One-Horse Races

A look at three Olympic classes with a prohibitive favorite.

EUROPEWith one exception, Meg Gaillard has been the best American Europe sailor for the past five years. Unfortunately for her, that one exception was the 2000 Olympic Trials, where she lost to 1996 Europe bronze medalist Courtenay Dey, who finished second in the 470 Trials, then switched back to the Europe for a five-month campaign. Dey hasn't raced a Europe since the Sydney Games and Gaillard has held her advantage over the other Americans in the class. At the Pre-Trials last February she won four of eight races, and finished second in three others, beating the second-placed American by 17 points. Krysia Pohl and Christin Feldman have occupied the No. 2 and No. 3 spots, respectively, on the U.S. Sailing Team for the past three years. But Gaillard, currently ranked 15th in the world and hardened by the disappointment she experienced in 2000, will be tough to beat.WOMEN'S MISTRALFemale Olympic windsurfing debuted in 1992, and through three Olympics, there's only been one name attached to the U.S. berth. Lanee Butler. That could change this year, but only because Butler recently married Australian sailor Adam Beashel. Butler was virtually untested in the last Trials. She considered retirement after an impressive fourth in the Sydney Games, but returned to competition at the Pan Am Games qualifiers last fall, which she won easily, and then took a gold medal in the Pan Am Games. Kimberly Birkenfeld, who finished third in the 2000 Trials, might have given Butler a run, but she was severely injured in an boating accident in Athens in August 2002.MEN'S MISTRAL****Peter Wells' status as the top male Mistral sailor in the U.S., hasn't changed since Mike Gebhardt retired after his fourth Olympic regatta in 2000. Wells finished third at the 2000 Trials, was the top American at the Rolex Miami OCR each of the last three years, and won the Pre-Trials a year ago. But his advantage over his competition for the berth in Athens doesn't appear to be nearly as comfortable as it was. Kevin Jewett, Philip Muller, Ben Barger, and Steven Bodner have all improved dramatically over the past few years. At Kiel Week, both Barger and Jewett finished ahead of Wells in the silver fleet. In a small fleet, on a short course, Wells, a three-time college All American at UC Irvine, will still be the guy to beat. But an upset isn't out of the question.