It's early summer and big races are taking place all over the country. Out West the biennial Transpac is grabbing headlines with a strong core of offshore racers making their way out to the Hawaiian Islands. In the Northeast, the annual Block Island Race Week is session, with 214 boats going head to head. And in the Midwest, Cleveland Race Week is among the many events populating the calendar with over 160 boats participating. Given all that activity, it's easy to see how we might overlook a less vaunted but no less important regatta staged during the same time framethe 2001 USA Junior National Olympic Sailing Championship.
If you can get beyond that mouthful of a title, you'll begin to understand how this five-class regatta with roughly 160 entrants (staged this year at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD), holds a special statusboth for its participants and competitive sailors everywhere. Through an application-invitation screening process, the event's administrators at US SAILING gather the top junior racing talent in the USsailors ranging in age from 13 to 19and offer them not only four days of on-the-water competition, but also exposure to the top Olympic and junior coaches by way of a two-day advanced racing clinic. These young sailors not only get a chance to interact with top coaching talent and their peers, but they get ready-made counseling regarding opportunities within the sport from potential Olympic participation to what it might be like to join the sailing industry.
One chief objective behind the JO Nationals (as the young competitors refer to the event) is to get more sailors interested in pursuing Olympic competition. US SAILING's Inshore Director Lee Parks explains: "It used to be called the US Youth Champs, and then we entered into an agreement with the Olympic Committee roughly six years ago to make this a key part of their Olympic Path Program. It's essentially an opportunity for young sailors to determine their next step in the sport, and hopefully that means that some of them are going to commit to an Olympic campaign."
This event, says Parks, "has always represented the best 150 or so youth sailors in the country
It has no regional quotas, all the selections are made by reviewing the resumes. We typically get 300 resumes from kids around the country. You may receive one from Nebraska and 50 from California, as opposed to the Sears, Bemis, and Smythe events, which are conducted more equitably on a regional basis
.Basically we are trying to pull together the best high school and early college sailors in the country."
It's not just a boast; past participants in the JO Nationals have gone on to become collegiate All-Americans, national and world championship competitors, Olympic representatives, and America's Cup team members. And many have worked their way into the ranks of the sailing industry as sailmakers, boat designers, judges, race officers, instructors and authors in the sport. Consider some of the sailors who risen to the top and won various classes in earlier editions of this event: Brett Davis, Alex Camet, Andy Lovell, Kevin Hall, Nick Adamson, Ron Rosenberg, Peter Johnstone, John Shadden, Russ Silvestri, Pete Melvin, and Peter Commette, to name a few.
So, will some of the sailors who raced around the buoys in Annapolis this week be among those we witness at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece? According to Brian Doyle, the US Olympic Developmental Coach, that's very likely. "There's pretty good potential for some of these sailors to be in Athens," says Doyle, who is taking a team of nine young American racers to the Volvo World Youth Championships in Crozon-Magat, France immediately after the JO Nationals. "There's a lot of talent here, and I think we have a pretty talented group going [to Europe]. Two of our teams have a good shot at medalling at the Youth Worlds, and all of our sailors have a shot at finishing in the top 10." Doyle says that compares favorably to teams from recent years, but is a long shot from the 70s and early 80s when the US was at the forefront in pre-Olympic competition.
Despite the emphasis on Olympic classes and Olympic competition, Doyle says that his work, and that of the other US SAILING staff involved in developing young racers, isn't solely geared toward winning medals. "The big focus here is on elevating the skills within a broad base of sailors. That's what we do in our Olympic Festivals around the country and somewhat in our qualifying events where we determine the sailors who attend the World Youth Championships."
Doyle explains that's where this particular event figures prominently: "Here at the JO Nationals we have sailors from every region of the country and we're teaching these sailors the skills they need to get better. They're going to take those skills back home and make other sailors better. The theory is that you've got to beat the guy next door before you can beat the guy on the other coast, but you won't get much better if the guy next door isn't good enough to help you improve. So the mission is to get everyone to improve and then we bring a whole generation of sailors up to a better level of competition."
Doyle's theory appears to be working. The two top boys' teams in the 420 at Annapolis were both from San Diego, where they sail regularly against each other. "That's the objective," says Doyle, "but it takes everyone working hard."
From the administrative side, Parks says that the JO Nationals serve as a relative gauge for the success of junior racing programs in the US. "It brings kids together from around the country that have not sailed together. We usually discover that there's definitely an A, B, and C fleet within this group, and as you would expect, the older participants are usually the better sailors. But the two-day clinic provides all of them with opportunities, teaching them about tuning and rigging and boathandling. It's really quite an intense clinic, and the sailors look forward to this to bring them up to the next step."
(For additional information and full scores from the USA Junior Olympic National Sailing Championships, log on to www.nadn.navy.mil/SailingTeam/intercollegiate/JOhome.)
Taking on the World
Some of the top junior sailors in the US are on their way to Crozon-Magat, France to compete in the Volvo ISAF World Youth Championships (July 4-11). Led by coach Brian Doyle, most of these sailors have had the benefit of some special help by way of the intensive two-day clinic staged prior to the JO Nationals. That help came from 15 of the sport's top coaches, including US Olympic Coaches Gary Bodie (head coach), Luther Carpenter, and Skip Whyte. All told, this collection of coaches represented over 200 years of coaching experience and ownership of 65 national and world titles in the sport.
The team headed to France is made up of boys' 420 sailors Frank Tybor and Jeffrey Boyd of San Diego, CA; girls' 420 sailors Genny Tulloch (Houston, TX) and crew Becky Merganthaler (Colts Neck, NJ); Hobie 16 sailors Anders Straume and crew Hunter Stunzi of Boston, MA; Laser sailor Zach Railey (Clearwater, FL); Laser radial sailor Lauren Bernsen (Coronado, CA); and Jon Azevedo (Indian Harbor Beach, FL) in the Mistral boys event. These sailors will be among the more than 400 competitors representing 46 countries at the event. For additional information on the event, log on to www.sailing.org.
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