Sydney-boundReynolds and Liljedhal emote after clinching the Star Class victory
Every four years many hard-core sailors get their hopes dashed. In the Olympic arena, there's only room for one entry from each country in each of the 13 yachting classes, and some countries don't even make it that far. Over the past two weeks the murky brine of San Francisco Bay doled out some serious disappointments as four of those classes determined their US Olympic Team representatives for the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia.
The past 10 days have seen the waters of the Bay Area's famed Berkeley Circle more roiled than usual as the Finn, Europe, and Laser Classes staged two races a day to accomplish a full schedule of 16 races. (The Star Class held just 14 races.) According to race-management sources, the wind conditions on the Bay didn't disappoint, running the gamut from moderate and shifty to strong and puffy. As far as US SAILING's Olympic Yachting Director Jonathan Harley is concerned, these regattas provided an apt test to determine just who should represent the US in the coming Olympiad. Here's a class-by-class synopsis of the San Francisco Trials:
Star Class For almost a decade, Mark Reynolds has held the status of US guru in the Star Class, and over the past 10 days he did nothing but solidify that reputation by turning in consistently competitive finishes in the 16-boat Star Class Olympic Trials. Racing with 46-year-old Floridian Magnus Liljedhal, the San Diego-based sailmaker regularly showed his transom to the rest of the fleet using excellent boat speed and savvy racecourse management to propel himself to a final score of 15 points in 14 races. Reynolds' string of finishes2-5-1-1-1-2-1-1-1-1-3-1-1-2from which he threw out a 5 and a 3, were strong enough that he packed his boat up before the final day.
Tooth and nailStar Class sailors chase each other up the first beat during the US Olympic Trial Regatta on San Francisco Bay.
It isn't enough to say that Reynolds and Liljedhal were strong; they were smooth, fast, and untouchable. Basically, they dominated. Second-place finisher Vince Brun, who ended up 23 points behind, was nearly at a loss for words when asked to demystify his rival's impressive performance. "It's one of these things that if I knew it, I'd be doing it," said Brun after Friday's final race. "Mark is really sailing very consistently and just comes out of the blocks fast," he explained. "He didn't have the edge a couple of weeks ago, but he has it now. A lot of the times it looks like the old Buddy Melges style of racing where he starts with the fleet and then just tacks and crosses everyone."
Action in the Finn Class occasionally meant gear-busting reaches on the Berkeley Circle.
What can you say about a guy who seems to have it all? Thirty-eight-year-old Russell Silvestri took a thorough, spare-no-expense approach to the Olympic Trials (including hiring three coaches), and sailed away with top honors by just three points over Mark Herrmann. A one-time Olympic alternate (1988), Silvestri led wire to wire in the regatta, coming out of the gates with a pair of bullets on Day 1 and never faltering until Thursday when he posted a 5-4 combination, two scores that would later serve as his throw-outs.
Silvestri's performance wasn't without controversy. He had to survive several protests throughout the event: one alleging an illegal boat, another regarding the legality of his hiking pants, and two others questioning his practice of anchoring a water-proofed VHF radio to the bottom near the starting line, and then hauling it up between races to consult with coaches who were stationed around the racecourse.
Taking a less militaristic approach, Seattle's Mark Herrmann didn't start so auspiciously in the 26-boat fleet, but managed to stay close enough to Silvestri to move within striking distance during the final two days. When Silvestri logged a 2-4 on Saturday and then a 4-2 on the last day, he nearly opened the door for Hermann, who posted a 1-1-2-1 combination in his final four races. Despite the victory, Silvestri's work has only just begun. He's made the US Olympic Team, but he must still secure a berth in the Olympic Regatta by finishing among the top 20 boats at this summer's Finn Gold Cup in England.
Competition in the Laser Class was tight, particularly among the top three boats
For rivals Mark Mendelblatt and John Myrdal, both three-time collegiate All-Americans, nothing about the outcome of the Laser Class Olympic Trials was written in stone until the final beat of the final race on Sunday. Nothing, that is, except for the fact that one of these two would be heading off to Sydney this fall. Between the two of them, they won 12 of the 16 races against a talent-laden fleet composed of 30 other would-be Olympians.
Mendelblatt owned the lead for most of the eight-day event. Except for a Race-1 OCS(premature start), he posted scores that were consistently in the low-single-digit range. However, Olympic yachting pundits shouldn't be surprised to learn that Laser Class journeyman John Myrdal stayed close throughout the event and then came on strong in the final two days to edge Mendelblatt out by four points. After a string of third, fourth, and fifth places in other major Laser regattas, the 28-year-old Myrdal was hungry, and he saw his chance when Mendelblatt, who was coached by former and current Olympic Team member Jonathan McKee, scored back-to-back eighth places in Races 13 and 14. Despite logging an 11th himself in Race 14, Myrdal sailed well enough on the final day to post a 1-3 combination and win his place on the US Olympic Yachting Team.
Courtenay Becker-Dey shows her stuff in her usual, out-in-front position.
It's safe to say that 34-year-old Oregonian Courtenay Becker-Dey has discovered the right formula for winning big regattas. Coached by her husband Jim Dey, this Olympic Bronze medalist and former Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year knew just when to hit her competitive peak. With four bullets in the first four races, she served notice to the 22 other competitors that this was going to be her regatta.
Throughout the competition, Becker-Dey showed she knows how to achieve that enviable performance plateau that sportswriters call equipoisethat state of being where competitive intensity is balanced by fluid execution. After posting no score worse than a fifth (in Race 10), she established a mathematical lock on first place overall going into the last day, and thus decided to sit out the final two races. There's no doubt in this author's mind that Ms. Becker-Dey offers the US its best chance of achieving an Olympic medal in the Europe Dinghy next fall.
Despite the recent widespread disappointment in San Francisco, the good news is that the US Olympic Team that will be heading to Australia in just four months is now top-heavy with competitive, battle-tested veterans. Among the team members, there's nearly one sailor in each class who has seen action in previous Olympiads (excepting the Paralympic Team). To date, the US Olympic Team includes: John Lovell and Charlie Ogletree in the Tornado, Paul Forester and Bob Merrick in the Men's 470, J.J. Isler and Pease Glaser in the Women's 470, Jonathan and Charlie McKee in the 49er, Lanee Butler in the Women's Mistral IMCO, Mike Gebhardt in the Men's Mistral IMCO, along with Paralympic sailors Paul Callahan, Keith Burhans, and Corky Aucreman in the Sonar and Tom Brown in the 2.4 Meter. Now, Becker-Dey, Reynolds, and Silvestrieach with Olympic experience themselveshave joined this pantheon, as well as John Myrdal. Here's wishing good luck to Team USA, along with condolences to those who left their dreams on the choppy waters of San Francisco Bay.Editors' Note: The US Olympic Trials for the one remaining class, the Soling, begin in early May in Punta Gorda, FL, (fleet racing) and culminate in San Francisco June 1-11 (match racing).