Lining up for Rolex Miami OCR

Olympic class racing to resume in the Northern hemisphere next week

Thursday January 19th 2012, Author: Barby MacGowan, Location: United States

When US Sailing’s Rolex Miami OCR returns to Coconut Grove, FL, next week, for same the sailors participating the regatta will determine whether they will get to participate in London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

With racing scheduled to run from Monday, 23 January 23 until Saturday, 28 January, the six-day Rolex Miami OCR is the second of seven 2011-2012 ISAF Sailing World Cup regattas. At the close of registration on Sunday, 532 sailors representing 44 countries had registered.

Among the many international competitors -some with Olympic berths already secured and others still vying for spots on their national teams - will be Marit Bouwmeester, who finished 2011 on a high note by winning both the Laser Radial class at the Perth 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championships and the honour of representing her country in that class at the Olympics.

“Everybody has been training really hard the past year, so I think Rolex Miami OCR will be a tough battle again and it will probably stay that way until the Games,” said Bouwmeester whose company out on the water will include fellow podium finishers at the Worlds and Olympic representatives Paige Railey and Belgian Evi Van Acker. Railey also is the defending Rolex Miami OCR champion and has won the event four times.

“It is definitely fun racing against all the good girls,” said Bouwmeester, adding that 2012 will be her first-ever Olympic experience. “I always spend two months in Miami and Fort Lauderdale to get my light-wind training in. Miami is the complete opposite of what I’m used to, so it’s a nice challenge and a good opportunity to learn.”

With 82 boats registered, the Laser class promises not to disappoint as the typically largest fleet at the Rolex Miami OCR. With multiple potential winners embedded in the entry roster, Chris Dold and David Wright stand out from among 13 Canadian entries that are here to participate in their Olympic Trials, which started in Perth and will end with the next ISAF Sailing World Cup regatta (the Trofeo S.A.R. Princesa Sofia) in March.

“It’s going to be fun to watch these guys fight it out for their Olympic Trials,” said Rob Crane who is coming off a jam-packed 2011 schedule that culminated with him winning an Olympic berth for the U.S. team after pulling off amazing 1-2 finishes on the last competition day in Perth to beat out his teammates for the spot.

“After my own experience in Perth, it will be fun to watch other people handle that situation,” said Crane. “I train with the Canadian team a lot, and I’m good friends with all those guys. It’s great to race against them, but for this regatta their concern is beating out each other for the Olympic spot.”

The fleet also is densely packed with well-known names from around the globe such as Alsogaray (ARG) and Bruno Fontes (BRA), as well as up-and-comers such as the USA's Charlie Buckingham.

Travelling more than halfway around the globe are 2011 World Champions and Australia’s representatives for the Olympic Games in the 470 Men’s class - Mat Belcher and Malcolm Page. “After spending the better part of the decade trying to gain Olympic selection, London will be my first (Games),” said Belcher.

“We have and will be working hard to prepare ourselves to defend Australia’s Gold from Beijing, and the Rolex Miami OCR 2012 will provide us with the opportunity to gain high level racing before heading over to Europe,” said Belcher, who will be going up against some power houses who are constantly battling each other in the top-ten at international events, including Olympic-bound Stuart McNay with crew Graham Biehl; Argentina's Lucas Calabrese with Juan Maria de la Fuente; and Austrians Matthias Schmid and Florian Reichstaedter. “We are a little isolated in Australia and don’t get the level of competition that our competitors can get access to. For us, it’s important to fly almost 30 hours and transport our equipment to Miami to compete for only a five-day regatta. That’s how much we like coming to Miami and how important we think doing this event is.”

Britain's Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark, in the 470 Women’s class, will be looking to continue their string of podium finishes and it will be interesting to see if former World Champions Lisa Westerhof and Lobke Berkhout from the Netherlands can muster a return to form. The USA’s team of Amanda Clark and Sarah Lihan edged out teammates Erin Maxwell and Isabelle Kinsolving Farrar during a tie-breaker in Perth, which earned them their berth at the Olympic Games.

As always, the Star class is packed with world-renowned sailors, and perhaps the best-known names attending are Brazil's Robert Scheidt and Bruno Prada, who just wrapped up 2011 with their second straight title at the Star World Championship. Though Scheidt and Prada are used to fleet-topping performances, they also know not to discount the tough competition that consistently rotates into the top ten at this event, including France's Xavier Rohart with Pierre Alexis Ponsot. The USA’s Olympic-bound Star sailors Mark Mendelblatt and Brian Fatih also will be in attendance as will the new combination of New Zealand's Hamish Pepper and Hamble's own son Jim Turner (who holds a New Zealand passport).

