US Para-Olympic team decided

Series concludes in St Petersburg, FL reports Jan Harley

Saturday November 15th 2003, Author: Jan Harley, Location: United States
With a nod to Walt, four paralympic hopefuls are going one better with a trip to Greece in lieu of one to nearby Disneyworld. Friday’s two final races in the 2.4 Metre and Sonar selection trials for the 2004 Paralympic Games confirmed the reservations and booked the Athlete’s Village for next year’s events which will be held on 17-28 September in Athens.

Although only 12 of a planned 14 races were counted toward the series totals when the wind went missing on two of the race days, it allowed two drops to be figured into the overall standings for the series which was sailed from Florida's St. Petersburg Yacht Club.

In the 2.4 Metre class, Tom Brown has succeeded in securing his second opportunity to represent the U.S.A. at the Paralympic Games. The Sydney bronze medallist led from the outset after winning two races back-to-back on the opening day of the Trials.

Coming out of the layday, Brown held a slim three-point lead over John Ruf who had kept the margin narrow with his win of the third race. Despite an OCS in the first race after the layday, Tom Franklin fought back to win two of the next five races to leapfrog Ruf, moving into second overall by three points. Brown, however, had extended his lead and was now eight points ahead of Franklin heading into the final day of the Trials.

A third-place finish by Brown in the first race of the final day became his second drop, and despite Franklin’s win of that race, it was not enough for him to overtake the leader. Brown had mathematically secured the series along with the choice of sitting out the final race. He opted to sail and ended the series, as he had begun, with a win.

“We had everything, from light wind to winds blasting into the 20s,” said Brown as he reflected on the series. “I went back and forth a little with the others but everything turned out right. I was worried about John Ruf the most (who ended up third).”

Looking toward Athens he noted that when he won the bronze in 2000, “that was only my third time racing the boat, so I'll be ready to go this time. I'll be doing lots of training and will take a serious whack at them. The other guys (countries) are very strong, because in Europe they have more racing. Now that it's the second time around, the bar has been lifted. My emotions right now? It hasn't really sunk in but I'm sure it will soon.”

In the Sonar class the action was tight among the top three teams. With four races on the books, Paul Callahan, Keith Burhans and Roger Cleworth went into the layday in first place, albeit by only one-point, over John Ross-Duggan, J-P Creignou and Brad Johnson. Following in third, also a point back, were Rick Doerr, Tim Angle and Maureen McKinnon-Tucker. Ross-Duggan, Creignou and Johnson then turned on the heat to rack up four bullets over the next six races to move from second to first place overall with a two-point lead over Callahan’s team going into the final day. Doerr’s team scored a win in race nine - their second for the series - but it was not enough to keep them in the mix as the leaders steadily increased the spread between the three teams.

With a win of the first race on the final day, Ross-Duggan, Creignou and Johnson had won the Trials. “We didn't have to sail last race but did anyway, for practice,” said Ross-Duggan. “We relaxed but we didn't go pleasure sailing.”

Ross-Duggan noted that the three have sailed together only four months but he feels it’s the right mix. "Our strength to weight ratio is about the best it can be. Before the Trials we sparred against the Irish who are ranked fourth in the world and we were superior to them, so I think its safe to say we'll be medal contenders at the Paralympics.”

Johnson, a bilateral leg amputee who went to the 2000 Paralympics in the six-man volleyball event noted that they “did not walk away with it. It was difficult. The event was great and the competitors had heart to no end. We felt privileged to race against them.”

Final results

2.4 Metre (5 boats)
1 Tom Brown (Northeast Harbor, Maine), 1-1-(2)-1-1-1-1- 2-2-1-(3)-1; 12
2 Tom Franklin (Miami, Fla.), 3- 2-3- 3-(OCS)-2- 2-1-1-2-1-(4); 20
3 John Ruf (Pewaukee, Wisc.), 2-(3)-1-2-2-(3)- 3- 3-3-3-2-2; 23
4 Lee Buratti (Costa Mesa, Calif.) 4-4-4-(DNC)-3-(5)-4-4-4-4-4-3; 38
5 Stew Stewart (East Greenwich, R.I.) 5- 5-(DNC)-(DNC)-4-4-DNF-5-5-DNC-DNC-DNC; 52

Sonar (5 boats)

1 Ross-Duggan/Creignou/Johnson (Newport Beach, Calif.), (3)-1-1-3-1-1- 2-1- 3-1-1-(4); 15
2 Callahan/Burhans/Cleworth (Bourne, Mass.) (2)- 2-2-1-2-2-1-2-2-2-2-(3); 18
3 Doerr/Angle/McKinnon-Tucker (Clifton, N.J.), 1-(3)-(3)-2-3-3-3-3-1-3-3-1; 23
4 Strahle/Hitchcock/Rodrigues (Reading, Calif.) 5-5-(6\DNC)-(6\DNC)-4-5-4-5-4-4- 5-2; 43
5 Mitchell/Del Vecchio/Thweatt (Deerfield Beach, Fla.) 4- 4-4-(6\DNC)-5-4-5-4-5-(6\OCS)-4-5; 44

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