Meltemi winds disrupt sailing races again

Out of element, Md. competitors fall further out of medal contention

Athens Olympics

August 17, 2004|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,Special to

ATHENS -- It was quiet today at the Olympic Sailing Center. Too quiet.

With weather postponing all but two of the races, there were just 41 boats on the water rather than the full complement of 133.

The Meltemi -- shifting, gusting winds of 10 knots to 25 knots -- set up shop in the Saronic Gulf for a second day, turning sailboats into knuckleballs floating here and there. The only sound along the waterfront was of flags snapping in the wind and waves slapping idle hulls.

Race officials only used the course closest to shore that has been designated for the Finn and Yngling classes. Races in the Europe, Laser, 49er and 470 classes were tentatively pushed back to tomorrow.

Meanwhile, two members of the Danish sailing team were involved in a fatal accident Sunday night, when their car struck a tour guide from Jamaica as he crossed a busy six-lane street near the sailing venue.

Niklas Holm and Claus Olesen, who sail in the Star class, were questioned and released. Holm, who spent the night in a police station, was released by a court after being charged with manslaughter and speeding.

The two sailors are scheduled to begin competition on Saturday, but a team spokesman said he did not know if they would.

Maryland sailors fell further from medal contention as they fought unfamiliar conditions.

The wind and waves hurt the U.S. Yngling team right at the start of the first race, when skipper Carol Cronin was forced to decide whether to foul one competitor or T-bone another.

"The wind shifted, and we got squeezed out with nowhere to go. I chose fouling," said Cronin, a Maryland native. "We had to tack back and do a 720 [-degree penalty turn]."

After clearing the line, she was a minute behind and reached the first mark in last place. Attempts to move up by Cronin and Liz Filter (Stevensville) and Nancy Haberland (Annapolis), were unsuccessful. The highest position they could muster was 15th.

They finished the race ahead of last-place Paula Lewin of Bermuda but 4 minutes, 48 seconds behind race winner Kristin Wagner of Germany.

Although weary from the constant battering, Cronin's crew regrouped in the second race and finished 10th, but they slipped two positions in the corrected standings to tie for 11th overall.

"This is the most breeze we've sailed in, ever, so it's a learning process," Cronin said. "Conditions should improve later in the week, lighter air and flatter water. We're going to be better."

Shirley Robertson of Great Britain, a three-time Olympian and Sydney gold medalist, maintained a comfortable double-digit overall lead on second-place Dorte Jensen of Denmark, this year's top-ranked skipper.

In the first Finn race, Christensen Hoegh of Denmark started strong and led the entire race, finishing 41 seconds ahead of Spain's Rafael Trujillo. Despite capsizing once, Guillaume Florent of France finished third.

Kevin Hall of Bowie struggled early in the race and was near the back of the 25-boat fleet. He fought his way to the middle of the pack and finished 16th, 4:46 behind the winner.

Hall never got untracked in the second race and finished 14th. He is in 14th place overall with five races to go.

Ben Ainslie of Great Britain and Trujillo are separated by a point at the top of the standings. The third-place sailor, Poland's Mateusz Kusznierewicz, is eight points back.

Tomorrow is the first of two rest days for the Finn and Ygnling teams. Racing resumes Thursday, with the second rest day on Friday.

Originally published August 16, 2004, 3:25 PM EDT

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