With a spot at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 at stake, sailors Stephanie Roble and Maggie Shea went for it Saturday in the waters of Australia.
Roble and Shea won the medal race at the 49erFX world championships in Geelong, Australia. With it, they captured not only a world bronze medal but, more importantly, spots on the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team.
Trailing two-time Olympian Anna Tobias and 2016 Olympian Paris Henken by four spots in the Olympic race entering the world championships, the win by Roble and Shea pulled them into a tie with Tobias and Henken in the U.S. Olympic selection trials process. The team with the lowest overall placement score from the 2019 and 2020 world championships would earn the berth, and each had 16 points.
The tiebreaker is decided by the results at this year’s world championships, resulting in the third-place finish giving Roble and Shea the U.S. spot in the 49erFX class for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. Tobias and Henken finished seventh in Geelong.
The Olympic berth continues a long journey for the rivals-turned-friends.
Roble grew up in East Troy, Wisconsin, not far from Milwaukee, and learned her trade on Lake Beulah in her hometown. She found success in the youth ranks of the sport and then went on to become a two-time All-American at Old Dominion before turning her attention to match racing, where she joined forces with Shea.
Shea, of Wilmette, Illinois, learned to sail using her grandfather’s boat on Lake Michigan. She competed collegiately at Connecticut College.
In 2016, the duo turned their focus toward making the Olympics in the 49erFX class.
They’ve had success in the sport, including a bronze medal at a world cup in April 2019 in Genoa, Italy, and a silver medal at the Pan American Games Lima 2019.
Their medal was also the first by a U.S. team since the 49erFX world championships began in 2013.
Tobias and Henken had finished first in one of the fleet races Saturday, and both crews made the medal race.
Tobias, who as Anna Tunnicliffe became the first Laser Radial gold medalist in Olympic history in 2008, was attempting to make her third Olympic appearance after not campaigning for the Rio 2016 Games.
Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic and Paralympic sports since 1996, when he was an assistant bureau chief in Atlanta. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.