When Annapolitan Diane Burton placed fifth a couple of weeks ago in the U.S. Olympic Pre-Trials for Europe Dinghy sailors, she won more than a trophy for that particular regatta.
She also joined one of the most elite groups of sailors in America, because she earned a spoton the 1991 U.S. Sailing Team and moved one step closer to a chance to represent the U.S. at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.
Burton, a long-time Laser sailor, is competing in the newest Olympic class of sailing -- the Europe Dinghy -- which was added to the roster of Olympic yachting classes following the 1988 games. The Europe provides a single-handed class for women, comparable to the Finn class, and joins the Solings, Stars, Finns, 470s, Flying Dutchmen, Tornado catamarans and sailboards in Olympic competition.
Burton, witha number of local and regional Laser trophies in hand, began sailingEuropes after she took third in the U.S. Yacht Racing Union's Women's Single-Handed Championships a couple of years ago, held at her homeclub, Severn Sailing Association.
The top performers in that regatta were introduced to the Europe Dinghy by the U.S. Sailing Team. The Europe was an established and familiar class overseas, but relatively unknown here.
At 36, Burton is one of the oldest women in serious contention for a slot to Barcelona next year in Europes, but says the age difference doesn't affect her race performance.
The real difference is off the water, where Burton has her hands full balancinga successful and established career as a naval architect with a hectic and intense schedule of sailing, training and fund-raising.
"I feel like I'm the only one who still has a career outside of sailing," she said. "A lot of the others are girls out of college who haven'tgotten their careers going, or haven't even gone to work yet."
Although Burton recently switched to a part-time job to be able to devote more time to sailing, she must still balance those responsibilities with the challenges of an all-out Olympic campaign.
"I had kind of a hard time early this year," she said. "I spent the month of January in Florida, trying to train. And when I came back I was totally flustered by the amount of work I had to do in only a month, while I was also trying to get organized for the rest of the year's sailing."
During February, Burton had to make up work from January, stabilize things at her job for the months ahead and finish planning her training and sailing season. She also had to get ready for three major regattas in California leading up to the Pre-Trials.
"I didn't do very well in the first two regattas," she said. "I was pretty much preoccupied with getting everything all arranged and working out the details. Finally I told myself, 'OK, pull out of this, shake it off, justconcentrate on sailing,' and it seemed to work."
Ironically, the pre-trials at the Balboa Yacht Club in southern California was a light-air regatta in which Burton was at something of a disadvantage despite her years of experience here on the bay.
"I'm one of the heaviest in the class so I was worried," she explained. "But I told myselfto just stop worrying about these guys being so much lighter than meand sail my best."
Unlike the longer, heavier Lasers, in which Burton has nearly 20 years experience, Europes don't favor the heaviest, strongest sailors.
"I think it's a great boat," Burton said of the Europe. "I think they did a great job choosing it. It allows the lighter girls to have a chance against the bigger women in the class."
Weighing 98 pounds -- about 75 percent of a 130-pound Laser -- the 11-foot Europe has the same sail area as a Laser. Its system of controls is more sophisticated than a Laser's, and includes a traveler for added ease in mainsail adjustment.
"On a Laser the mast is higher, and the boom, which is a little shorter, is higher off the boat,"Burton explained. "On the Europe Dinghy, the boom is a deck-sweeper.The control lines are easier to adjust, because they are all led back to the skipper. The boat's very responsive, it responds a lot faster than a Laser. It's also a lot tippier than a Laser. When I get on aLaser now, I feel like I'm on a sidewalk."
Burton said some of the biggest differences show up off the wind.
"You do a lot more with wave action downwind," she explained. "The boat requires a lot morebody movement, sort of like surfing. You have to keep moving in the boat to keep it planing, because it stops a lot more easily than a Laser."
But if actual sailing technique varies, both boats are extremely athletic to sail, so Burton's daily routine includes working out, running, extended walking and sailing. She pays attention to the mental and psychological aspects of competition, and believes that her extra experience and maturity can give her an important edge.