Sailors Hit Their Stride at Halfway Mark

More than 600 athletes representing 45 nations have hit their regatta halfway mark after today’s racing at US SAILING’s 2010 Rolex Miami OCR, the second of seven stops of the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) Sailing World Cup 2009-2010 . The event, the only of its kind in this country, started Monday and continues through Friday for three Paralympic classes and Saturday for ten Olympic classes, which will have been pared down to the top ten in each for medal races that day.

Today was a picturesque light-air day on Biscayne Bay, but many sailors worked the conditions to their advantage. The unstoppable SKUD-18 team of Scott Whitman (Brick, N.J.) and Julie Dorsett (West Chester, Pa./Boca Raton, Fla.), who hope to have a repeat gold medal performance of last year’s Rolex Miami OCR, added two more bullets to their collection today in the talented seven-boat fleet.

« Our speed was great, and we were really in sync, » said Dorsett, who noted they were happy with their starts, on which they’ve been focusing. « In these conditions you don’t want to make too many tacks, so we were really trying to consolidate our tacks and make each one count. »

Great Britain’s Alexander Rickham and Niki Birrell finished the day in second place with a 3-2 today, tied with Canada’s John McRoberts and Brenda Hopkin, who swapped scores with a 2-3. One point behind is USA’s Jennifer French (St Petersburg, Fla.) and JP Creignou (St Petersburg, Fla.), a new SKUD-18 team that has made an impression in the fleet despite sailing for only three months together.

Norway’s Aleksander Wang-Hansen and crew Per Eugen Kristiansen and Marie Solberg led the nine-boat Sonar fleet after five races, with a 1-3 today. « We’ve been trying to sail conservatively and consistently, and it has paid off so far, » said Wang-Hansen. « It’s been very shifty, and we’ve been trying to tack on the shifts and stay on the right side of the fleet. We had fantastic down wind legs, and I think that helped a lot. »

A relatively new team – this is their fourth event together – the trio happily traded Norway’s seasonal icy waters for training on Biscayne Bay for the past two weeks to get ready for the tough competition. « The wind is steady in Miami: There is almost always some wind and very rarely too much. It’s shifty, but at least the wind is strong enough to sail in, » said Wang-Hansen, who is new to the helm but not to the Sonar. As a crew, he finished fourth at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Qingdao, China.

« The Paralympic class fleets may be small, but they are very deep, so I think the competition will be fierce, » said US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics coach Betsy Alison (Newport, R.I.). « Places could change in any one of the fleets. »

After dropping his lowest score today, 2.4 mR World Champion and 2008 Paralympic Bronze Medalist John Ruf (Pewaukee, Wis.) continues to lead his 27-boat fleet. He is followed by 2009 IFDS Disabled Sailing World Champion Thierry Schmitter (NED) and 2008 Paralympic Gold Medalist Paul Tingley (CAN). Ruf made a remarkable comeback today in his first race after starting prematurely and having to restart. He swiftly recovered to finish tenth, which ended up being his throw-out.

« The Rolex Miami OCR is a good regatta to see how you’re doing vs. the rest of the world, » said Ruf, who won the open (able-bodied and disabled) World Championship this year a day early and with one race to spare. « I love big fleets, » he added.

Biscayne Bay’s flat conditions pleased Spain’s Marina Alabau, who posted finish positions of 4-2 in today’s two Women’s RS:X (board sailing) races. The « shifty and gusty » 8-12 knot winds, however, made it necessary to pump the sails, adding greatly to the physical demands for both men’s and women’s divisions. « It is important to be in the gust; if you pump really hard you stay in it, if you don’t pump you fall back in the fleet. »

Alabau, the 2009 RS:X World and European Champion and also the defending champion here, replaced yesterday’s leader and Spanish teammate Blanca Mancon at the top of the scoreboard while Mancon fell to fourth, allowing France (Charline Picon) and Italy (Laura Linares) the luxury of second- and third-place positions, respectively.

