The Pan Am Games didn't end exactly the way the author wanted, but it was still an incredible experience
Leandro Spina/US SAILING
Teams from the United States and Brazil battled in the final race for the gold medal in the J/24 class at the 2011 Pan Am Games. Brazil was able to sneak away on a foul and pass one boat to secure the gold.
I mentioned in my last post that the points were shaping up such that we could see some interesting scenarios, and that was certainly the case. On Thursday, we went after Brazil in the prestart in race 8. Since we had a better drop race than them, we could extend our lead if we forced them into another bad race. We had a great start to windward of them and were able to pin them out to the un-favored side. At one point, we were winning while they were in 6th, but things change quite a bit over the length of a 6 leg, 80 minute race. We had to shift gears again and tack on them relentlessly up the last beat. We were successful, though, and after 8 races we had our biggest lead of the regatta—a whopping 3 points.
On Saturday we were in full match race mode with Brazil, so the pre-starts were pretty intense. We ended up even on the day, still with a 3-points lead, but we had one especially exciting exchange to maintain that lead. Going down the last run of the 2nd race were about 3 boatlengths behind Brazil. We soaked low on them and then jibed right on top of them. We began to roll them and then jibed back at them with the starboard advantage. We pinned them past lay line and then jibed back with the pole on the head stay and went on for a hard-earned 2nd.
The medal races on Sunday were only half the length of the normal races for most of the fleets. The Lightnings started before us and we were able to watch their entire race before our start. The RC had to do this format because they had to use the same three umpire boats for each race. That’s right, medal races were umpired and if you got a penalty, you had to do a 360 immediately. The U.S. Lightning team needed to beat Chile for the gold, and around the top mark they were doing just that. We were really excited and cheering them on. Unfortunately, Chile passed them on the run and went on to win the gold.
For our medal race, we became engaged with Brazil even before the 5-minute warning went off. At less than a minute to the start, we gained an advantage and drew a windward-leeward foul. Brazil had to spin and we continued to slow them down after they came out of their penalty turn. Meanwhile, the other 3 boats were sailing off at least a minute in front of us, duking it out for the bronze. We had a few tacking exchanges with Brazil, and on the last one, they were able to draw a foul on us. We had to spin, but even though we were in last and Brazil was now fourth, it looked like we might have created enough of a gap to the fleet that they would not be able to put the boat in between us that they needed for the gold. Unfortunately, at the bottom of the first run, Peru and Argentina got in a luffing match and Brazil closed the gap. Up the 2nd beat, Brazil passed Argentina. We were just too far behind to do anything and we had to watch as Brazil crossed the finish in third. It was heartbreaking.
I ran into Jody Lutz from the Lightning team at out hotel and he was experiencing similar feelings. We both recognized the achievement of winning a silver medal here, but were very disappointed at coming so close to the gold and watching it slip away. The medal ceremony on the water in downtown Puerto Vallarta helped cushion the blow a bit—the typical awards banquet doesn’t come close to this experience. I’ll always remember Geoff posing for a picture with his two young boys holding his medal – they looked very proud of Dad.
The Pan American Games was like no other regatta I’ve ever sailed. An outsider might look at it and see there are only 7 boats, and think, "That can’t be nearly as hard as a Worlds or North Americans.” The comparison is pointless. They’re so completely different that it’s not really the same game.
On behalf of USA 5235, I’d like to give a huge thanks to the US SAILING and U.S. Olympic Committee staff for all of their work here I hope you’ve enjoyed following along, and a few years from now, will consider lacing it up and competing in your class’s trials for a chance to represent the U.S. at this great event.