Friday, September 26, 2008

Best of the Best?

This post is probably going to get me into trouble. But, hey, what the hell...

First of all read this opening paragraph of a press release from US Sailing.

Sailing's Best of the Best to Compete in
U.S. Championship of Champions

Portsmouth, R.I. (September 22, 2008) - Twenty of the country's top one-design sailors will be at Sayville Yacht Club (N.Y.) later on this week to compete in the U.S. Championship of Champions for US SAILING's Jack Brown Trophy. The regatta, sponsored by Rolex Watch, U.S.A. and Dry Creek Vineyard, is known as one of the toughest one-design competitions in the United States and this year’s event will be no exception.
Sounds pretty good, eh? A big championship at the end of the summer to determine the top one-design sailor in the nation. The best of the best. Only national champions need apply.

I agree. Great idea.

Now just close your eyes for a minute and think which one-design classes have the top sailors. Which national champions are truly the best? Who are the champions that you would want sailing at this regatta to determine the top dog one-design sailor in the USA?

Well, I assume you would probably want the champions from the Olympic classes, right? Laser, Laser Radial, Finn, Star, 49er and 470 for sure. Probably Tornado and Yngling. Maybe not the sailboarders as it's such a different skill.

Then there are the other "hot" classes that always attract the top one-design sailors. Lightning, Snipe, J/24, Melges 24, Etchells, 505 ... I've probably missed a lot but you get the idea.

Now compare your mental list with this list...

2.4 mR
Force 5
Inland 20
Rhodes 19
Laser 4.7

Now, there are some well-respected classes on this list to be sure. But does anyone really believe that the national champions in these classes are, collectively, the cream of the cream of American sailors?

Some of the classes are junior classes. I can see an argument for letting some kids enter the "Championship of Champions" Regatta but I can see a much better argument for reserving the twenty places available for the national champions, whatever their age, of the most respected "adult" sailboat classes.

The regatta is being sailed in Sunfish, and the competitors list also includes the Junior, Women's and Masters champions in the Sunfish class. Hmmm. If you were going to include some extra Sunfish sailors then surely it would make more sense to give places to the guys who were 2nd, 3rd and 4th in the Sunfish North Americans rather than the sailors who were actually 8th, 11th and 16th.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm sure all the sailors at the Championship of Champions Regatta are damn fine sailors, and certainly much better than me. No, wait. I take that back. There is one person on that list whom I have sailed against and who isn't that much better than me. OK, most of them are probably much better than me. So I'm not knocking the sailors. Really.

But what's going on? Where are all the champions from the "hot" classes? Don't they care about the additional distinction of being the US Sailing Champion of Champions? Previous winners include such names as John Kolius, John Kostecki, Hobie Alter, Ed Adams, Dave Ullman and Paul Foerster. You would think it would be quite an honor to have your name inscribed on the same trophy as those guys.

So where are the champions of the classes I would have expected to be represented? Did they not apply? Or did US Sailing not select them?

Can someone please explain this to me?

Update Sep 27: Congratulations to Doug Kaukeinen for winning the 2008 US Sailing Championship of Champions. Doug qualified for this event by winning this year's 2008 Sunfish North Americans.

The first 4 places in the C of C regatta were taken by the national champions of these classes...

1. Sunfish
2. Thistle
3. Sonar
4. Sunfish International Masters (incidentally also the Laser North American Champion in 1971, 1972 and 1973).

The last 4 places were the national champions of these classes...

Y Flyer


David said...

Um yeah, that is a curious list. Wonder how they came up with it. I have to say, though, that I'm simply thrilled to see my other boat, the Mariner, made it (even though I've never raced her.)

Derek said...

Based on the applicants and invitees list, there are several top sailors that applied and were not invited. For example Jeff Linton, the 2007 US Sailing Yachhtsman of the Year, won the Lighting World Championship. He is also a multiple winner of the Sunfish North American title. I find it shocking that he was not invited (according to the invitee list). A similar thing can be said for Augie Diaz, his resume clearly speaks for itself. The same could be said for several other sailors in the applicants list.

That being said, we will never know. The Selection Process is "strictly confidential". However, there are several statements in the selection process and NOR that might help us understand.

