Mar 07 SAILING: What to Expect in Qingdao

Aug. 05, 2008, 4:43 p.m. (ET)
Eighteen American sailors are in Qingdao, China, ready to begin the 2008 Olympic Games. After qualifying at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in October 2007, most of these athletes have trained by hitting the winter racing circuits in either Australia or Florida, sailing the spring circuits in Europe, and traveling to summer training camps in Qingdao. They have already spent ten days in Qingdao for more training and acclimation, and the ten-month road from the Trials to the Games culminates here on August 9.

Qingdao has been noted as a light air venue with strong currents. That combination will be a challenge, but USA Laser Radial representative Anna Tunnicliffe said it's still fair game. "The conditions are difficult but everybody has to deal with it. Whoever deals best will come out on top." As the #1-ranked Laser Radial sailor, Tunnicliffe is a strong medal favorite in the 26-boat Laser Radial class. Tunnicliffe's most notable recent wins include the 2007 Qingdao Olympic Test Event, the 2008 Delta Lloyd Regatta in Holland in May and, of course, the U.S. Olympic Trials for Sailing. Other medal favorites in the Laser Radial class are China, Australia, Mexico, New Zealand, Belgium, Lithuania, and Great Britain. Canada, Poland and Argentina could also bring fruitful results. When asked about one of her main competitors, Lijia Xu of China, Tunnicliffe explained her levelheaded approach, "She's good, but when we're on the water I'm not going to take a special interest in any one person. I'll just do the best I can." Always gracious and a model sportswoman, Tunnicliffe thrives on competition and it is clear she is ready to get racing.

In the Yngling class, Sally Barkow, Carrie Howe and Debbie Capozzi are generally considered strong medal favorites. Though currently ranked fifth in the world, this trio has been ranked in first place and have ended up at the podium in about 80% of their events over the years. Middle position Carrie Howe said, "Looking at the past world championship finishes is a good way to tell who can do well. We haven't been out of the top five in the past five years." Medal favorites in the 15-boat class include Great Britain, Russia, Germany, and the Netherlands. Also in the running are Spain and, in particular, Norway, whose team has come on strongly in the past few regattas. When asked about their medal hopes, the USA team was fairly reserved, but Barkow gave a smile and just said, "Gold."

Tim Wadlow and Chris Rast sail in the 19-boat 49er class and are two of the four Olympic veterans on the United States team. Wadlow steered a 49er to fifth place in Athens. Off the water, he has been elected the U.S. Olympic Sailing Team Captain, and will represent the team in IOC affairs for the Games.

Rast, who is a Swiss citizen as well as American, sailed in the Olympics twice for Switzerland and coached for them once as well. Wadlow and Rast are ranked 9th in their class, but have shown particular potential in light air, so they rise to medal contention and could excel in Qingdao's typically weak winds. Spain, Australia, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Great Britain and Ukraine are medal favorites in the class. Most of those teams are defending Olympic medalists or world champions. Each is fast, but Ukraine is known to look average in practice and then turn out great regattas, while Great Britain has not shown as much strength under pressure.

John Lovell and Charlie Ogletree will race in Qingdao at their fourth and final Games. After sailing together for 15 years and winning a silver medal in Athens, the duo has high expectations. When asked to list medal favorites, Ogletree jokes, "First: Charlie. Second: Johnny." Though he quips about the gold, he's not really joking when he says they are here to win. When it came to assessing the 16-boat fleet, Ogletree said, "There are no dark horses. There are a couple teams here that are not in the running, but every single other team has a shot at a medal." He continued, "In this class you don't shoot for gold; you shoot for the podium and you sort out the colors in the last race." If anyone on this team would know Olympic level strategy, it would be him.

