August 10, 2012

Bulldogs Conclude Competition at Olympics

WEYMOUTH, England –  Sarah Lihan '10 and Stu McNay '05 concluded racing in their events at the 2012 Olympic Games this past weekend.  Lihan, who sailed with Connecticut College graduate Amanda Clark in the women's 470 class, entered Saturday's medal race in ninth place out of 20 nations and that is where she ultimately finished.  McNay and his crew, Graham Biehl, missed qualifying for the men's 470 medal race by a mere five points, solidifying them in 14th place out of 27 nations after 10 races.

While McNay also competed at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, this was Lihan's first Olympic appearance.  Her qualification for the Games back in December 2011, less than 18 months after graduation, took much of the sailing world by surprise.  However, Clark and Lihan proved that they deserved their spot on the US Olympic Sailing Team just as much as the many veterans.  The women's 470 duo was one of just three US representatives in sailing to qualify for the medal race in their class. 

In a tough year for the US Olympic Sailing Team, Lihan was not only the youngest team member but also one of America's last hopes for a sailing medal.  She and Clark were in contention for a spot on the podium all the way until race 9 out of 11. 

New Zealand, Great Britain and the Netherlands took Gold, Silver and Bronze, respectively, in the women's 470 class. 

In the men's 470 class, McNay and Biehl had their strongest results—a seventh and a fourth—on the last day of racing.  Unfortunately it was not quite enough to get them into the medal race.  Their 14th-place final result was one place lower than where they finished in 2008, but there were also two more boats in the fleet at the Beijing Games.

With the same crew but a different skipper, Australia won gold in the men's 470 for the second quadrennial in a row.  Great Britain took silver for the third time in a row and Argentina took the bronze.

The last time a Yalie medaled in a sailing event at the Olympics was in 2000 when Jennifer Fetter '85 won silver as a skipper in the women's 470 class.  She also won a bronze medal at the 1992 Olympics. 

Besides Fetter, just two other Yale alumni have earned sailing medals.  Jonathan McKee '83 won a bronze medal in the 49er class in 2000 and a gold medal in the Flying Dutchman in 1984 at the same time as Steve Benjamin '78 won a silver medal in the men's 470.  The US has won 59 medals total in the sport of sailing, meaning that more than eight percent of those belong to Yalies. 

Unfortunately, '59' is still the same medal count for the US Sailing Team as it was four years ago.  This summer's Olympics marked the first time since 1936 that no US sailors made it onto the podium. 

The US Olympic Sailing Program is assessing its practices in hopes of gaining more insight as to why it came up empty on medals this quadrennial.  The program will try to determine whether or not some of the reforms that it made over the past four years, including an overhaul of the Olympic sailing qualification process, could have contributed to the inability to medal. 

Although it is unclear what the US needs to do to return its Olympic sailing program to what it was back in 1992, when it won medals in nine out of 10 sailing classes, one thing still stands true.  Collegiate sailing programs like Yale's will continue to serve as "crucial stepping stone[s]," as McNay put it himself, for American sailors with Olympic aspirations. 

Report filed by Chris Segerblom '14, Yale Sports Publicity     

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