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Yalies Sail Well at Miami OCR

Sarah Lihan '10 and her teammate tight reaching in their 470.
Sarah Lihan '10 and her teammate tight reaching in their 470.

Both Olympic-Bound Yalies Finish In The Top Five

Miami, Fla. – Junior Claire Dennis, a member of the Yale women's varsity sailing team, returned to campus on Sunday after a week of competitive racing at the annual Olympic Classes Regatta in Miami, Fla.  This was one of the fairly rare opportunities that Dennis has had to continue her international-level sailing since she entered college.  She made the comment that "it took a little bit of time to get used to the Olympic style courses again." 

Despite a difference in the length and setup of the courses between international and collegiate sailing, when it comes to practice, time on the water is the biggest factor and college sailing definitely provides plenty of that. The Yale team is currently out-of-season until the end of February; however, especially considering the high level of competition at the OCR, Dennis' results were strong nonetheless.  She finished 16th overall in a 60-boat laser radial fleet, making her the second American finisher.  The American ahead of her was 2012 Olympic representative Paige Railey who finished eighth. 

With the Olympics only six months away, many of the world's 2012 Olympic sailors were competing at the Miami OCR as a means of final-stage preparation.  Dennis noted that most of the women at the top of the laser radial fleet were "huge!"  By this she meant that the athletes were in peak physical condition and had added weight-gain to their training programs because the Olympic venue in Weymouth, England, is anticipated to be windy.  Despite the routine weight training that she does with the Yale varsity sailing team, Dennis said that a difference in fitness was particularly noticeable in the windy races at the end of the regatta. 

While Dennis competed at the OCR in order to stay sharp during college off-season and to continue getting international sailing experience, Yale alums Sarah Lihan '10 and Stu McNay '05 were there competing for slightly more serious reasons.  This was the first event of several in 2012 that Lihan and McNay intend to use to prepare for the Olympic Games this coming summer.  The year is off to a reasonably good start, considering that both Olympic Yalies finished inside of the top five in their respective classes.

Lihan and her teammate, Amanda Clark, finished fifth-place overall in the women's 470 class.  While their scores in the early races of the regatta were very mid-fleet, they did not finish outside of the top-five in their last six races, except for the medal race, and in four of those races they finished either second or third.  Finishing just ahead of them was a team from Argentina, while two British teams took bronze and silver and the gold medal went to a team from the Netherlands.

McNay and his teammate, Graham Biehl, finished fourth overall in the men's 470 class, just one spot away from standing on the podium.  An unfortunate collision with another boat in race eight of the regatta forced them to retire after finishing.  By throwing that race out, the team was consequently unable to discard their only double-digit score of the regatta, an 11 which they got in race five.  Without the unlucky collision, maybe they would have had few enough points to claim the bronze from the Greek team just ahead of them. 

Nonetheless, McNay and Biehl finished strong and even matched their best score of the regatta— second, in the extra-important medal race on Saturday.  The medal race is an Olympic sailing novelty that was established last quadrennial in an attempt to increase the stakes of the final race and also heighten media accessibility.  After ten races have been completed in a regatta, the top ten teams in the standings, at that point, are sent out on the final day to compete against each other in a race where the course is closer to land for spectating purposes and the results count double.  At the OCR, McNay and Biehl finished second in the medal race and therefore added four points to their overall score.  It is often believed that the institution of the medal race benefits American Olympic sailors because so many of them, like McNay and Lihan, are extremely familiar with smaller, less-open-water courses from college sailing 

The next Yale sailing news to look forward to is the start of the collegiate spring season.  The coed and women's varsity teams are working hard to stay in shape during off-season and look forward to getting back on the water after a long, although relatively mild, winter.  As for Yale's Olympic-bound alumni, Lihan and McNay are scheduled to travel to Spain at the end of March to race at another ISAF World Cup event.

Report filed by Chris Segerblom '14, Yale Sports Publicity