This is the moment of truth for our Olympic hopefuls: the 2015 RS:X World Championships are starting in a week (Oct 17-24) in Al Mussanah, Oman, and those championships are important not just because they’re, well, the Worlds (!), but also because they’re an opportunity for our athletes to earn a qualification spot for the USA in Rio next year!
The Olympic qualification process is a long and tortuous road. First, the country needs to earn the right to compete, and with only 36 spots available for men (2 less than in London in 2012) and 26 spots for women (unchanged), this is far from a done deal. Half of the available spots have already been allocated based on the results of the 2014 Worlds last year in Santander. The countries that, like us, missed out in Santander will get a chance to compete for 6 more spots in Oman next week (6 each for men and women), and the remainder will be allocated based on continental qualifiers around the world in the coming months. For us in the US, that continental qualifier will be at the Sailing World Cup in Miami in January (Jan 25-30, 2016), and only 1 spot will be available there for women and 2 for men.
So you might look at this first step as a team effort: it doesn’t matter who qualifies the country, what’s important is for someone to perform well enough in Oman and/or in Miami to earn one of those coveted spots. Then it’s on to step two: the individual qualification process. That part will pit our athletes against one another in a battle of wits, skills and stamina that will span two major events: the Sailing World Cup in Miami (Jan 25-30, 2016) and the Trofeo Princess Sofia in Palma (Mar 25 – Apr 2, 2016). Whoever ranks highest in a combined score across those two events will earn the right to represent the US in Rio.
There’s a lot to lament about the fact that only one athlete (one man and one woman) gets to represent his or her country at the Olympics in each of the sailing events. This leaves many deserving athletes on the sideline and creates a dog-eat-dog environment that doesn’t necessarily exist in other sports. But this is a debate for some other time. Right now, this means that in the US ranks (as in every other sailing federation around the world), the heat is on!
So who are the US contenders?
On the women’s side:
|FARRAH HALL (Annapolis, MD), 34 years old (click the picture to the left to access Farrah’s full profile). Farrah is a very experienced campaigner who has flown the US flag high and proud for many years on the international circuit. She won the bronze medal at the 2011 Pan-Am Games in Guadalajara, represented the USA at the London Games in 2012 and committed early to this quad. She ranked as high as 9th in the world in this quad, and comes to the Worlds in top form after finishing 1st woman at the 2015 Semaine Olympique Francaise in La Rochelle, an Eurosaf event.|
|MARION LEPERT (San Francisco, CA), 19 years old. Marion is doing her first Olympic campaign but she’s already made a name for herself on the international scene as a youngster: she finished 2nd at the 2011 Techno Worlds in her hometown, and 4th at the 2013 ISAF Youth Worlds in Cyprus. In the senior fleet, she’s ranked as high as 30th in the world and impressed everyone by leading after the first day at the 2015 Sailing World Cup in Miami. She also finished 21st at the 2015 RS:X Europeans (including a bullet on the last day) and won a bronze medal at the 2015 Pan-Am Games in Toronto.|
|KATHLEEN TOCKE (Miami, FL), 37 years old. Kathleen has been a major force in the Snipe Class, and finished on the podium at multiple world championships (Women’s and Open) and Pan American Games (silver in 2011 and bronze in 2015 with partner Augie Diaz) over the years. She brought her passion for sailing and extensive experience to the RS:X Class (she competed for the US spot at the London Games and reached 56th in the world in the current quad), as well as to the new 49erFX Class.|
On the men’s side:
|CARSON CRAIN (Houston, TX), 21 years old. Carson started out as a Laser sailor but switched to the RS:X in this quad and hasn’t looked back. He’s ranked as high as 51st in the world, finished 4th at the 2014 North Americans in Cancun and represented the US at the 2015 Pan-Am Games in Toronto. He’s quickly gaining experience on the international circuit and is leading the charge for the men on the US team.|
|RAUL ‘COQUI’ LOPEZ (Miami, FL), 19 years old. Miami has a group of talented youngsters who have made their mark in the Techno ranks and in the youth RS:X fleet in recent years, and Coqui is the first of those young rippers to mix it up with the seniors. He finished 18th at the Youth World Championships in Clearwater last year and was 3rd at the senior North Americans in Cork this year. He’s climbed as high as 65th in the world.|
|PEDRO PASCUAL (Boca Raton, FL), 19 years old. Pedro has lived around the world and learned to sail the RS:X in the south of Spain, among some of the best sailors in the Class. He was 9th at the ISAF Youth Worlds in 2014, moved to the senior RS:X fleet, ranked as high as 85th in the world and made the gold fleet at the Europeans this year in Sicily. He also won the RS:One Europeans in France this summer.|
|BEN BARGER (St Petersburg, FL), 34 years old. Ben is a veteran Olympian (he represented the US in Beijing in 2008), and after missing out on the 2012 spot, he put his windsurfing life on hold for a while – long enough to recharge his batteries fully and make a run for it again this time around! Ben has the experience (he started to compete at the Miami OCR back when he was a teenager, and reached a high rank of 20th in the world in the previous quad), and is committed to making an impact in the sport off the water as well (for a while he was Chairman of the Athletes Commission at ISAF).|
|BILLY MASON (Panama City, FL), 53 years old. Billy is a longtime windsurfer, and the Kona Class has renewed his love for racing in recent years. He finished 21st at the 2014 Kona Worlds in Islamorada and 3rd at the 2015 Calema midwinters. Seeing the kids have so much fun on their RS:X kits, Billy jumped at the opportunity to take part and is working hard to catch up. The 2015 North Americans in Cork were his first event in the class. Billy is proof positive that there’s no age limit to aiming high!|
There’s always a chance that there will be last-minute additions to the field of contenders, but the above athletes are already a great mix of experience and young blood, and a much more diverse field than we’ve had in a long while in the US for an Olympic qualification. The nature of the beast makes it hard to build a solid pipeline for up-and-coming talent (a problem that’s not unique to the United States), but the current picture is extremely encouraging not just for this quad but for Tokyo in 2020 and beyond.
First things first though: Oman! Follow our athletes’ progress!