Stepping lively, 3 break new ground on Olympic water

Cronin, Filter, Haberland raise anchor in Yngling class

Athens Olympics

August 07, 2004|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

Olympic teammates share many things in the course of training: workload, strategy and private pep talks to name a few.

Sailors Carol Cronin, Liz Filter and Nancy Haberland share those things and one more -- body weight. Four hundred fifty-one pounds, to be exact.

That's all their nimble 21-foot Yngling sailboat will be allowed to carry in competition beginning next Saturday.

"Divide it up any way you want," said Filter, laughing. "Just don't go over."

There can be no secrets of the scales, no little white lies because adding blubber makes for landlubbers. Judges will disqualify any overweight team from that day's races.

Partly to make weight, but mostly to pay bills, the women turned to Atkins Nutritionals Inc., which agreed to finance their two-year campaign for $244,000 and give them a Web site.

"That was a godsend," said Filter, an Atkins dieter since 1998. "We had already tapped out our own accounts and had hit up all our friends and relatives."

This is the inaugural Olympic voyage for the Yngling class sloops. In December 2000, Olympics officials cleared the decks for the women-only event by eliminating the Soling class, a men's sailing event that had been part of the Olympics since 1972.

Two months after the announcement, Cronin, the Maryland-born skipper who lives in Jamestown, R.I., decided to compete and ordered a boat. She immediately turned to Filter, an All-American at Tulane University, to help fill the crew, and then asked Haberland.

Filter, 39, who lives in Stevensville and calls sailing "a family sickness," jumped at the chance to be part of the campaign.

But Haberland turned Cronin down.

"I tried to make the 1992 Olympics and put in two years full time. At that time, all I owned would fit in my car and boat. It was a lot easier. This time, I had a job and a mortgage and bills," said Haberland, a sailing instructor at the Naval Academy.

Cronin, 40, recruited another sailor, Bridget Hallawell, but it became obvious that something wasn't clicking. The U.S. Olympic trials were gaining on them and the crew wasn't improving fast enough.

By October 2003, Hallawell left to sail with her husband and Cronin again approached Haberland, who has won more than 20 national and world championships as skipper or crew. This time, Haberland took a leave of absence from her job.

"You keep asking until you get the answer you want," Cronin said, smiling.

The switch paid off on two levels. The crew improved by leaps and bounds but it did so beneath the radar of other U.S. crews and sailing observers.

Instead of having one coach, Cronin hired specialists to polish their rough edges. They chose sails that almost no one else uses. And Filter got Atkins to sponsor them.

"I went looking for things I used around my house. I had used Atkins in 1998 and found it worked," she said.

Atkins liked the idea and wrote the check.

The women entered the Olympic trials in Florida as decided underdogs behind the better-known entries led by Betsy Alison and Sally Barkow.

But something seemed right as the competition got under way. And even when they were in third place, they felt lucky.

"I remember turning to Liz and saying, `We're going to win this, aren't we?' And she said, `Yeah,' " Haberland said.

Added Cronin, "I had a real inner feeling that we were going to win. I felt prepared."

And they did, convincingly, peaking at just the right moment.

Cronin hopes to peak one more time this month. They will board their boat, Spidey, with a "blue widow" spider graphic on the transom, to race 11 times over seven days against the rest of the 16-boat fleet.

Last year at this time, Cronin's team was ranked 11th in the world. Now it is No. 5.

In May, Team Atkins pushed its way through a crowded field of 37 boats to win the bronze medal in the Yngling Women's World Championship Regatta in Santander, Spain.

Cronin is at the tiller and trims the main sail. Amidships, Filter trims the spinnaker on the downwind leg, and handles speed controls. Up in the bow, Haberland calls tactics and trims the jib.

There is a ballet aboard the boat during a race. Filter and Haberland strap into harnesses and step into ankle hobbles that allow them to hang over the side with their heads just above the waves. To cross from one side to the other during a tacking maneuver, the two must step, pivot and step almost as one.

"I get wet first, Liz gets it next and Carol stays dry," cracked Haberland.

It is an exhausting job that doesn't come with a lunch break. The women will eat aboard their boat between the two daily scheduled races.

For the record, to keep up that weight on an even keel, Cronin will need a daily intake of 108 grams of carbohydrates, Filter will need 78 grams and Haberland, who will turn 44 during the Athens Games, will require 116 grams.

When competition ends on Aug. 21, Cronin and Haberland will take short vacations before returning to their careers. Filter will stay on to the closing ceremony on Aug. 29 with her husband, Henry, to celebrate the end of a long commitment.

Henry Filter understands, having once mounted an Olympic campaign in Laser class and participated in the Pan American Games in the Snipe class.

He has been caring for their two children, Christian, 6, and Megan, 4. But it has been hard on his wife, who has missed several of their birthdays.

Still, Liz Filter said she wouldn't have missed this Mediterranean cruise for the world.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing," Filter said. "The kids now know that not only can Daddy do it, but Mommy can, too."

ATHENS OLYMPICS

6 DAYS TO GO

AUG. 13-29

Tim Duncan scores 16 as the U.S. men's basketball team rebounds from poor showings against Italy and Germany with an impressive exhibition victory over defending world champion Serbia-Montenegro, 78-60. Page 8C

Games at a glance

When: Friday-Aug. 29

Where: Athens, Greece

Sports: 28

Countries: 202

Athletes: 10,500

Events: 296

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