Sunday, October 7, 2007

Playing armchair quaterback

Its autumn - for some the sailing season has ended- but for other- its the final step in a 4-8 year campaign to represent the US at the 2008 Summer Olympics. For me its a chance to play armchair quarterback from Europe as I watch the US Olympic Trails unfold in southern California.
Despite my love hate relationship with the olympic board and sailing every trials since '96- most of you know I decided to sit the Olympic trials out and pursue other outlets this time around.

Nonetheless it looks like its going to be a real fight at the US Olympic trials with Gebi, Ben Barger and Bob Willis in the mens fleet and Farrah Hall and Nancy Rios in the women's fleet.

With only 7 men and 6 women competing, the question that begs to be asked is: What are we doing wrong as a country to not have generated more interest and success in the Olympic windsurfing class- your comments are welcome and appreciated!

The actioned started before the first starting signal even went off with Ben and Gebi protesting each other's boards at measurement. Gebi's 1st board filed to comply with the rocker line measurement the class specifies.

You'd think you wouldn't have to worry about something like that with one manufacture producing identical boards form the same mold- but then again they're not dealing with the precision of Zajicek's hands. We're talking Cobra and NP quality here!
Gebi was down to his 2nd choice hull and 2 protest and appeals later- Ben got to use his 1st choice hull.

Meanwhile once the first race started- Bob Willis- took the first bullet with Gebi in 2nd and Ben retiring (I know that strategy well enough to say - good luck making no other mistakes the rest of the regatta.) In the womens fleet- underdog Lisa Kramer took the first bullet with favorites Nancy Rois and Farrah Hall finishing 2-4.

Side note- the 2004 trials started the same way with underdog Phil Mueller taking the first bullet of the series with Barger and Wells cat fighting in the corner of the course.

By the 2nd race- the wind was up to the low teens and the favorites set the pace with Bager and Hall taking bullets in race 2.
With not much room for any mistakes- the favorites now have their work set out for them the rest of the regattas. It should be interesting to see how it unfolds over the next week of racing.
For results- cheek here
US Sailing Olympic Trials web site with photos.
Ill try to add some additional reports as the trials continue and even get some insight from the leaders.
Day 2 report- As I sit here a world away from the Olympic trials I have plenty of opportunities to ponder the the RSX as the Olympic board. While it may not be the fastest or do anything the best- it does do it all in most conditions. You cant say that about many boards at all. And while windsurfing in sub-planning conditions may not be my cup of tea- it does represent a lot of windsurfing conditions around the world. So to say its not representative of the sport isnt exactly fair as much as saying wave sailing or freestyle represents the sport.
And if you were going to have windsurfing in the Olympics- you would want it to be a real physical test of athletic ability and endurance- and tactics- just what the RSX is proving to be Too bad you need to fit in a 10lb window to be competitive.

Well the racing continued on day 2 with the lead going back and forth in marginal to light wind racing. According to Farrah the race " had about 4 knots of wind with a current running 90 degrees to the wind direction." Like anything in life- you've got to take the good with the bad.
Farrah looks like shes got better boat speed than most of the girls (according to her blog)but is still making some mistakes to take herself out of the game. If she can keep it together- it looks like it is hers to win or lose. The real gains it looks are coming off the breeze where she is out muscling most of the girls through better pumping.
Lisa Kramer seems to be the big surprise of the event- still leading on Day 2 despite making some moves that make you wonder.
"While she was holding onto the stern of the committee boat her sailboard kept banging against the swim step, putting five holes in her hull."- from the Rich Roberts of the Press Telegram.

Meanwhile in the men's fleet Gebi and Ben split it up with each of them taking a 1-2. Bob Willis stumbled some with a 5-3 today but still sits in 2nd. Bob could be the real wildcard in the series if he manages to get some points in between Ben and Gebi- exactly what Ben needs with a RAF on Day 1.
If reading anything on the news site at US Sailing micro site its that challenging conditions bring the best athletes to the top. It seems the whole SoCal coast is plagued with shifty, holy conditions on the first 2 days of the trials. Ahh the fun!

