
A week ago we raced on Course B in a very shifty and puffy westerly wind. The wind was coming directly from the Sydney Harbor Bridge. We had from six to 10 boats racing including the Kiwi, Argentine, French, and Spanish teams. It was good to find out just how shifty and puffy Sydney Harbor really is. On that day, our finishes were first, sixth, fifth, second. I think we need to race as much as possible to get accustomed to the Harbor. To that end, we even race to and from the sailing club because it can be a 45-minute sail to the race area. Paul says that the Sydney Harbor conditions are just like those at home on Lake Travis in Austin, Canyon Lake in New Braunfles, or Eagle Mountain Lake in Ft. Worth.
During our recent training, weve also sailed out in the ocean, where we found some big ocean rollers. The waves were kind of going across the wind and moving pretty fast at about five knots. This caused the apparent wind to shift as much as 30 degrees with each wave, calling for lots of steering and mainsail trimming on each wave to try and keep the telltales flying.
Since coming back to Sydney, weve moved into the Olympic Villagewhat a place! The Australians have built an entire new housing community for the athletes. Paul and I are staying in a house with the rest of the US Sailing Team. Our house is halfway between the main dining hall and the International Zone, which is kind of like downtown. The International Zone has a video arcade, gymnasium, movie theater, and another dining hallall for free. The main dining hall is a huge tent that must span at least three acres. It's open 24 hours a day and you can find just about anything imaginable to eat.
Getting down to the sailing center in the morning at Rushcutters Bay takes about 45 minutes. We start with about a five-minute walk down to the transportation mall (the dining hall is on the way). From the transportation mall we take a 10-minute bus ride to a ferry. The ferry is a high-speed cat that takes about 30 minutes to get to the marina. The marina is situated on a park with four large ramps leading down to the water. All of the teams have containers set up with workshops. Carl Eichenlaub, our teams boatwright, has done an amazing job with ours.
We've been racing against some other top teams for a few days. We had a windy westerly yesterday and a moderate southeaster today. Both directions bring shifty conditions. The racing has been going well for us. We're scheduled for measurement on the 13th. Opening Ceremonies are on the 15th and then we start racing on the 20th.
Skip Whyte The first boats have been through the measurement process and the remaining practice sessions can now be counted on one hand. It's almost time and we are ready. After all of the hard work here and in Europe, it is hard to imagine that we could squeeze more blood out of the stone, but we have. Both teams [Merrick and Foerster, and Womens 470 competitors JJ Isler and Pease Glaser] have made significant strides in the last few days. The endless strong westerlies have given us opportunities to refine our heavy air, flat-water technique. The final tweaks to our sails have been very successful as well. We have new jets!
Recently, we were racing on course B in the shadow of the Opera House in another strong westerly that was gusting into the high twenties. I was running races for the masses and we sailed our first trapezoids in many days. The ferry, commercial fishing, and pleasure boat traffic was intense, so the normally flat B course was a pretty bouncy place, but there were still plenty of flat-water, high-speed opportunities. The successful teams were able to shift gears instantly to compensate for the radical changes. Both US teams were hot, but many teams were racing in fine form. It is going to be a terrific contest.
After that we raced on D course, which is located just inside Sydney Heads. JJ and Pease took the day off to do some final pre-measurement preparations, but Paul and Bob were there with training partners Steve and Mike. Paul and Bob were absolutely dominant upwind all day. The wind was in the high teens all day with frequent very strong gusts into the high 20s. They were first or second at every weather mark. Downwind was a bit of a lottery. With the weather mark close to shore, it was impossible to see the big puffs that would dominate the leg. If you guessed wrong with your opening jibe, you were screwed. Despite a few missed puffs and one spectacular crash in a 30-knot blast, Paul and Bob easily won the day. They are ready!
Jonathan Harley Tuesday was a very busy day for the entire team. We began the day with a Team meeting at which the 18 US sailors elected Star crew Magnus Liljedahl as their 2000 Sailing Team Captain. He is very proud of his new position and now is looking for a big "C" to put on his sailing gear as they do in hockey.
The press requests have begun to pick up with NBC Sports.com wanting pictures of the entire team, while NBC-TV filmed a number of "Postcards from Sydney." Another film crew got some footage of Foerster and Merrick on their way to the racecourse, and Bob Ross of Yachting Australia interviewed them. Hal and I spent an hour over lunch with Gary Jobson to find out what he wants to do and how best to maximize his coverage of the US sailors. [Jobson is covering the event for NBC.com.] He will come to the team meeting Thursday morning to outline what he feels is best. He will interview each athlete and increase coverage following each day of racing.
The sailing coverage will be carried on CNBC at 7:00 p.m. in each continental US time zone. It will follow two hours of boxing coverage and will be the lead story. Gary estimates about five minutes each race day and more as the medal races begin to become apparent.
The measurement process continues and more and more boats are seen sporting the Sydney 2000 graphics. All the boats and sailors will have some specific way to ensure easy visibility. The sails will sport the three-letter IOC country code, along with the skipper's name and national flag, and will leave no doubt as to what country is leading. Each sailor will wear a bib with the three-letter code on front and back. Fleet leaders each day will wear a gold bib and have a gold dot on their hull and sails. Second place will carry blue bibs and dots, and third red. These will be changed every day as series leaders change.
Press requests/interviews have picked up with the San Francisco TV station KRON looking to interview Soling sailors Jeff Madrigali, Craig Healy, and Hartwell Jordan, as well as Finn sailor Russ Silvestri. Another station wanted to interview Courtenay Becker Dey. NBC-TV has arranged for David Bloom, anchor of "Weekend Today," to sail a 49er with the boats designer, Australian Julian Bethwaite, which will be followed by a piece on Jonathan and Charlie McKee, our 49er team. NBC will also be filming 15-second spots with our athletes to say hello to friends and family back home, similar to the greetings from US servicemen and women aired around the Christmas holidays.
Stacking the Deck
The US Sailing Team has hit Sydney in force, with almost as much sailing talent behind the scenes as it has on the water. Heres a list of the coaches and administrators with a brief summary of each ones credentials:
Hal Haenelthree-time Olympian in the Star Class with gold (92) and silver medals (88) is the Team Leader
Russell Couttstwo-time Americas Cup helmsman, former match-racing world champion, and Finn Class Gold Medalist ('84)
Ed Adamsone-design class champion, professional sailor, and meteorologist
Luther Carpenterformer collegiate all-American sailor, has been US Sailing Coach since the early 90s
Skip Whyteformer Olympic campaigner, has been a US Sailing Coach since the early 90s
Jonathan HarleyUS SAILINGs Olympic Director for the past four Olympiads
Carl Eichenlaubformer boatbuilder, Mr. Fix-it has been the US Teams boatwright since the 1976 Olympiad
Gary Bodieformer collegiate sailing coach at US Naval Academy and Hampton University
Jimmy Deyformer national boardsailing champ,
Jay Glasersailmaker and former Tornado Class Olympian with silver medal (84)
Kimo Worthingtonprofessional sailor, former Americas Cup afterguard, and coach
Bob HobbsUS SAILINGs Olympic Yachting Committee Chair, has served on the OYC since 1985
For a list of the competitors on the US Sailing Team, click to our previous coverage: The Olympic Primer