The applicant must be a 2007 or 2008 one design class National, North American, or World Champion helmsperson. In the case of a deep class, like the Laser or Laser Radial, the large majority of the class is eliminated based on that criteria, regardless of how good or qualified they are.

The 2007 and 2008 the Standard Laser National Champion, and 2008 North American Champion were from Canada, the 2007 Laser North American Champion was from the Virgin Islands. It is likely that 3 out of 4 of these sailors are not US Sailing members and therefore ineligible for the regatta. The 2007 North American Champion is debatable. However, Thomas Barrows just finished the Olympics, is in college and competes for his team. So, it is unlikely that he could have participated even if he wanted to. This means there were probably no eligible sailors from the Laser Standard Class.

The "Sailor Athlete Level" is one of the criteria. Sadly, there is no explanation of how it is used. However, I suspect that at a minimum, Group III sailors are ineligible for the regatta. This eliminates many of the sailors in the Olympic Classes.

Tillerman said...

As well as Linton and Diaz, I see that Allan Terhune (who has won national championships in more than one class and won the CofC before) is also on the list of applicants but not on the invitees list.


jbushkey said...

It's all about the razzle dazzle. PR and marketing replaced substance in this country long ago. Even though they have 20 good sailors they want to make it sound like they have the creme de la creme.

Anonymous said...

Tomas Hornos (2007 Snipe World Champion) would have been a good choice too.

But then, who am I...
just Anonymous

Joe said...

Even I have to admit that that is a strange list. I love my Force 5 but I doubt that it is a boat that attracts the top racers.

Carol Anne said...

Once upon a time in the world of auto racing, somebody got the great idea to produce the International Race of Champions, which would take the best drivers from all of the different types of auto racing (IRL, CART, F1, and NASCAR), put them all into identical cars, and see who was really the best race car driver in the world.

The problem is that IROC happened in stock cars, giving the NASCAR drivers an advantage but not giving drivers in the other three classes (all open-wheel) a fair chance. So really, all that IROC accomplished was proving that NASCAR drivers were the best in the world at driving stock cars (well, duh), not that NASCAR drivers were the best in the world at driving. Still, a lot of people have bought into that myth.

It sounds like this particular deal works the same way. You run a championship in Sunfish, and the Sunfish sailors have a huge advantage over those competitors who usually sail something else.

It seems utterly ridiculous that such hugely popular boats as J/24s were ignored for this championship. J/24s constitute the largest one-design fixed-keel boat fleet in the world. And the Etchells, while not as numerous as the J/24, is sailed by a huge number of the top sailors in the nation; it's the boat of choice for America's Cup skippers when they're sailing something other than the America's Cup.

If you're REALLY going to determine the top sailor in the nation, you're going to have to have J/24 and Etchells sailors (and sailors from many other popular classes) entering the competition.

All that this year's championship determined was who's best at sailing a Sunfish. And actually, it didn't even definitively prove that -- there might be some J/24 or Etchells skipper out there who just happens to be good at sailing a Sunfish as well.

Pat said...

What the heck is a Narrasketuck?

Pat said...

One of the criteria was

"Comparability to C of C host boat"

So, it seems that US Sailing didn't even want keelboat sailors to be in the C of C. It wasn't really a competition to choose the best sailor, but rather to choose the best sailor of a "Sun fish-like boat".

But, that still doesn't explain why a lot of the strong, popular, competitive dinghy classes were passed over in favor of much more obscure ones.

Tillerman said...

A Narrasketuck is a 20 ft. 4 in. planing centerboard dinghy that claims to be the "largest active one design fleet on the Great South Bay". Great South Bay is where the regatta was sailed.

No idea if "familiarity with local conditions" was also one of the selection criteria.

Not sure if there was discrimination against keelboat sailors, Pat. I see that the Sonar champion made the cut and actually did very well in the regatta.

Pat said...

Who knows, maybe US Sailing didn't realize they'd let a keelboat sailor sneak into their party. And, one sailor from a moderately small class (compared, for example, to the j/24), is a bit limited. Or, to put it another way, how many great sailors were exlcudeD?

Tillerman said...

How many great sailors didn't even apply?

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