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Miami OCR set to test ambitious sailors

'470 Men’s Fleet racing in front of the Miami skyline - Rolex Miami OCR 2011'    © Rolex/Daniel Forster

This coming week US Sailing’s Rolex Miami OCR will return to Coconut Grove, Florida for its 23rd edition. Attending the event will be top athletes from around the globe who will be using it as an opportunity to jump-start their ambitious sailing goals for 2012, not the least of which, for some, is participation in this summer’s London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

With racing scheduled from Monday, January 23 through Saturday, January 28, the six-day Rolex Miami OCR is the second of seven 2011-2012 ISAF Sailing World Cup regattas and features elite-level competition in the classes selected for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. At the close of registration on Sunday, 532 sailors representing 44 countries had registered.

Among the many international competitors--some with Olympic berths secured and others still vying for spots on their national teams--will be Marit Bouwmeester (The Netherlands), who finished 2011 on a high note by winning both the Laser Radial class at the Perth 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championships and the honor of representing her country in that class at the Olympics.

'Everybody has been training really hard the past year, so I think Rolex Miami OCR will be a tough battle again and it will probably stay that way until the Games,' said Bouwmeester whose company out on the water will include fellow podium finishers at the Worlds and Olympic representatives Paige Railey (Clearwater, Fla., USA) and Evi Van Acker (Belgium). (Railey also is the defending Rolex Miami OCR champion and has won the event four times.)

Netherland’s Marit Bouwmeester getting her Laser Radial ready for a breezy day - Rolex Miami OCR 2011 -  © Rolex-Daniel Forster?nid=93021  

'It is definitely fun racing against all the good girls,' said Bouwmeester, adding that 2012 will be her first-ever Olympic experience. 'I always spend two months in Miami and Fort Lauderdale to get my light-wind training in. Miami is the complete opposite of what I’m used to, so it’s a nice challenge and a good opportunity to learn.'

With 82 boats registered, the Laser class promises not to disappoint as the typically largest fleet at the Rolex Miami OCR. With multiple potential winners embedded in the entry roster, Chris Dold and David Wright stand out from among thirteen Canadian entries that are here to participate in their Olympic Trials, which started in Perth and will end with the next ISAF Sailing World Cup regatta (the Trofeo S.A.R. Princesa Sofia Mapfre) in March.

'It’s going to be fun to watch these guys fight it out for their Olympic Trials,' said Rob Crane (Darien, Conn., USA) who is coming off a jam-packed 2011 schedule that culminated with him winning an Olympic berth for the U.S. team after pulling off amazing 1-2 finishes on the last competition day in Perth to beat out his teammates for the spot.

'After my own experience in Perth, it will be fun to watch other people handle that situation,' said Crane. 'I train with the Canadian team a lot, and I’m good friends with all those guys. It’s great to race against them, but for this regatta their concern is beating out each other for the Olympic spot.'

Canadian Laser sailor Michael Leigh - Rolex Miami OCR 2011 -  © Rolex-Daniel Forster?nid=93021  

The fleet also is densely packed with well-known names from around the globe such as Alsogaray (ARG) and Bruno Fontes (BRA), as well as up-and-comers such as Charlie Buckingham (Newport Beach, Calif., USA).

Traveling more than halfway around the globe are 2011 World Champions and Australia’s representatives for the Olympic Games in the 470 Men’s class Mathew Belcher and Malcom Page. 'After spending the better part of the decade trying to gain Olympic selection, London will be my first (Games),' said Belcher, adding that his teammate Malcolm Page crewed (for skipper Nathan Wilmot) to win an Olympic Gold medal in Beijing (2008).

Second overall in men’s 470: Mathew Belcher, Malcolm Page, AUS 11 - Rolex Miami OCR 2011 -  © Rolex-Daniel Forster?nid=93021  

'We have and will be working hard to prepare ourselves to defend Australia’s Gold from Beijing, and the Rolex Miami OCR 2012 will provide us with the opportunity to gain high level racing before heading over to Europe,' said Belcher, who will be going up against some power houses who are constantly battling each other in the top-ten at international events, including Olympic-bound Stu McNay (Boston, Mass., USA) with crew Graham Biehl (San Diego, Calif., USA); Lucas Calabrese with Juan Maria de la Fuente (ARG); and Matthias Schmid with Florian Reichstaedter (AUT).

