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Team USA at Tokyo 2020 Olympics Day 10: McNay/Hughes head into 470 medal race

by US Sailing Team 3 Aug 2021 05:52 PDT July 25 - August 4, 2021
Riley Gibbs (Long Beach, Calif.) and Anna Weis (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) - Tokyo 2020 Olympics © Sailing Energy / US Sailing

Four medal races and the end of 470 qualifying action combined to create a memorable tenth day of sailing at Tokyo 2020, which saw the US Sailing Team compete in the Nacra 17 medal race and in both 470 fleets.

In the Nacra 17, Riley Gibbs (Long Beach, Calif.) and Anna Weis (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) submitted a strong 3rd place performance in the double-points medal race and ended their event in 9th overall. Team USA's Stu McNay (Providence, R.I.) and Dave Hughes (Miami, Fla.) will compete in the Men's 470 medal race tomorrow, while Nikole Barnes (St. Thomas, U.S.V.I.) and Lara Dallman-Weiss (Shoreview, Minn.) narrowly missed qualifying in the Women's 470 and finished 12th overall.

For Gibbs and Weis, who began their campaign three years ago in the high-performance foiling mixed multihull, an excellent showing in the medal race capped a rapid ascent through the international Nacra 17 ranks. The Pan American Games gold medalists executed one of the strongest starts in the fleet, and used that as a springboard to finish 3rd in the race and ninth overall.

"I thought we did a really good job with our [starting] line homework and our procedures going into it," said Gibbs, who medaled at the Youth World Sailing Championship in 2014. "We've developed a process with starting and Anna was doing a really good job calling our distance from the line and where boats were behind us. It was really nice to have everyone else fighting each other out there, and that gave us a green light to have our own start. And it's nice that we were able to execute something that we've been working on for the last three years or so."

Gibbs and Weis earned single-digit scores in 8 of the 13 races they sailed this week, a few of which involved comebacks from deep in the highly-accomplished pack. "I think our strength of the week was our ability to rally and reset after having a bad race or errors," said Weis, who along with Gibbs was coached by Beijing 2008 U.S. Olympian Sally Barkow (Nashotah, Wis.). "Having that in our back pocket, and being able to reset and really move forward and focus on one race at a time really helped us out and allowed us to compete in each moment."

Gibbs was quick to mention that a key part of their ability to become competitive in the international fleet was a strong group of teams back home in the U.S. "We had amazing training partners like Bora Gulari, Louisa Chafee, Helena Scutt, Sarah Newberry, David Liebenberg, Ravi Parent, and Caroline Atwood. Making the medal race here is an accomplishment, and to be able to say that they've really helped us out I think is really special. They should feel connected to this."

Weis also expressed hope that seeing the visually dynamic foiling multihulls on NBC back home would boost the sport in the U.S. "I hope the coverage on TV inspires more young women to get involved and get into the class because it's mixed gender," said Weis, who in addition to her multihull credentials was the 2016 Women's Singlehanded National Champion in the Laser Radial. "I think sometimes girls shy away from [mixed gender sailing]. But I think the mixed gender aspect creates a really fun and challenging dynamic. So hopefully that inspires more females to get involved."

In the Men's 470, Stu McNay (Providence, R.I.) and Dave Hughes (Miami, Fla.) faced a do-or-die battle to get into the medal race heading into the final two qualifying races today. With an 8,11, they moved up to 10th overall secured their spot in tomorrow's final. However, the 4th place finishers from Rio 2016 were mathematically eliminated from medal contention here in Tokyo.

"At the at the end of the day, we're happy to have made the medal race," said Hughes, who is competing at his second consecutive Games as an athlete after also coaching the Team USA 49er at London 2012. "This regatta has been a knife fight and the standard that this 470 fleet has shown is impressive. Our class has really grown during this five year period since the last Olympics, and it is amazing to see what people have done to build their performance, ourselves included. It is just so inspiring to sail at this level against competitors who we've known for years, and who we really respect."

While a medal may be out of reach, McNay and Hughes have the opportunity to significantly advance up the standings tomorrow. The Americans will enter the race in 10th overall with 78 points, and could advance as high as 6th overall.

"Tomorrow, the plan is absolutely to win the medal race," said Hughes. "If you're not willing to totally grab these opportunities, then you really shouldn't be in the medal race. It will also be bittersweet, because tomorrow represents the last two medal races of this era of Olympic 470 sailing [since the class will become a mixed-gender Olympic event moving forward]. It's absolutely an honor to be part of that."

In the Women's 470, first-time Olympians Nikole Barnes (St. Thomas, U.S.V.I.) and Lara Dallman-Weiss (Shoreview, Minn.) were called over the start line in Race 9, and earned a UFD penalty. In the final qualifying race, they came in contact with the pin end of the line during the start, and finished 19th. Unfortunately, despite battling in the top ten overall for much of the past five days of racing, Barnes and Dallman-Weiss dropped to 12th on Tuesday and narrowly missed medal race qualification.

Despite the pressure of a medal race berth being up for grabs today, the Americans sought to execute strong starts and control their destiny. "We're not a team that usually gets letter scores; I think that's usually one of our strengths," said Dallman-Weiss. "Throughout the regatta we saw that the first beat was just so important, and on this last day we wanted to fight for a great spot [on the starting line] and it just didn't work out. Olympic sailing is all about fighting until the last race."

While the team expressed disappointment at missing the medal race, they also said that they were pleased with their progress since teaming up three years ago. "In our [pre-pandemic] World Championship before the most recent Worlds in Vilamoura [Portugal] this year, we finished 30th. Then in 2021 we finished seventh at the Worlds. The numbers [from Tokyo] don't show the full story of our team, and all the hard work that has gone into it," said Barnes, who is an active-duty officer in the United States Coast Guard. "Of course, we wanted to make the medal race and to be in medal contention. But I guess this is the universe's way of saying 'not this time, nice job, but keep pushing.' So it's heartbreaking, but we also learned a ton and we left it all out on the water."

Planned Schedule for Wednesday, August 4 (Day 11): 1430 Local Time - Men's 470 Medal Race (McNay and Hughes)

Completed Racing for Team USA:

  • Women's 49erFX - Stephanie Roble (East Troy, Wis.) Maggie Shea (Wilmette, Ill.) - 11th Overall - Final Recap
  • Women's Laser Radial - Paige Railey (Clearwater, Fla.) - 37th Overall, Final Recap
  • Men's Laser - Charlie Buckingham (Newport Beach, Calif.) - 13th Overall - Final Recap
  • Women's RS:X - Farrah Hall (Annapolis, Md.) - 15th Overall - Final Recap
  • Men's RS:X - Pedro Pascual (Miami, Fla.) - 9th Overall, Final Recap
  • Men's Finn - Luke Muller (Ft. Pierce, Fla.) - 13th Overall
  • Women's 470 - Nikole Barnes (St. Thomas, U.S.V.I.) and Lara Dallman-Weiss (Shoreview, Minn.) - 12th Overall
  • Mixed Nacra 17 - Riley Gibbs (Long Beach, Calif.) and Anna Weis (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) - 9th Overall

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