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American sailors experience headwinds at the XXXII Olympiad

by David Schmidt 3 Aug 2021 08:00 PDT July 25 - August 4, 2021
Riley Gibbs and Anna Weis (USA) on day 7 of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Sailing Competition © Sailing Energy / World Sailing

It's fair to say that this is a strange Olympic cycle. For starters, the Games were delayed by a year, then there's been the lack of cheering fans in the stands, the social-distancing efforts, and, sadly, circulating fears of Covid transmission. Simply put, the XXXII Olympiad seems different than other recent Games. Unfortunately for fans of American Olympic sailing, however, one theme — at least so far — seems consistent from the London 2012 Olympics, namely a lack of need to play the Stars and Stripes.

The U.S. sent a total of 13 sailors to the Tokyo 2021 Olympics to compete in nine classes [N.B., the USA didn't earn a country berth for the Men's 49er class]. As of this writing, the outcomes of eight of these events had been determined.

Pedro Pascual, sailing aboard a Men's RS:X earned a ninth-place finish, while Farrah Hall ended up in 15th place in the Women's RS:X class.

Luke Muller ended up in 13th place in the Finn class and Charlie Buckingham also ended his Olympic regatta in 13th place in the ILCA 7 class (nèe Men's Lasers), while Olympic veteran Paige Railey finished in 37th place in the ILCA 6 class (nèe Laser Radials).

Stephanie Roble and Maggie Shea, sailing in the Women's 49erFX class, ended up in 11th place after experiencing their first two yellow-flag penalties during their Olympic campaign for using their bodyweight to create forward motion in Race 10. In the next race, they accidentally tagged a turning mark; they were in seventh place at the time of the contact infraction.

"After hitting it, we were working to get around the mark as the whole fleet was right there [behind us]," said Shea in an official team communication. "We didn't want to get tangled up on the mark and cause a pileup. We wanted to get out of the way. We got around the mark, and immediately started spinning [a penalty turn]. In the process of spinning, the umpires flagged us again for what we thought was hitting the mark. We were already spinning for hitting the mark, and kept sailing once we finished, thinking we were clear."

Roble and Shea crossed Race 11's finishing line in eighth place, but upon crossing the line they were informed by the umpires that they had in fact earned a second yellow-flag penalty. As a result, they were officially scored DNE for the race.

"These are the first two yellow flags that we have had in five years of campaigning for the Olympics," said Roble in an official team press release.

The team rallied to a fifth-place finish in Race 12, but this sadly wasn't enough to save them from their non-discardable DNE in Race 11.

"We've done an incredible job growing as team over the last five years to get to the point that we're at," continued Roble. "Our coach Giulia [Conti] was a huge leader for us. This result doesn't represent all that we've learned and accomplished. We were sailing well throughout the event, and today we were sailing to win. We left it all out there."

This means that there are now three American-flagged teams left for possible medal contention.

Stu McNay and Dave Hughes, sailing in the Men's 470 class, have made it through to the Medal Race in 10th place, while Nikki Barnes and Lara Dallman-Weiss, sailing in the Women's 470 class, missed out finishing in 12th place overall with a poor final day of fleet racing.

Riley Gibbs and Anna Weis, sailing aboard their Nacra 17, finished 3rd in an exciting Medal Race on Tuesday to finish in 9th place overall.

While the 2020/2021 quad was always considered a building cycle for the U.S.-flagged team, this clearly isn't the result that any fan of Francis Scott Key's most famous piece of songwriting had been hoping for, but such is the story of this Olympic cycle, at least for the U.S.-flagged sailors.

The troubling part, of course, is the fact that the U.S. flagged team left the London 2012 Olympics empty-handed, and the team departed the Rio 2016 Olympics with a single bronze medal.

Sail-World's North American office sends our best wishes to our Men's team as they compete in their medal race. Moreover, we hope that the recent leadership changes at US Sailing will translate to some podium time for our sailors at the Paris 2024 Olympic medal ceremonies.

May the four winds blow you safely home.

David Schmidt
Sail-World.com North American Editor

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