'We are a little isolated in Australia and don’t get the level of competition that our competitors can get access to. For us, it’s important to fly almost 30 hours and transport our equipment to Miami to compete for only a five-day regatta. That’s how much we like coming to Miami and how important we think doing this event is.'

Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark (GBR), in the 470 Women’s class, are always a good run for the money, and after a podium finish in Perth they will no doubt share in some epic battles against World Champions Lisa Westerhof and Lobke Berkhout (NED). The USA’s team of Amanda Clark (Shelter Island Heights, N.Y., USA) and Sarah Lihan Fort Lauderdale, Fla., USA) edged out USA’s Erin Maxwell and Isabelle Kinsolving Farrar during a tie-breaker in Perth, which earned them their berth at the Olympic Games.

As always, the Star class is shining with world-renowned champions, and perhaps the best-known names attending are two-time Olympic gold medalists Robert Scheidt and Bruno Prada (BRA), who just wrapped up 2011 with their second straight title at the Star World Championships (as part of the ISAF Sailing World Championships in Perth).

Brazil’s Robert Scheidt is the lead skipper in the Star fleet after 7 races - Rolex Miami OCR 2011 -  © Rolex-Daniel Forster?nid=93021  

Though Scheidt and Prada are used to fleet-topping performances, they also know not to discount the tough competition that consistently rotates into the top ten at this event, including Xavier Rohart with crew Pierre Alexis Ponsot (FRA) and Hamish Pepper with Maz Salminen (SWE). The USA’s Olympic-bound Star sailors Mark Mendelblatt and Brian Fatih (both Miami, Fla.) also will be in attendance and using their local knowledge to try to dominate on Biscayne Bay.

Nico Luca Marc Delle Karth and Nikolaus Resch (AUT) are top players in the 49er fleet, and in Perth, Denmark had a handful of teams in the medal race, so it doesn’t go unnoticed that Allan Norregaard and crew Peter Land have thrown their hat into the Rolex Miami OCR ring along with Jonas Warrer (Denmark’s gold medalist in Beijing) and Seren Hansen. Erik Storck (Huntington, N.Y., USA) and Trevor Moore (Pomfret, Vt./Naples, Fla., USA) who were inches away from bronze in Perth, are on an upward spiral and expecting to accomplish big things at the Rolex Miami OCR. But all is not for the veterans at this event.

U.S. up-and-comers Ryan Pesch (Chicago, Ill.,USA) and Trevor Burd (Vineyard Haven, Mass. USA), are looking to retain their status on the US Sailing Development Team, along with Frederick Strammer (Nokomis, Fla.) and Zachary Brown (Nokomis, Fla., USA), who have been training and living in Miami for several months and are making a push for the 2016 Olympic Games.

In Finn class, the USA’s 2012 Olympic team member Zach Railey (Clearwater, Fla.) is the front runner and expected to bring back the gold, but he will have some tough competition from Brendan Casey (AUS) and fellow US Sailing AlphaGraphics teammate Caleb Paine (San Diego, Calif., USA), who has been posting consistent top-20 finishes as of late.

In the Men's and Women’s RS:X classes, the fleets are relatively small compared to past years, since many of the world’s top windsurfers chose to bypass the long trip to Miami from the ISAF Worlds in Perth and go straight to the 2012 RS:X European Windsurfing Championships, scheduled for February in Portugal, and on to the RS:X World Windsurfing Championships, scheduled for March in Spain. Last year's World Cup series winner Nick Dempsey (GBR) could be all but guaranteed the gold in Men’s, as his nemesis, Dorian van Rijsselberge (NED), who edged him out for the gold here at the Rolex Miami OCR in 2011, is missing from the roster.

Still, Dempsey will have to contest the likes of Ahmed Habash (EGY), who is a four-time National Mistral Champion, and others such as Robert Willis (Chicago, Ill., USA) whose time has come for shining on the international circuit.

In the Women’s RS:X, Poland and Israel have traditionally been strong, which means Malgorzata Bialecka (POL) and Maayan Davidovich (ISR) might have the nod, but the strengths of USA’s Farrah Hall, who won her country’s Trials, cannot go unpondered. She is working her hardest to polish up for the Worlds, since it is there that she must qualify her country in order to make her earned spot on the USA’s Olympic team matter.

The newest Olympic class in the Games is Women’s Match Racing, and at the Rolex Miami OCR it will be a fight between Olivia Price/Nina Curtis/Lucinda Whitty and Nicky Souter/Jessica Eastwell/Katie Spithill for a position on Australia’s Olympic team. The country to beat, however, is most definitely the USA.

