At the annual meeting of the U.S. Yacht Racing Union in Newport, R.I., on Sunday, Annapolitan Scott Steele received the W. Van Alan ClarkJr. Trophy, USYRU's national sportsmanship award, one of its most prestigious distinctions.
The trophy is presented annually to the American sailor who best exemplifies the ideals and traditions of good sportsmanship. It was inaugurated in 1986 to encourage sportsmanship at every level of the sport.
Steele, a well-known champion boardsailor who won a silver medal at the 1984 Olympics in boardsailing's first year as an Olympic event, is a native Annapolitan. He recently returned to the area after living in Florida for several years. He currently is associated with Mistral Inc., a top sailboard manufacturer, and is at work on another Olympic campaign after several years of coaching for the U.S. Sailing Team.
Steele received the Clark Trophy for his exemplary behavior at last year's Goodwill Games in Seattle, where his willingness to help a fellow competitor cost him the gold medal in the event.
Polishsailor Grzegorz Myszkowski was disqualified in the fifth race of that seven-race series when judges did not see him make a required 360-degree penalty turn after a premature start.
Steele, who was leading the series after Myszkowski's disqualification, saw his rival make the turn and testified to that fact at a subsequent protest hearing. Based on Steele's testimony, the judges overturned their initial decision and reinstated Myszkowski's finish, which dropped Steele to third overall at that point in the series.
Although Steele went on to win the sixth race in the series and regain the overall lead, an unfortunate tangle with seaweed in the seventh and final race brought hima fourth-place finish in that contest and left him in second overallat the regatta's end.
Had he not testified on behalf of Myszkowski's reinstatement,Steele's position in the fleet would have been unbeatable after the sixth race, regardless of the outcome of the seventh, and he would have won the regatta.
"His actions reflect the honor and sense of fairness that represent true sportsmanship," said Olympic Yachting Committee chairman Mike Schoettle. "In his commitment toexcel as an athlete, Scott Steele has not forgotten personal integrity nor generous spirit. He exemplifies what is best in athletics and sportsmanship."
Steele said that receiving the award was quite an honor, but he downplayed the exemplary nature of his action, explaining that testifying in defense of his rival was no more or less than any sailor should or would do in the same circumstances.
"It was the right thing to do," he said. "If the positions were reversed, I sure would hope he'd help me out. That's the way sailing should be."
At the high-stakes and sometimes cut-throat level of competition in which Steele and other international champions participate, there often seems to be an excessive negative focus on rules being stretched tothe limit -- or even until they break -- and on adjudication of results and decisions in protest rooms or courtrooms. None of that is healthy for the sport of sailing or its public image.
So although impeccable sportsmanship is a natural and integral part of Steele's competitive makeup, his actions and their recognition by USYRU, American sailing's national governing authority,are nevertheless refreshing and noteworthy.
At 33, Steele is facing slightly different challenges from his competition today than he did in 1984, saying there is "noquestion I'm the oldest (Olympic hopeful boardsailor) by more than five years, but I think you can continue to do this for a fairly long time, even though it is a pretty athletic thing to do, and age doesn't seem to affect it that much."
Contributions to Steele's Olympic campaign can be made by sending donations to the Scott Steele OlympicCampaign, c/o USYRU, Box 209, Newport, R.I. 02840.
Sobstad Sailmakers Chesapeake will present a free three-hour "Get Set for Spring" sailing seminar starting at 9 a.m. Saturday, April 6, at the loftat 651 Bay Ridge Road in Annapolis.
World-class sailor and America's Cup veteran Larry Leonard Jr. and Jahn Tihansky of Sobstad will share new ideas on various sail trim techniques and some of the other ideas they have learned from sailing on a broad variety of boats in local, national and international competition.
Following the workshop, the newest America3 Foundation America's Cup Class video will be shown and refreshments will be served.
Sobstad Chesapeake has beenchosen to be part of the America3 campaign for both sails and personnel, and already has delivered three sails to the syndicate for testing toward future refinement. The loft's resident big-boat expert, PerAndersson, has been selected as a member of the crew.
For more information or reservations, call Tihansky at 268-1161.
Nancy Noyes is a member of the Chesapeake Bay Yacht Racing Association and has been racing on the bay for about five years. Her Sailing column appearsevery Wednesday and Sunday in The Anne Arundel County Sun.