US Olympic Trials – San Diego

Obviously, a great deal has been written about the battles at the top of each class during the US Olympic Trials last week.

I had the pleasure of driving the coach boat for my son Danny and his crew Pike Harris at the 49er trials one day last week. The boys are 18 and 17 years old and were not in the running for the slot to China. But they achieved success by exposing themselves to the best, learning a lot and enjoying sailing such an exhilarating boat for ten days.

Theirs was the four hour Olympic program, not four years! Danny’s regular crew could not make the trials for school reasons. So I thought that was the end of it. No. Danny was determined to race and he called Pike Harris. Pike is a senior in High School in San Diego and was keen. The boys know each other from sailing 29ers against each other over the past couple of years.

So Danny and Pike set out on a learning experience; a “quick start” to launch their future participation in the class, but with expectations well in check. Through the week they learned heaps from friends like Morgan Larson and Pete Spaulding, and Zach Maxam, all of whom have coached Danny over the years at various clinics like CISA. The US 49er Olympic Team coach, Luther Carpenter, was also very generous to give Danny and Pike some pointers throughout the week.

After measuring in on Thursday, the boys headed out for their first sail together on Friday. Saturday, October 6th was the first race of the Olympic trials, it was also Danny’s first race in a 49er. I would say that he has sailed a 49er less than ten times before and I believe Pike never had!

On that first Saturday, with the wind peaking at 20 knots (a hurricane for San Diego) they finished 9th in all three races, out of 13 competitors. Not bad for the first day! The top three teams are world class; Tim Wadlow/Chris Rast; Dalton Bergan/Zach Maxam and Morgan Larson/Pete Spaulding. John Heineken (20 years old) and his crew Matt Noble are nipping at the heels of the big boys and have been in the class for about a year, including the Worlds in Cascais last summer. Johnny and Matt also graduated from the 29er class.

Through the week they went through all the frustrations and exhilarations one experiences while learning. They pouched some starts. They didn’t shift gears when the wind dropped at the end of the day. They tried different rig settings, starting techniques, vang tensions…always watching the top teams and learning. There were ups and downs, but the boys finished the 24 race series with a 2,5,4, finishing 9th overall. In the race in which they finished second, they rounded the last windward mark first! What a thrill that must have been!

The amount they absorbed from this 24 race “clinic” was easy to see in their performance.

I spoke to Danny last night, as he was driving back to Cal Poly San Luis and I was boarding a flight to Valencia. He is a very understated guy (unlike his father), but it was clear to me that those ten days in San Diego did more for his self confidence, self esteem and general enthusiasm and passion for life, than any ten days in his life so far.

What is great about Danny is that he truly loves sailing. For sure he is competitive and wants to win, and someday he will, but he is enjoying the ride in getting there. To say that I am a proud father is an understatement.

I also want to congratulate all the trials winners, but especially John Dane and Austin Sperry who won the thriller Star series in Marina Del Rey.

All the best to Team USA in China!

Paul Cayard