January 22, 2012

Olympic Yalies Ready for First Test of 2012

Racing Begins Tomorrow at the Miami Olympic Classes Regatta

MIAMI, Fla. – One month after establishing themselves as two of America's next Olympians, Yale alums Sarah Lihan '10 and Stuart McNay '05 are ready to return to the race course; however, this time with the pressures of the Olympic trials process behind them.  There may be many new pressures, but whether or not they will be racing in London this summer is no longer a question.

Racing at the Miami Olympic Classes Regatta (OCR) begins Monday and will continue until Jan. 28.  Lihan and McNay, along with their respective teammates, will be racing in the Men's and Women's 470 classes for which 24 and 16 competitors are registered, respectively.  Compared to the ISAF World Championships in Perth, Australia, last month, this is a small event; however, its ISAF Grade 1 status attracts strong competition from around the world.  Grade 1 is the ranking given by the International Sailing Federation to regattas that fall just below the level of world championships.  Success at a Grade 1 event can earn competitors a great number of points towards their individual ISAF world ranking.

In the Men's 470 class, six out of the top 10 teams in the world will be competing at the OCR.  McNay and his crew, Graham Biehl, are currently ranked sixth.  As for the women's class, Lihan and her skipper, Amanda Clark, are currently 11th in the world rankings; however, they will actually be the top-ranked women's 470 competitors at the OCR. 

With less than eight months left until The Games kick off in London, the Miami OCR should be a great way for the Americans to begin the final stretch of their Olympic preparation.  For one, the international competition is coming to them.  Most often US sailors have to travel to Europe to get experience in competitive international fleets, but this time the Americans get to have the local knowledge advantage and the competition.  The majority of US Olympic sailors, including Lihan and McNay, have made Miami their home base for training.  Its climate permits them to sail year-round with very little daily commute to a great open-water venue.

In addition to being a great training event, the Miami OCR is also the second regatta in the seven-regatta ISAF World Cup series.  For the Yale sailors this is particularly significant because both are looking to repeat their strong performances from the first World Cup event.  In fact, McNay and Biehl are currently leading the Men's 470 World Cup standings after a big win at the Sail Melbourne regatta back in early November.  In Melbourne, Team MB, as they call themselves, beat out the number-one-in-the-world and likely-Olympic-favorite Australian team of Mathew Belcher and Malcolm Page.  Sail Melbourne was also a strong event for Lihan and Clark, who finished third overall in the women's 470 class and are consequently sitting third in the ISAF World Cup standings.  Since the two teams ahead of them in the standings will not be racing in Miami, a good OCR result could easily bump them into the top spot.

After racing finishes in Miami, there will be five more World Cup regattas before the Olympics.  Since these events tend to offer the best competition and most Olympic-like racing, the Americans will try to travel to as many of them as possible. 

The trials process is behind them and therefore McNay, Lihan and their teammates can now fully concentrate on preparing for the Olympic Games.  Beating out the American competition was one thing, but winning at the Olympics will require performance at the next level.  This week in Miami they are looking to set the tone for the rest of 2012.  You can follow the racing online at the official Miami OCR website.   

Report filed by Chris Segerblom '14, Yale Sports Publicity

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