Fun in the sun

Miami Olympic Classes Regatta kicks off today

Wednesday January 30th 2002, Author: Peter Bentley, Location: United States

So which would you prefer, winter training in Weymouth as Percy and Mitchell are doing here or a trip to Miami?

Long regarded by the British as a training and workup regatta, this year's Rolex sponsored Miami Olympic Classes Regatta takes on a new significance for American crews. For the first time ever it has become a compulsory 'must do' regatta for every crew contesting selection for US places at the 2004 Olympic Games. Not only that, but the event is also a qualifier for the ISAF World Sailing Games in Marseilles in August and the pre-Olympic regatta in Athens.

At the last time of counting 211 boats representing 22 countries had signed up for the event, including some of Britain's top talent. For Olympic medallists Shirley Robertson, Iain Percy and Ian Barker, Miami marks the first serious international outing in a new class since their victories in Sydney, nearly 18 months ago.

And all three will be facing serious opposition. Miami is almost the home of the Star in the USA and with the Bacardi Cup held at the same venue barely a month later you can reckon on plenty of top class opposition for Iain and Ian to measure themselves up against. Percy will be sailing with Steve Mitchell while Barker takes Edmund Peel onboard.

2000 Star Olympic Gold Medallists Mark Reynolds and Magnus Liljedahl are just one crew to be beaten, with neither Jose Van der Ploeg of Spain and Ross McDonald of Canada, (respectively Barcelona's Finn Gold Medallist and Star Bronze Medallist) likely to prove a push over. Both Barker and Percy have been out training in Miami since before Christmas.

Though Ben Ainslie's decision to join the Finn class came too late to allow him to compete in Miami, Andrew 'Bart' Simpson fully intends to take up the mantle left to him by his old training partner, no less a Finn sailor than Iain Percy himself. Like Percy, Simpson has been using Miami for some serious winter training.

And talking of old Finn sailors, they don't get much more committed than ISAF President Paul Henderson. Though Henderson has been seen quite recently in a Finn, he has deemed the demands of modern competition in what many still regard as the ultimate singlehander, just a bit too much. If the entry list is to be believed he intends to sail the event in a 2.4m. Henderson will have to measure up, to 2001 IFDS World Disabled Sailing Silver Medallist Tom Brown and 2000 Paralympian Brian Harding from Great Britain, among others in this unique class that levels the playing field among disabled and able-bodied sailors.

Based on past performance in other classes, Shirley Robertson heads the list of entries for the Yngling class. Sailing with Sam Davies and Inga Leask, Shirley will have a tough battle on her hands with a host of experienced keelboat sailors to contend with. Whether Bermuda's match racing champion Paula Lewin can equal her game in fleet racing remains to be seen. With no less than three past Rolex Yachtswomen of the year, Betsy Alison, Jody Swanson and Cory Sertl among the line up, competition is sure to be fierce. With no pecking order yet established, the winner here will at least gain a small psychological advantage for the season to come.

From the US side, there is something of a golden oldies feel about the regatta with several well established names resurfacing in new places.

Perhaps the most head-turning entry will be the 470 men's team of skipper Paul Foerster and crew Kevin Burnham. Foerster, won an Olympic silver medal in the Flying Dutchman back in 1992, skippered in the 470 Men's event to claim the Olympic silver medal in Sydney, while Burnham, a 470 Men's Olympic silver medal crew from 1992, has most recently taken a foray into big-boat sailing. The question is, can they turn back the clock?

Similarly, 1996 Europe Olympic Bronze Medallist Courtenay Dey is turning out once again in the 470 Women's class. Germany's Alina Grobe and USA's rising star Amanda Clark, are among other strong contenders here.

Shirley and Inga test out the Yngling, also in Weymouth

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