US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics’ (USSTAG) Star teams had a stronghold on a deep, 132-boat fleet this week at the 2010 Star European Championship in Viareggio, Italy, the biggest Star event in the class’ history. USSTAG’s Andrew Campbell (San Diego, Calif.)/Brad Nichol (Miami, Fla.) won a silver medal, while the teams of George Szabo (San Diego, Calif.)/Mark Strube (West Palm Beach, Fla.) and Mark Mendelblatt (St. Petersburg, Fla.)/John von Schwarz (Annapolis, Md.) finished fourth and fifth, respectively. The German team of Johannes Polgar /Markus Koy led the regatta from the beginning, but the places below changed daily. The U.S. teams consistently stayed in the top ten, thanks to several stellar days and seamless teamwork.
'We're very excited about this finish,' said Campbell, who competed in the Laser at the 2008 Olympic Games in China. 'What a great day for San Diego Yacht Club, and another strong performance by the US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics. All the guys sailed well. The point spread in the top ten was tight because of the extraordinary series that everybody had amongst the biggest fleet in class history.
'We sailed conservatively, cautiously and consistently this week. We tried to avoid the traffic as much as we could,' he said. 'We had the best overall series if you count all six races, so that game plan ended up working out really well.'
The starts were particularly challenging because of the sheer size of the fleet, so it was easy to get caught in the packs. 'We stayed away from high risk starts and tried to get a clean lane so we had room to work our way up the first beat instead of battling with the pack,' said Nichol.
Another challenge was the light air, which caused postponements and ultimately long days on the water. Each beat was approximately two-and-a-half miles long, so the races often lasted two-and-a-half hours. Of the six race days, they were only able to start on time two of the days, so they spent hours on the water in the hot sun, waiting for the afternoon sea breeze to fill in.
'Because of the sheer size of the fleet, the starting line [was] in two segments, totaling 1.4 kilometers, more than 4,000 feet long,' Campbell wrote on his blog. 'The beats [were] kept to a reasonable two-plus miles and except for [Thursday’s] five-leg course, we’ve been tallying up eight-mile races, no problem.'
'I am really impressed with the team and their determination to get to the top,' said USSTAG Coach Mark Ivey (Tiburon, Calif.), who won US SAILING’s 2009 Coach of the Year Award. 'Instead of accepting where they were, they attacked the race course and continually advanced.'
Campbell and Nichol applauded Ivey, who assembled U.S. team meetings every day at 10 a.m. to discuss the previous day’s racing and the conditions. Ivey then had the U.S. teams do daily line-ups to test their starts. 'Coach Ivey really held us together through a grueling, light-air week, and I think the U.S. team put up a strong front with our 12:15 daily line-ups,' said Campbell. 'By the end of the week, there were lots of boats that wanted to see how they would line up against us.'
Campbell and Nichol agreed that the USSTAG’s strong team presence, training and coaching at the Expert Olympic Garda in Riva del Garda, Italy, last month made a big impact on how they performed at the Star Europeans this week. USSTAG’s Szabo and Strube won a silver medal and Campbell/Nichol finished sixth at the Expert Olympic Garda.
USSTAG is made up of the United States’ top athletes in each of the 10 Olympic and three Paralympic classes who train together with the common goals of winning medals at the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Weymouth, England. The next major event for the team is Kiel Week, the sixth ISAF Sailing World Cup event in the 2009-2010 series, which is scheduled for June 19-23 in Kiel, Germany.
For the full results, please visit the event web site: http://www.stareuropean2010.it/