by Dana Paxton
The opening races for US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics (USSTAG) at US Sailing’s Rolex Miami OCR commenced today with spectacular sunshine and moderate 7-15 knots of wind. Competition is scheduled this week in the 10 Olympic and three Paralympic sailing classes in advance of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, to be held in Weymouth, U.K. Over 700 of the world’s top athletes from 53 countries are competing.
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Clay Johnson (Toms River, N.J.) took a commanding lead in the 105-boat Laser class (Men's One Person Dinghy) and is in first place overall with Paul Goodison (GBR).
'I was pretty happy with the day,' said Johnson. 'It was very choppy and shifty. I had good starts to get in the front and played the shifts at the right time to stay in the lead. It is easier to stay up front, then to fight your way from the back.
Both races I played the top right and both times that put me into the top group. It sounds simple, but some of your best days are simple and you just stay there.'
Although Johnson led the fleet around the course in both races, there was a small scare in the last race. 'Goodison reeled me in and he left the fleet and caught up to me, from 20 boat lengths away, at the last weather mark,' continued Johnson. 'I kept my composure, which is not easy when an Olympic gold medalist is chasing you down. He was really fast; I give him a lot of credit. There’s lots of sailing left and it’s nice to have a good start. I’m taking it one day at a time.'
Rob Crane (Darien, Conn.) is in 12th, while Kyle Rogachenko (Collegeville, Pa.) finished the day in 29th place.
In the 40-boat Finn class (Men's One Person Dinghy Heavy) 2008 Olympic Silver Medalist Zach Railey (Clearwater, Fla.) is in second place overall with a second and third, respectively. 'It was a really nice day of sailing,' said Railey. 'We had typical Miami 10-20 degree shifts, wind at 10-14 knots, really nice conditions. Actually I was very happy with the results, especially in the second race. I was caught on the wrong side of a bad shift. I had to grind back that many boats, and to finish third in that race was a big confidence boost for me. You always try to go out and put two good races in, and put yourself in a good situation on the first day. To have two top-threes is a good position to be in. The racing is really close among the top guys, and I have to get a few points on the guys ahead of me and the guys below me tomorrow.'
Bryan Boyd (Annapolis, Md.) finished the day in in 17th, while US Sailing Development Team (USSDT) athlete Caleb Paine (San Diego, Calif.) finished in seventh, and USSDT athlete Luke Lawrence (Palm City, Fla.) in 18th.
Finishes of eighth and 11th in the Men's 470 (Men's Two Person Dinghy) capitalized for Stu McNay (Boston, Mass) and Graham Biehl (San Diego, Calif.) to put them in ninth overall.
'We’ve got 41 470s in our fleet, which is fantastic,' said Biehl. 'There are a lot of top internationally-ranked teams here and that makes racing similar to racing gold fleet in Europe. So it’s important to have a consistent series. We started off today with an eighth, which is good. There were challenging conditions, puffy and shifty, and opportunities to do better. We’re looking forward to tomorrow and today was a good start to the regatta.'
Keith Davids (Coronado, Calif.) and David Hughes (San Diego, Calif.) are in 23rd overall.
In the Women's 470 (Women's Two Person Dinghy), Erin Maxwell (Stonington, Conn.) and Isabelle Kinsolving Farrar (New York, N.Y.) are in eighth overall. Despite Maxwell’s full-time work and Farrar’s law school studies, the duo came into the regatta focused and ready to compete. 'We’re always happy when the regatta starts,' said Farrar. 'It nice to get here finally and then we can settle in. We were happy with our first race and would have been happier if second race was better, and we’re confident that that race will be our drop this week.'
Returning Rolex Miami OCR gold medalists Amanda Clark (Shelter Island, N.Y.) and Sarah Chin (Hoboken, N.J.) had a consistent day – two 12th place finishes – despite light wind in the first race and stronger wind in the second.
'It was definitely a pretty average day for us,' said Clark. 'We definitely didn’t light the world on fire, but we are not out of it by any means. Maybe we approached it (racing) too conservatively. Our boat speed was fine, we had good calls on the course, but we weren’t racing against all of the good girls.'
The top American spot went to US Sailing Development Team’s Anne Haeger (Lake Forest, Oll.) and Briana Provancha (San Diego, Calif.), who finished overall in fifth. 'We’re pretty new to the 470,' said Provancha. 'To get the feel of the boat takes a long time, so we focus on sailing well instead of sailing the boat well. Before, when we focused on the boat it didn’t work out. Today, we focused on sailing and we were steady eddy all the way.'
