Who will be sailing Lasers for the USA in the 2008 Olympics in China next year? I don't have a clue. That will be decided at the Olympic Trials event to be held in Newport, Rhode Island in October this year. 33 American men will compete for the single Laser slot; and 22 women will race for the US Laser Radial place at the Games. Anything can happen in a regatta of course but in each class there are two clear favorites...
Paige Railey has been getting a lot of publicity for several years with a string of distinctions in the Laser Radial Class ever since she placed first in the North American Laser Radial Grand Prix during her first year of sailing the Radial at the age of 14. She followed that up by winning the ISAF Youth Worlds twice and was the Rolex Female World Sailor of the Year in 2006. Not too shabby for someone who doesn't turn twenty until next week.
However Paige is not the top-ranked US Laser Radial Sailor in the ISAF Rankings.
That honor goes to Anne Tunnicliffe. Paige and Anna have been going head to head at all the major Laser regattas in North America and Europe with neither being able to dominate the other at all events. I suspect that Paige's lower ranking than Anna is mainly due to her being disqualified for Rule 42 (illegal propulsion) violations at two events. I wrote about this issue before in Pushing the Limits. I guess we won't know until October which of these two young women will be going to China. But surely the intense competition between them can only improve the chances of one of them winning a medal.
The top two US men in the ISAF Laser rankings are Brad Funk and Andrew Campbell.
Brad is the only one of these four sailors that I have met. He was the guest coach at the sailing seminar I attended in Florida a couple of years ago. He has been sailing all the major international events, placing in the top ten regularly, has been training with the world ranked number one Laser sailor Paul Goodison of Great Britain, and is being coached by Finn Olympic medallist and two-time Laser World Champion John Bertrand. Wait a minute -- there's a video of a much younger JB on this blog somewhere -- here it is, the guy with the headband sailing 7815.
Andrew Campbell has been mentioned on this blog before too. He was one of my Top Ten Sailing Bloggers of 2006. Andrew and Brad have been fairly evenly matched at all the major events but Andrew suffered a setback in his training program when he broke his thumb in a cycling accident in France a couple of weeks ago. Best wishes to Andrew for a speedy recovery so that he can go sailing again soon. I've never met Andrew but you can judge for yourself what kind of guy he is by reading this inspiring post Lucky Break in which, far from feeling sorry for himself because of his injury, he urges us all to "have a great season, have great racing, have great parties, have great friends....Make the time on the water the best that you have."
My guess is that the two American Laser sailors going to China will be from this group of four fine young people. They all have websites that document their campaigns (links above) so you can check out their progress to date and follow them in the months leading up to the trials. If you feel so inclined you might want to consider donating to one or more of these campaigns too. US Olympic sailing hopefuls receive very little financial support from the sailing establishment and are almost entirely dependent on sponsorship and donations for the costs of their campaigns.
Now let's see. Will I be back from the Masters Worlds in Spain in time to get down to Newport and report on the outcome of the Trials? Maybe so. Watch this space.