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Skip Whyte - US 470 Olympic Coach Provides Trials Preview

Coach Skip getting visual with Jen Morgan
while Erin Maxwell waits her turn
(photo courtesy of Maxwell/Morgan)

The calendar says November 4th so the Olympic Trials must be about to begin. The first race is only 4 days away on November 8th and that date has been boldly etched in the brain of every competitor for the last two years. The anticipation is building for all.

It has been just over a month since the end of the Worlds in Rota, Spain. The boats were shipped the day after the last race and arrived at Houston Yacht Club after a few obligatory logistical dramas on October 21st. All of the top teams have been here since mid October training almost every day, spending countless hours massaging their boats into top form, and sharpening their focus for the event that everyone knows they must win. The pressure tends to build up in these situations, but this group is looking like a bunch of pretty cool customers.

Four of the top teams, two men and two women, have imported top European teams as training partners. The addition of these four teams has elevated the game considerably and added a bit more to the general excitement of the event. Typical training days feature several training alliances working independently, but in close proximity, with some combined interchanges thrown in to keep the juices flowing. The Lasers, whose Trials are concurrent with the 470s, are here with their own collection of international sparring partners, private coaches, etc. There is quite a lot going on that doesn't show up in Scuttlebutt!

Men's team Paul Foerster and Kevin Burnham
(photo courtesy of CSC website)

We have had two regattas since arriving including the US National Championships held over the past weekend. The first event was held October 22-23 in light air and flat water on the Galveston Bay course area off of Houston Yacht Club. Amanda Clark and Sarah Mergenthaler dominated, winning the first four races with a combination of great speed, solid starts, and much improved boat handling. This was their best performance to date and certainly caught the attention of all of the pre event prognosticators. Steve Hunt and Eben Russell were second with Mark Ivey and Howard Cromwell third in the 9-boat fleet. The US Pre Olympic representatives, Katie McDowell / Isabelle Kinsolving and Paul Foerster / Kevin Burnham sat this one out.

The Nationals last weekend was an exceptional event. The event was hosted by the Seabrook Sailing Club and sailed near the Red Bluff course area that will be used along with the Galveston Bay course during the Trials. Six races were sailed in 7-12 knot SE breezes and a variety of chop configurations. The Coster brothers from the Netherlands finished with a solid win over the 17-boat fleet, but it was no easy matter. All of the races were very close with lots of position changes right to the finish. The Hunt/Russell team was second, just in front of Erin Maxwell and Jen Morgan who dominated the women's competition. Foerster / Burnham sailed only the first day and were a close second to the Costers at the half way point. McDowell/Kinsolving sat out again. Ivey/Cromwell were 4th, winning two races and Clark Mergenthaler grabbed another race win to prove that they are for real.

Typically the men and women sail in a combined fleet in domestic events because our fleet is small, but the Trials are an exception, so the men and women will sail in separate fleets. Barring last minute entries, there will be six women's and seven men's teams. With a wide open race course speed is huge, but strategic decision making is just as important. All of the boats in both fleets are capable of winning races, so match racing won't be a viable strategy in the early stages of the event. Inevitably there will be very close situations at most marks despite the small fleet, putting a big premium on boat handling skills. Every point added to the score will seem like 10 in a normal event.

Here is an unofficial listing of the competitors expected for the Trials:

Katie McDowell / Isabelle Kinsolving
Erin Maxwell / Jen Morgan
Amanda Clark / Sarah Mergenthaler
Courtenay Dey / Linda Wennerstrom
Allison Jolly / Susie Reishmann
Molly O'Bryan / Annelise Moore

Paul Foerster / Kevin Burnham
Steve Hunt / Eben Russell
Mark Ivey / Howard Cromwell
Tom Hall / Jonathan Farrar
Stu McNay / Arthur Kinsolving
Mikee Anderson / Graham Biehl
David Dabney / Brock Schmidt

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