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Roble and Shea find redemption with 49erFX Medal Race win at World Cup Series Miami

by Stuart Streuli, World Sailing 28 Jan 05:55 GMT 21-28 January 2018
2018 World Cup Series Miami, USA © Jesus Renedo /Sailing Energy / World Sailing

Mathematically eliminated from medal contention before the start of the Medal Race, the American 49erFX squad of Stephanie Roble (East Troy, Wis.) and Maggie Shea (Wilmette, Ill.) went into their final race of the 2018 World Cup Series Miami, USA, looking for something less tangible, but no less important on the road to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

"This week has been full of highs and lows for us," said Roble. "The first few days of the lighter air, we had some up-and-down scores. As the breeze built, we had an unfortunate capsize in one of the races that caused the time limit to expire on us. I'm really looking forward to getting more consistent results as we move forward as a team. That being said, heading into the medal race today, we were really hungry for redemption and really wanted to have a solid race against this group of girls, so we were fired up and ready to roll today."

Roble and Shea showed impressive speed and boathandling in conditions that tested the fleet and caused more than one of their competitors to capsize. They rounded the first mark in seventh and then progressively moved up through the fleet and won the race.

"We had basically a lay day because we couldn't sail (on Friday due to too much wind), and that gave us some time to really reflect on what we struggled with on the breezy day before, diagnose the problems and focus on how we were going to change techniques and maneuvers," said Shea. "We focused on a couple of critical moments that led to a bad result earlier in the week, and we corrected some things that really helped us achieve a solid result today. Steph kept her head out of the boat and nailed some really critical laylines. I just put my head down and pulled really hard at times. But Steph was really comfortable with the boat going fast and, you know, she loves the boat-on-boat stuff."

The race win moved Roble and Shea from ninth in the overall standings to eighth. But the real reward is the momentum they'll carry into the rest of the season.

"From here on out, we're going to head to Europe for a bit," said Roble. "There's some big training camps going on in Portugal, so we'll head over there to gain some more experience on the starting line and just racing against other boats. We feel like our boat handling is pretty solid, and we want to continue making gains against the fleet. It will be a pretty Europe-heavy spring and summer leading up to (Hempel Sailing World Championships Aarhus 2018, in late July), and we're just looking to make as many gains we can for the big event."

Among the other Americans competing in the Medal Races, results-based highlights were rare. But, there was plenty of optimism on shore nonetheless. And Finn sailor Caleb Paine has put himself in a very strong position to finish either second or third in his first regatta back after the 2016 Rio Olympics. The Finn, Laser, Laser Radial and Men's and Women's 470 classes will sail their Medal Races tomorrow, starting at noon.

"We came into the day pretty happy with how we were doing so far, and we had nowhere to go but up," said Nacra 17 skipper Ravi Parent (Bradenton, Fla.), who finished ninth in today's Medal Race for the foiling catamaran class. "We had set our expectations of just having fun and sailing fast around the course, pushing ourselves as hard as we could, and we achieved that, plus some. We were really happy to be up there in the mix at the top mark with those top guys. We're looking forward to getting the next opportunity to really push it against them."

As the top American team in the regatta—and because they made the Medal Race—Parent and Persson were named to the US Sailing Team after today's sailing, putting a big smile on both of their faces.

"I'm humbled by the events of today," said Persson (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) "It's just been really great working with all the other teams, just getting to know everybody and sailing together and learning together and pushing one another. It's been a really great experience, so for me, that's really important."

Bora Gulari (Detroit, Mich.) and Helena Scutt (Kirkland, Wash.) capsized in the Nacra 17 Medal Race and did not finish. But their 10th place finish in their first regatta together is a good sign of what's to come for this duo, both of whom who participated in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Judge Ryan (San Diego, Calif.) and Alain Sign (GBR) were eighth in the 49er Medal Race and finished ninth in the overall standings. Sign was a one-time fill-in for Ryan's normal partner Hans Henken (Coronado, Calif.). For Ryan, the opportunity to sail with a Rio Olympian and continue to refine his skills while Henken recovered from injury was quite valuable.

"The 49er demands consistent sailing all the time," said Ryan. "A 49er sailor needs to get reps in, and it makes a big difference. After Hans needed time off for a medical issue, I was contemplating sitting out in Miami depending on which crew could come. My coach, Mark Asquith, set things up with Alain Sign, an Olympian and world-class crew. The opportunity to sail with a top-notch athlete from a different program was great, and brought value for the future. Hans is now 100-percent recovered, and after he finishes his masters degree in March, we will be fully back to campaigning toward Tokyo 2020. We'll be stronger than ever, and ready to crush racing this summer."

The only other American team to qualify for Sunday's Medal Races was the 470 team of Stu McNay (Providence, R.I.) and Graham Biehl (San Francisco, Calif.). As with Ryan, McNay had the choice of sailing with a replacement crew, while David Hughes (Miami, Fla.) recovers from a knee injury, or not sailing. The opportunity to reunite with Biehl, with whom McNay sailed in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, made it an easy decision. After a sixth and an eighth today, McNay and Biehl are eighth overall. They will sail in tomorrow's Medal Race, but are mathematically eliminated from podium contention.

Paige Railey's return to competition in the Laser Radial netted the two-time Olympian a 13th place. It's a solid start for Railey (Clearwater, Fla.) especially considering her lack of time in the boat over the past 18 months and the heavy-air sailing that dominated the second half of the regatta. Haddon Hughes (Houston, Texas) finished strongly for the United States, with four top-10 finishes in the final five races. She was 17th overall. Newly-crowned Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year Erika Reineke (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) was 32nd.

Charlie Buckingham (Newport Beach, Calif.) missed the Medal Race in the Laser class by just six points. He finished 12th, with Malcolm Lamphere (Lake Forest, Ill.) in 27th and Christopher Barnard (Newport Beach, Calif.) in 31st.

Atlantic and Nora Brugman (Miami, Fla.) were the top American team in the Women's 470 class, finishing 24th.

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