« I am watching nobody special, just trying to do my best, » said Alabau. « For sure I can win, but maybe there are five others who can win, too. It’s not going to be easy. »

According to John Craig (San Francisco, Calif.), principal race officer for the RS:X race course, both men’s and women’s fleets have been aggressive on the line. Three of the last two days’ four starts carried the burden of a « black flag, » flown by the race committee after recalling too many starts due to premature starters. The penalty for jumping the start on a black flag means disqualification from that race – end of story.

« Racing among the top 10 in each class is very close, » said Craig. « The physical fitness of these top athletes is a big part of what’s making the difference. »

In Men’s RS:X, Dorian Rijsselberghe (NED), who won both races yesterday, maintained his lead today with finish positions of 2-7 worth a five-point lead over Ivan Pastor (ESP).

About US SAILING’s 2010 Rolex Miami OCR
Established in 1990 by US SAILING, the Rolex Miami OCR annually draws elite sailors, including Olympic and Paralympic medalists and hopefuls from around the world. This is the second of seven events in the 2010 International Sailing Federation (ISAF) Sailing World Cup circuit. The USA has the largest contingent of sailors with 169, followed by Canada (83), France (46), Great Britain (41), The Netherlands (24), Germany (23), Denmark (18), and Sweden (18). Medals will be awarded to the top three boats in each Olympic and Paralympic event on Saturday, January 30.

The Rolex Miami OCR hosts the same 10 Olympic and three Paralympic classes chosen for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Sailing Competitions. At the same time, it closely replicates the format and feel of what sailors can expect at those regattas. The classes are: Laser Radial (women), Laser (men), Finn (men), Men’s RS:X, Women’s RS:X, 49er (men), Men’s 470, Women’s 470, Star (men) and Elliott 6m (women), 2.4mR (open, able and disabled), SKUD18 (mixed, disabled) and Sonar (open, disabled).

Regatta Headquarters are located at the US Sailing Center Miami, an official Olympic training center, in the Coconut Grove section of Miami, Fla. Event organizers have partnered with the city of Miami to provide world-class venues for competition. Additional hosts for the event include Coral Reef Yacht Club, Key Biscayne Yacht Club, Coconut Grove Sailing Club, Miami Rowing Club and Shake-a-Leg Miami. These sailing organizations host classes onshore, as well as help run the on-the-water racing. The Coral Reef Yacht Club also hosts the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. In addition, the University of Miami Hospital will provide on-site medical care during the event.

In addition to title sponsor Rolex Watch U.S.A., US SAILING’s 2010 Rolex Miami OCR is also sponsored by AlphaGraphics, Sperry Top-Sider, Atlantis WeatherGear, Harken, Team McLube, and the University of Miami Hospital.

A complete roster can be viewed at the event web site, rmocr.ussailing.org, where real-time regatta results, photos and updates are posted daily. Video highlights, produced by T2Productions, will air Wednesday through Saturday and can be viewed on the event web site. Fans can also visit the Facebook fan page and Twitter page.

About the ISAF Sailing World Cup
The ISAF Sailing World Cup is an annual series that brings together the existing major events on the Olympic and Paralympic sailing circuits, starting in Australia (Sail Melbourne) in December before moving to the U.S. (US Sailing’s Rolex Miami OCR) in January and then on to Europe (Trofeo SAR Princess Sofia MAPFRE in Palma, Spain; Semaine Olympique Francaise in Hyeres, France; the Delta Lloyd Regatta in Medemblik, The Netherlands; and Kieler Woche in Kiel, Germany) and Great Britain (Skandia Sail for Gold Regatta at the 2012 Olympic sailing venue at Weymouth). More than 2,000 of the world’s leading sailors representing 65 nations competed in the first season of the World Cup, 2008-2009. By scoring competitors across all events included in the season, the ISAF Sailing World Cup offers a definitive guide to the best-of-the-best in the Olympic and Paralympic sailing worlds.