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Geoge Szabo: Winning the Star Worlds
(August 11, 2009) George Szabo was three weeks old when he first sailed a Star boat, and now at 39 years old, he is done what no American had done since 2000…he won the Star World Championship. Who was the last American to win? Interestingly, it happens to be his boss at Quantum Sails, Mark Reynolds. Ably supported by his crew Rick Peters in Sweden, Szabo explains why his 14th trip to the Worlds proved to be his best:
Starting the regatta with a 54th, do you have advice for people that burn their drop on the first race?
It is not easy; I was able to do the same thing at the Star North Americans a few years back when we OCS'd the first race so we knew it was possible. Rick and I focused on the little things. Communication, windshifts, pressure, getting off the line and trying to get a lane going the right way, and so on. My personal goal was to be top ten, and to do that I first had to get back on the first page of the results. We had good speed, and that definitely helped us get out of a few spots.
At what point did you think you had a chance to win?
Only when the throwout kicked in and we saw the new results. It was a surprise, and better than I had expected. I knew that we had a chance at that point, but there were four really, really good sailors that had a nearly equal chance as we did. Going over all the things that could still happen, and realizing that if we had a bad race we could finish in the 20s overall, anything could happen.
You seem to excel without having big funding, steady crew, quiver of boats, etc. How have you managed to play at this level?
Obviously, working at Quantum Sails in San Diego has helped significantly. US SAILING has been extremely helpful with shipping boats and providing coaching at certain regattas over the years. I have kept my costs down by staying with friends and new friends as much as possible. Ken and Kay Voss and their family (in Miami, FL) have been very kind to me over the years, and enormously helpful in that aspect. From there it takes some doing, but there are numerous ways to stretch your dollar at events - just ask my crews from over the years - they'll tell you how I do it. I'm not sure what the complete answer is, but I've been telling myself that I can't afford this for over almost 20 years, but I keep coming back.
It looks like US SAILING might switch the standard Olympic trials format to a points type system where most of the events will be in Europe (to insure strong international competition). If they do that, the cost to campaign to qualify for Weymouth is going to go up significantly, and I'll need to find a good sponsor, and other ways to raise the necessary funds to afford a coach, housing, and all of the higher costs in Europe.
Until Mark Mendelblatt stumbled near the end, to have three Americans in the top ten, well, it has been a long time. Is this a return to the old days of the Americans excelling internationally?
Mark Mendelblatt and Mark Strube have been sailing extremely well this year. Andrew Campbell is having a great year of sailing the Star too. Hopefully Andrew will keep racing well, and won't get sucked into the tuning questions that slow so many people down in their second year of Star sailing. The biggest change this year was the TEAM attitude that is coming top down from (High Performance Director/Head Coach) Kenneth Andreasen at US SAILING. It is a shift from years past and is beginning to work in the beginning of this four year Olympic cycle.
Mark Ivey was our US SAILING coach for this event, and he did a great job bringing us together (not to mention solving numerous other non-sailing related issues).
Daily debriefs before and after sailing, tips on the water, etc. The best thing he said to make us work together more was when he said, "I'm going to focus on the pre-race tuning group that had the most US sailors in it." From then on, no one wanted to be left out, and the three of us were nearly inseparable as we tuned before each start.
Any new equipment for this Worlds?
Standard Emmeti mast, stock 3 year old Folli Starboat, and standard Z-4 main that we also used in Hyeres to finish 3rd (11 year old design). The P-2 jib is the same shape as the one we've made for 10 years, but it was built on the plotter instead of the Mylar floor patterns we use.
What kind of an event was it? (ie, windy/light, shifty/steady, etc)
The wind was my favorite, mostly light air. There was current running in different directions and speed on both sides of the race course every day. Many days were a drag race to one side, so speed was very important.
What's next for you?
In three weeks, Carol Cronin and I are going to sail the Snipe Worlds at my home club, San Diego Yacht Club. I need to lose a lot of weight for that one.
Geoge Szabo and Rick Peters winning the 2009 Star Worlds
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