by Dana Paxton
US Sailing’s Rolex Miami OCR 2011 - Nothing says elite-level competition like it. The event returns to Coconut Grove, Fla., for its 22nd time on Monday, January 24 through Saturday, January 29, bringing together the world’s top sailing athletes for competition in the classes selected for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Belcher and Page on day four of the Rolex Miami OCR
Held on Biscayne Bay, this prestigious event is the second stop on the International Sailing Federation’s (ISAF) Sailing World Cup 2010-2011 circuit, and as such has already registered over 800 sailors from 52 countries.
'Most athletes training for the 2012 Olympics or Paralympics will say they don’t want to peak just yet,' said US SAILING High Performance Director Kenneth Andreasen (Tampa, Fla.), 'but you can bet the sailors here will be very serious about being in the top five, if not winning, in their classes and accumulating points toward their standings in the ISAF Sailing World Cup circuit, which affects their world rankings.'
Andreasen added that no less than 30 US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics members are competing, while other U.S. sailors will be named to the team based on their finishes here. 'From all over the world, there will be athletes who are either already on their national teams or aspiring to be named to them,' said Andreasen, 'and there will be dozens upon dozens of national team coaches and private coaches attending.' Not to mention a slew of Olympic and Paralympic medalists and world champions.
Mathew Belcher and Malcolm Page (AUS), sailing in the Men’s 470 class, are 2010 ISAF Sailing World Cup and 470 class world champions who are ranked #1 in the world, with Page having crewed for an Olympic Gold medal (with Nathan Wilmot) in Beijing (2008).
'It certainly is a nice feeling to know that you are on the right track; however, sport is sport, and there are a lot of top guys right there also,' said Belcher. 'This year at the Rolex Miami OCR, I think we have everyone in the top 10 in the world here from the 470 men’s class.'
If it is by resume that Belcher and Page are favorites in the Men’s 470 class, then Ben Ainslie (GBR) is the favorite in Finn class. He won a silver medal at the 1996 Olympic Games and gold in the 2000 Games in the Laser class. He put on 40 pounds and moved to the larger Finn boat for the 2004 Olympics, where he won gold, repeating the feat in the 2008 competition.
Gasper Vincec (SLO) followed by Giles Scott (GBR) Finn class - 2010 Rolex Miami OCR
Having 'stepped away' from the class for nearly three years to pursue an America’s Cup campaign, he is humble nevertheless. 'In the Finn, there are lots of favorites; I’d say I’m one of 10 who can sail well and win races,' he said.
Ainslie has launched a full-on Olympic campaign and says all the right players are here, save for Ed Wright, a fellow Skandia Team GBR member who is the current Finn World Champion. 'It’s a pretty tight battle in the UK for an Olympic spot,' said Ainslie. 'That’s the first hurdle, working through that.'
Ainslie won Sail Melbourne (the first of the ISAF Sailing World Cup events) and has been named ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year three times.
Blanca Manchón (ESP), the current ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year, is competing in the RS:X Women’s (windsurfing) class, while other past recipients competing are: Claire Leroy (FRA) and Anna Tunnicliffe (Plantation, Fla.), each skippering in Elliott 6m (women’s match racing); Paige Railey (Clearwater, Fla., USA), skippering in Laser Radial; and Torben Grael (BRA), Robert Scheidt (BRA) and Mark Reynolds (San Diego, Calif., USA), each skippering in Stars. The ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year Award is the highest award a sailor can receive in recognition of his/her outstanding achievements.
'Actually I’m number one in the ISAF world rankings, so I'm very motivated for this season that starts here in Miami,' said Manchón. 'This regatta will be the first one for me where I'm working with my own coach, and the water and the climate are perfect for training and testing equipment.'
The Rolex Miami OCR is open to boats competing in events chosen for the 2012 Olympic Sailing Competition and the 2012 Paralympic Sailing Competition. The 10 Olympic 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). The three Paralympic classes are: 2.4mR (open, able and disabled), SKUD18 (mixed, disabled) and Sonar (open, disabled). In addition to being a world-ranking event, it is also a US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics qualifier.
For fleet racing in the Olympic classes, the regatta will consist of a five-day opening series (Monday – Friday) and a double-point medal race (Saturday). The top 10 finishers in the opening series of each class will advance to the medal race. For match racing (Elliot 6m), which makes its debut in the 2012 Olympic Games, the regatta will consist of an opening series, a knockout series, and a sail-off for boats not advancing to the knockout series.
Competitors in the Paralympic classes will have five days of fleet racing (Monday-Friday) and no medal race. Medals will be awarded to the top three boats in each Olympic and Paralympic class on Saturday, January 29.
Regatta Headquarters will be 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 to title sponsor Rolex Watch U.S.A., the 2011 Rolex Miami OCR is also sponsored by AlphaGraphics, Gowrie Group, Chubb Insurance, Sperry Top-Sider, Harken McLube, Trinity Yachts, University of Miami Hospital and Kattack.
Rolex Miami OCR website