Florida locals Mark Mendelblatt and Brian Fatih had a solid day in the 56-boat Star (Men's Keelboat) class with two fourth-place finishes to put them into third overall. 'We had a great first day and we’re happy with it,' said Fatih, who was selected as ‘Best Teammate’ at the recent US Sailing AlphaGraphics Annual Awards. Andrew MacDonald (Laguna Beach, Calif.) and Brad Nichol (North Miami Beach, Fla.) are in sixth, while George Szabo (San Diego, Calif.) and substitute crew Frithjof Kleen (Berlin, GER) are in 15th. 2008 Olympian Andrew Campbell (San Diego, Calif.) and new crew Ian Coleman (Annapolis, Md.) finished in 16th.
Only the 49er (Men's Two Person Dinghy High Performance) class completed three races. Erik Storck (Huntington, N.Y.) and Trevor Moore (North Pomfret, Vt.) put together 5-4-4 finishes for fourth overall. Top USSDT team of the day was Alex Bishop (Baltimore, Md.) and Val Smith (Wilmette, Ill.), who finished in seventh.
Three of the U.S. Laser Radial (Women's One Person Dinghy) sailors finished in the top 20 standings: Claire Dennis (Saratoga, Calif.) is in 16th; Erika Reineke (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) is in 17th; and Sarah Lihan (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) is in 19th. Paige Railey (Clearwater, Fla.) finished the day in 28th. After winning the day’s first race, a black flag in the second race combined for her mid-fleet result.
In the Elliott 6m (Women's Match Racing), the fleet was divided into three groups: A,B, and C. None of the USSTAG teams raced in Group A and only in Group B: Team Tulloch – GennyTulloch (San Francisco, Calif.), Alice Manard Leonard (New Orleans, La.) and Jennifer Chamberlin (Washington, D.C.). They finished the round robins with one win, two losses (1-2). Group C contains Team Tunnicliffe – Anna Tunnicliffe (Plantation, Fla.), Molly Vandemoer (Redwood City, Calif.) and Debbie Capozzi (Bayport, N.Y.) and Team Barkow—Sally Barkow (Nashotah, Wis.), Alanna O’Reilly (Charleston, S.C.) and Elizabeth Kratzig (Miami, Fla.). Team Tunnicliffe went undefeated and ended the day tied at the top of the group, while Team Barkow finished 2-1.
In the Men's RS:X (Men's Windsurfing), Jimi Sobeck (East Quogue, N.Y.) is in 21st, while Ben Barger (St. Petersburg, Fla.) is in 24th. On the Women's RS:X (Women’s Windsurfing) course Farrah Hall (Annapolis, Md.) is in 12th and Solvig Sayre (Vineyard Haven, Mass.) is in 20th.
It was a solid day for the three Paralympic Classes. Albert Foster (Wayzata, Minn.), Michael Hersey (Hyannis, Mass.) and David Burdette (Lutherville, Md.) won the Sonar class’ (Open Three Person Keelboat) first race. The team was in a really good position in the second race, but had a port/starboard with another boat and had to end up doing penalty turns. 'That is how close it is in the sonar,' said US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics’s Paralympic Coach Betsy Alison (Newport, R.I.). 'You make one mistake and you’re out.' The team came back to win the race, but suffered an 11th in the second race to finish in fourth overall behind Paul Callahan (Cape Coral, Fla./Newport R.I.), Tom Brown (Castine, Me.) and Bradley Johnson (Pompano Beach, Fla.) in third overall.
Callahan, the 2000 Paralympian, collected a pair of fifth places, while Rick Doerr (Clifton, N.J.), Brad Kendell (Tampa, Fla.) and Hugh Freund (South Freeport, Me.) finished 11th in the first race and third in the second to place. 'Our U.S. guys have the speed to be there at the top,' continued Alison. 'Bert (Albert) and Rick had a few ‘day one snafus,’ everyone is positive moving forward. They all have good potential and think smart when they need to. All they have to do is settle in and find their groove.'
In the SKUD-18 (Mixed Two Person Keelboat) Scott Whitman (Brick, N.J.) and Julia Dorsett (Westchester, Pa./Boca Raton, Fla.) are in second place, Jen French (St. Petersburg, Fla.) and Jean-Paul Creignou (St. Petersburg, Fla.) are in fourth and Sarah Everhart Skeels (Tiverton, R.I.) and Bob Jones (Issaquah, Wash.) are in fifth. 'We had some bad starts that set us back a little bit,' said Lee Icyda (Boulder, Colo.), who joins USSTAG this week as a coach. 'Overall, we were able to recover and jump back in with the oscillations. We have some really smart sailors and they can fight back after not so good positioning.'
Three USSTAG athletes competed in the 2.4mR (Open One Person Keelboat): John Ruf (Pewaukee, Wis.) is in fifth overall, Mark LeBlanc (New Orleans, La.) is in 12th and Charles Rosenfield (Woodstock, Conn.) is in 19th.
Racing in 10 Olympic and three Paralympic classes continues tomorrow, Tuesday, January 25.
Following the Rolex Miami OCR, the 2011 US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics will officially be named.
Full results: here