Austrian Nico Delle Karth and Nikolaus Resch are among the top players in the 49er fleet, while in Perth, Denmark had a handful of teams in the medal race, and here their representatives include Allan Norregaard and Peter Land along with Beijing gold medallist Jonas Warrer sailing with Seren Hansen. The USA's Erik Storck and Trevor Moore, who were inches away from bronze in Perth, are on an upward spiral and expecting to accomplish big things at the Rolex Miami OCR.

But all is not for the veterans at this event. U.S. up-and-comers Ryan Pesch and Trevor Burd are looking to retain their status on the US Sailing Development Team, along with Frederick Strammer and Zachary Brown, who have been training and living in Miami for several months and are making a push for the 2016 Olympic Games.

In Finn class, the USA’s 2012 Olympic team member Zach Railey is the front runner (with no Ben Ainslie competing) and expected to bring back the gold, but he will have some tough competition from Australia's Brendan Casey and fellow US Sailing AlphaGraphics teammate Caleb Paine, who has been posting consistent top-20 finishes as of late.

In the Men's and Women’s RS:X classes, the fleets are relatively small compared to past years, since many of the world’s top windsurfers chose to bypass the long trip to Miami from the ISAF Worlds in Perth and go straight to the 2012 RS:X European Windsurfing Championships, scheduled for February in Portugal, and on to the RS:X World Windsurfing Championships, taking place in March in Spain.

Last year's World Cup series winner Nick Dempsey could be all but guaranteed the gold in Men’s, as his nemesis, the Netherland's Dorian van Rijsselberge, who edged him out for the gold here at the Rolex Miami OCR in 2011, is missing from the roster. In the Women’s RS:X, Poland and Israel have traditionally been strong, which means Malgorzata Bialecka (POL) and Maayan Davidovich (ISR) might have the nod, but the strengths of USA’s Farrah Hall, who won her country’s Trials, cannot go unpondered. She is working her hardest to polish up for the Worlds, since it is there that she must qualify her country in order to make her earned spot on the USA’s Olympic team matter.

In the Women’s Match Racing, a highlight of Rolex Miami OCR looks set to be the fight between Olivia Price/Nina Curtis/Lucinda Whitty and Nicky Souter/Jessica Eastwell/Katie Spithill for a position on Australia’s Olympic team.

The country to beat, however, is the USA. In fact, during this quadrennium, there has not been a single World Cup event where the U.S. has not been on the podium. Anna Tunnicliffe/Molly Vandemoer/Debbie Capozzi set the bar high in Perth by taking the gold, but Sally Barkow/Elizabeth Kratzig-Burnham/Alana O’Reilly are proven stars as well. Tunnicliffe is the current ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year and Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year. France’s Claire Leroy/Elodie Bertrand/Marie Riou and Great Britain’s Lucy Macgregor/Annie Lush/Kate Macgregor are other safe bets for finishing in the top five. But with 25 teams entered, there are several more who could go all the way, including Spain’s Tamara Echegoyen/Sofia Toro/Angela Pumariega and Finland’s Silja Lehtinen/Silja Kanerva/Mikaela Wulff.

Fresh off of some fierce Paralympic competition at the IFDS Worlds, which wrapped up this past weekend in Charlotte Harbor, FL, sailors in the 2.4mR, SKUD-18 and Sonar classes are counting on top Rolex Miami OCR performances to propel them to the next level.

The 2.4mR class is 29-boats deep, with already six more boats attending than were seen at the Worlds, and it will be most interesting to watch Mark LeBlanc, John Ruf and Charles Rosenfeld battle for a berth on the U.S. team for the 2012 Paralympic Games, which will be determined after the final race here. Some international names to watch include the top three IFDS podium finishers: gold medalist and defending Rolex Miami OCR champion France's Damien Seguin, silver medalist Thierry Schmitter and bronze medalist Canadian Paul Tingley.

As is the case for the U.S. in 2.4mRs, so too is it that the Rolex Miami OCR serves as the second part of the SKUD and Sonar Paralympic Team Trials, where sailors keep their overall finish from the IFDS Worlds and combine it with their overall finish here to determine who gets the Paralympic berth. Duking it out in SKUD class will be Jennifer French and Jean-Paul Creignou, who took the silver medal at the Worlds, and three-time Rolex Miami OCR defending champions Scott Whitman and Julia Dorsett. With only seven boats in the fleet (there were eight at the Worlds), including the newly crowned British World Champions Alexandra Rickham and Niki Birrell, there will be pressure-cooker emphasis on putting boats between themselves and the competition.

Having just won bronze at the Worlds, Rolex Miami OCR defending champions Britain's John Robertson, Hannah Stodel and Steve Thomas are favoured in the Sonar class. Ireland's John Twomey also has made a name for himself in this class as has Udo Hessels, Marcel van de Veen and Mischa Rossen, and all four American teams competing will have to step up their game to successfully juggle toppling these hard-hitters as they go at it hard to secure an Olympic berth.

Fleet racing runs from Monday until Friday next week with the medal races held on Saturday.

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