Day 3 and 4
report - the news is a bit slow leaking out from SoCal but it looks like Gebi and Ben are still duking it out to make it a real race. With 7 races under their belts- Ben finally got his throw out and moved into 1st- tied with Gebi on points In the breeze on Tuesday Bob Willis finally found his rhythm with a solid 1-2 finish. Ben had to settle for a 3-2 with Gebi posting a 1-3.
Meanwhile in the womens fleet, Farrah got back into the game with some consistent results on Tuesday posting 2 bullets. That puts her in 1st while Kramer and Rios are tight for 2nd and 3rd.

The conditions coming out of Long Beach have been varying- to say the least: several days of light pumpathons to Tuesday's 20k+ breeze. Apparently the trash and weeds have been playing a big part as well with everyone forced to clear the foils several times a race and thus affecting the lead.
Side note: Gebi's silver place in the 1992 Olympic was only due to his catching a plastic bag on the last race of the series.
More about the environmental impact of plastic bags here.

Final Day report: sometimes you can only do as much as you can and still thats not enough. It was a a really tough day for Farrah Im sure with emotions up and down. On the last day of the trials she won both races and finished 1 point in front of Nancy in the overall score. But things beyond her control were about to take place. Nancy who got in a collision with another competitor tore her sail in the last race and applied for redress. Ultimately the jury decided that she probably would have finished 2nd if it were not for the collision and Nancy got a 2nd instead of a 4th- giving her a 1 point advantage of Farrah at the end of the regatta. An unbelievable turn of events of both girls Im sure thinking that thry've won then lost.
In the mens fleet it was Ben who decided his own fate by taking the 2 final bullets on the last day to seal the deal. It almost didnt happed for Ben as on Friday Ben and Bob got into a collision and rendering Bens board almost useless. Eric Rathenbuller who had been finishing at the end of the fleet fo the whole regatta gave Ben the use of his board for the remaining 2 days. Now that is sportsmanship! Good on you Eric. and Congratulations to Ben Barger and Nancy Rios who will representing the US at the 2008 Olympic Games.

* After having discussed the Rios VS Hall case with a few other people and reading the post on other forums- windsuringmag & sailing anarchy it looks, in my opinion, that the jury made a significant error when deciding to give Nancy redress. Heres why I think so:
A similar case happened at the RSX worlds last year and the jury denied redress to the competitor with a ripped sail!
The decision to give Rios redress due to her ripped sail is somewhat noteworthy. The impact of a 8 inch hole can be analytically calculated easily.
If you know the total sail area, one can compute the amount of pressure lost by the 8 inch hole by subtracting the hole from the total area of the sail.

Once the new total area is computed, that can be compared to the original area to compute the degradation in performance due to the hole.
This is a simple calculation since the sail is the 'engine' of a windsurfer and one can focus solely on it and get an accurate estimate of the impact on speed.

For a rip with similar area to 8 inches by 1 inch, the net loss in area is 0.06%. If a windsurfer can go upwind at 15 mph, this net loss in area could result in a net reduction of speed to

(Please keep in mind that this is an OVERESTIMATE on the significance since the structure of the RS:X sail is composed of 8 separate panels divided by 7 rigid full length battens.

A hole in one panel would have virtually NO effect on the other 7 panels. Thus it's more accurate to compute the net loss in pressure as 1/8th of 0.06%.
Suffice to say that 0.06% is NOT SIGNIFICANT thus the actual impact being less is evenLESS SIGNIFICANT.)

The fact that Rios planned away from the incident proves it was probably not significant. As most windsurfers know- once planning- a smaller sail is more efficient.

This is where having a knowledgeable- windsurfing jury may have helped.

The US Sailing jury was probably more familiar with the RRS for sailboats and not aware of dynamic differences between sailboats and planning windsurfers.

Yes Hall did make a bad decision by not making herself available and knowledgeable of the redress earlier and not applying for redress herself but the fact still remains- the jury at the trials went against a previous decision made at the Worlds in a similar case and also over-judged the significance of a tear in Rios's sail.

Regardless of the situation- Dennis Parris had some good words of advice on her blog:
One of many challenges of competition is knowing how to win and how to lose. As stated in the Olympic creed, it is not only triumph that defines your life, but how you choose to handle disappointments and failure. The real challenge in life is to handle both success and failure with grace and to respect each as part of the journey

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