In fact, during this quadrennium, there has not been a single World Cup event where the U.S. has not been on the podium. Anna Tunnicliffe (Plantation, Fla., USA) /Molly Vandemoer (Stanford, Calif.) /Debbie Capozzi (Bayport, N.Y.) set the bar high in Perth by taking the gold, but Sally Barkow (Nashotah, Wis.) / Elizabeth Kratzig-Burnham (Miami, Fla.) / Alana O’Reilly (Charleston, S.C., USA) are proven stars as well. (Tunnicliffe is the current ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year and Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year.) France’s Claire Leroy/Elodie Bertrand/Marie Riou and Great Britain’s Lucy Macgregor/Annie Lush/Kate Macgregor are other safe bets for finishing in the top five.

Women’s Match Race champs from France: FRA1, Claire Leroy, Elodie Bertrand, Marie Riou, US second place finishers Anna Tunnicliffe, Molly O’Bryan Vandemoer, Debbie Capozzi. - Rolex Miami OCR 2011 -  © Rolex-Daniel Forster?nid=93021  

Talent-wise, match racing is one of the strongest disciplines, and with 25 teams entered thus far, there are several more who could go all the way, including Spain’s Tamara Echegoyen/Sofia Toro/Angela Pumariega and Finland’s Silja Lehtinen/Silja Kanerva/Mikaela Wulff.

Fresh off of some fierce Paralympic competition at the IFDS Worlds, which wrapped up this past weekend in Charlotte Harbor, Fla., sailors in the 2.4mR, SKUD-18 and Sonar classes are counting on top Rolex Miami OCR performances to propel them to the next level.

The 2.4mR class is 29-boats deep, with already six more boats attending than were seen at the Worlds, and it will be most interesting to watch Mark LeBlanc (New Orleans, La., USA), John Ruf (Pewaukee, Wis., USA) and Charles Rosenfeld (Woodstock, Conn., USA) battle for a berth on the U.S. team for the 2012 Paralympic Games, which will be determined after the final race here. Some international names to watch include the top three IFDS podium finishers: gold medalist and defending Rolex Miami OCR champion Damien Seguin (FRA), silver medalist Thierry Schmitter (NED) and bronze medalist Paul Tingley (CAN).

Damien Seguin, 2.4mR, FRA 13 - Rolex Miami OCR 2011 -  © Rolex-Daniel Forster?nid=93021  

As is the case for the U.S. in 2.4mRs, so too is it that the Rolex Miami OCR serves as the second part of the SKUD and Sonar Paralympic Team Trials, where sailors keep their overall finish from the IFDS Worlds and combine it with their overall finish here to determine who gets the Paralympic berth.

Duking it out in SKUD class will be Jennifer French (St. Petersburg, Fla., USA) and Jean-Paul Creignou (St. Petersburg, Fla., USA), who took the silver medal at the Worlds, and three-time Rolex Miami OCR defending champions Scott Whitman (Brick, N.J.) and Julia Dorsett (Boca Raton, Fla.). With only seven boats in the fleet (there were eight at the Worlds), including the World Champions Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell (GBR), there will be pressure-cooker emphasis on putting boats between themselves and the competition.

Having just won bronze at the Worlds, Rolex Miami OCR defending champions John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas (GBR) are favored in the Sonar class. John Twomey (IRE) also has made a name for himself in this class as has Udo Hessels, Marcel van de Veen and Mischa Rossen (all FRA), and all four American teams competing will have to step up their game to successfully juggle toppling these hard-hitters as they go at it hard to secure an Olympic berth.

US Sailing’s Rolex Miami OCR, established in 1990, is open to boats competing in events chosen for the Olympic and Paralympic Sailing Competitions. The 10 Olympic classes for 2012 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 Elliot 6m (women). The three Paralympic classes are: 2.4mR (open), SKUD (mixed) and Sonar (mixed).

For fleet racing in the Olympic classes, the Rolex Miami OCR will consist of a five-day opening series (Monday - Friday) and a double-point medal race (Saturday). The top ten finishers in the opening series of each class will advance to the medal race. For match racing (Elliott 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 28.

Dutch Laser Radial sailor Marit Bouwmeester sheets in - Rolex Miami OCR 2011 -  © Rolex-Daniel Forster?nid=93021  

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.

Rolex Miami OCR website

by Barby MacGowan


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9:25 PM Wed 18 Jan 2012 GMT

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2012 Rolex Miami OCR

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