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The Road to Weymouth continues for the US team
Just 12 days from the start of the London Olympics 2012 Sailing Regatta, Sail-World.com continues its Weymouth news series.
Team USA will have 16 Olympic and six Paralympic sailors representing this summer. The first Olympics since the change in selection methods for the US team will bring its own kind of pressure although the team is, as Chairman and Team Leader of the US Olympic Sailing Program Dean Brenner commented this week, much more experienced at all levels than the 2008 US team.
But the real pressure is being felt by the British sailing team, who should dominate in Weymouth with the best funding, great team depth and a home town advantage.
While the USA's Anna Tunnicliffe and her team are atop the Women's Match Racing rankings, it is interesting that there is not a single British world ranking leader on the nine Olympic classes across the 2012 World Cup season.
It seems the Brits, the winners of the last three Olympic regattas (Sydney, Athens and Beijing) have had some up and down results and seem to be focused more on sailing in Weymouth, rather than on the world circuit.
The biggest British Olympic story will no doubt be if ‘Big Ben' Ainslie does not win his fourth Olympic Gold Medal.
It has not been the expected stellar preparation for Britain's most successful Olympic sailor. The Rule 69 cost him the 2011 Finn World Championship and the veteran's persistent back injury has been an issue this past year. He did win the Finn 2012 World title, his sixth, but a capsize in the medal race in the Sail for Gold regatta meant Ainslie finished second behind fellow Briton Giles Scott.
‘It's a bit embarrassing going for a swim,' said Ainslie, ‘But sometimes these things happen. Thankfully it wasn't the Olympic Games. I made a mistake, we're all human.'
The USA's Zach Railey and Pieter-Jan Postma (NED) will be amongst the large group of Finn sailors happy to hear that admission.
Perhaps the pressure is already telling on another British sailor Paul Goodison, GBR's Laser medal hope. The 2008 Laser Gold medalist has not beaten his nemesis, Australia's Tom Slingsby, in a regatta all year.
After winning bronze behind Slingsby, at the Skandia Sail for Gold regatta, Goodison was keen to tell the British tabloids that he'd been ‘done over' by Slingsby and fellow Australian Tom Burton in the Medal Race. His version was that the Australians had team sailed to beat him.
It was an interesting perspective because Slingsby, the series leader, held a very tight cover on the second place sailor in the medal race and plainly did not need any help holding off the British London 2012 medial hope to remain unbeaten in the history of the Sail for Gold series in Weymouth. Rob Crane is the US sailor in this class, he had a briillant final few days at Perth 2011 to win selection and if he continues his rate of progress, he could be a serious contender.
Rob Crane - Laser Paul Kane /Perth 2011
In the Laser Radial class, Alison Young (GBR) was the surprise winner at Weymouth. Looking at form across the last year, China's Lijia Xu, the 2008 Olympic Bronze medallist, should start favourite in Weymouth. But it's been a curious preparation for Xu who has spent comparatively little time in Weymouth, and this might bring her undone. Come August one expects US representative Paige Railey, Marit Bouwmeester (NED) and Sari Multala (FIN) to also be in the mix.
Paige Railey is excited about her first Olympics, an experience she is to share with her brother Zach, the US Finn representative and recently announced Team captain.
‘It's a very special time for my family and brother,' said Paige. ‘We are best friends and it has been a family goal for us to go together. I always state that I sail an individual boat, but I am part of a team. The Railey family has been working towards this for years so it is so exciting to be competing with Zach.'
It will certainly be interesting to watch both Raileys racing in the Olympics. The two athletes have gone on record saying that watching the other sailor race is far more mentally stressful than lining up for their own medal races, due to their lack of influence over the (other's) race's outcome, so this event will no doubt be a great sibling-bonding experience, as well as an opportunity to shine on the water.
In the Women's Match Racing event the US camp has ‘Gold Medal ‘plastered across Anna Tunnicliffe prospects.
The 2011 World Champion Tunnicliffe has held the top spot in the Women's Match Racing Rankings since September 2011. Tunnicliffe comprehensively defeated Lucy Macgregor (GBR) 4-0 in the final in Perth, (Australia) and has since gone on to notch up three regatta victories.
She then she finished with a bronze at Sail for Gold behind Australia's Olivia Price and French star Claire Leroy. At the Women's World Match Racing finals, which took place in Gothenburg, Sweden in late June, Tunnicliffe was beaten 0-3 by Silja Lehtinen (FIN) in a contest that has been described as a ‘photo-finish'.
‘It is bitter sweet,' said Tunnicliffe. ‘We are happy to have made the finals and come away with a medal at the Worlds; however we were shooting for the gold and are disappointed with a couple points in each race where we gave it away. Team Finland sailed extremely well and we are very excited for them.'
Much like Ainsle's silver medal at Sail for Gold, everyone has their off-moments; also fortunately for both sailors, their off-regattas were not at the Olympics.
Interestingly, Tunnicliffe also had a recent photo shoot that involved her wearing less than her usual amount of sailing gear for an ESPN The Magazine's ‘Body Issue', an honor given to a select few Olympians across all sporting disciplines.
‘I want the world to see sailing as an athletic sport' Tunnicliffe reported to the magazine. ‘A lot of people think it's a nice cruise around the bay, cocktail in hand, gentle wind, sunny conditions. But racing is physical and aggressive, and we go out rain or shine.'
Sail-World USA Editor David Schmidt is heading to Britain next week as part of the large Sail-World media team in Weymouth.