In the 26-boat Finn class, Zach Railey shares the notion felt my many classes: "About 10 to 12 sailors can make it to the podium at the 2008 Olympic Games." He explained, "It depends from week to week. You can have a guy get third place one week and then ninth the next. It all depends on who puts a consistent series together in the week we race here at the Games." Top medal contenders in the Finn are Great Britain, Denmark, Spain, Croatia, Holland, Slovenia and Italy. Railey is ranked 17th and has recently shown marked and consistent improvement in his Grade 1 events finishes. He appears prepared to peak at the 2008 Olympics.

John Dane III and Austin Sperry race together in the Star class. The Star class is known for its depth of talent and tends to attract legendary sailors with multiple world championships from various classes under their belts. While over half of this 16-boat fleet has a chance at a medal, favorites include Brazil, France, Switzerland, New Zealand, Poland and Sweden. At 58, Dane is the oldest American going to the Olympics, and he hopes to be the oldest American to come home with a medal.

As many of the United States' representatives have expressed competitive closeness in their classes, Andrew Campbell, who races in the Laser class, emphasizes the parity in his class by listing about fifteen sailors who have reached the podium at this quad's Grade 1 events. He notes six medal favorites and another eight "possible race winners with medal potential." Campbell's strongest countries in the 40-boat Laser class include Australia, Great Britain, New Zealand, Poland, Slovenia and Sweden. As potential dark horses, Canada, Brazil, Croatia, France, Italy, Portugal and Spain show promise. Campbell has only sailed an aggressive schedule in the Grade 1 circuit for two years but has reached 15th in the participation-based rankings. He says of his chances, "I think in less than 12 knots I'm between the two groups [medal favorites and potential medal winners]. The coaches certainly like taking pictures of me during practice races recently."

Amanda Clark and Sarah Mergenthaler will compete in the 19-boat Women's 470 class. Crew Sarah Mergenthaler observed, "At almost every major event this year we have had a different winner. Anyone in the top ten in the rankings can get to the podium." Among the top group are Australia, Japan the Netherlands, France and Sweden. Italy, Great Britain and Brazil are more potential podium contenders. Clark and Mergenthaler list themselves as wild cards. Clark explained, "We are currently ranked seventh, but we have been ranked as high as fifth. We are right in the mix on speed and now it's about tying in consistent finishes." Mergenthaler said, "A lot of it depends on the first race-- who combusts and who holds it together."

Stu McNay and Graham Biehl are competing in the Men's 470. Biehl said, "Twelve countries can win medals, honestly. There are a lot of people who can win; it just goes down to how they sail this regatta. You can usually tell by the second day." Medal favorites in this 30-boat class are Great Britain, Australia, the Netherlands Israel and France. In reference to potential wild cards, Biehl notes that New Zealand puts forth a strong pair, but as they are both 17 years old, it's not clear how they'd handle a pressure situation like the Olympics. McNay and Biehl are currently ranked 9th in the world in the Men's 470 class, and they put forth their best performances in Qingdao's typically lighter breezes under twelve knots.

In the 35-boat Men's RS:X windsurfing class, Ben Barger counts eleven racers who have won Olympic Medals, World Championships, or have performed in the top five at recent test events in China. To top that leaderboard, Barger said New Zealand, Greece, France and China look like the strongest medal hopes. Barger expects to finish somewhere in the middle of that 35-person windsurfing class.

In the Women's RS:X windsurfer, 20-year-old Nancy Rios races as the youngest person on the U.S. Olympic Team for Sailing. France, Italy and Spain are expected to perform well in this 28-person Olympic event.

Four hundred sailors from 62 countries will race at the Olympic Regatta from August 9-21. Event schedules are staggered over the thirteen-day period, with reserve days built into the end of the Olympic Regatta as well as during each individual event. Under normal scheduling, reserve days are laydays for the sailors, but may be used as race days for weather reasons. On August 9, the Olympic Regatta begins with the Finn and Yngling classes.

For more information, news, features and updates on the U.S. Olympic Team for Sailing, please visit http://olympics.ussailing.org/Olympics.htm.

For daily video, pictures and blog coverage by Gary Jobson on NBC, please visit http://www.nbcolympics.com/sailing/index.html.

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