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Target hit for US Olympic program

When the US Olympic Sailing Program made the decision to organize a selection series in the USA for the Paris 2024 Olympics, it was a return to a system that was last held for Beijing 2008.

While the plan was to determine the best representative, an underlying effort was to grow interest in Olympic sailing. Depth has been a weakness of the USA program, with this report by 17-year-old Arabella Duer proving the plan hit that target:

Arabella Duer

This February I competed at the 2024 US Olympic Team Trials for the women’s single handed dinghy (ILCA 6). The Olympic Trials were the longest and most competitive regatta I’ve ever sailed in. To ensure the highest level of challengers in the Olympic Trials, candidates qualified at designated events or applied by resume. The Trials were the last part of qualification for the Olympics.

Previously, the US qualified to send a representative to the Olympic Games in the ILCA 6, fulfilling the country qualification. The US Olympic Team Trials were the athlete selection event, meaning the winner of the Trials would go on to compete at the Olympics as the US representative.

I qualified for the Olympic Trials by participating in the Richmond Yacht Club Olympic Class Regatta. This event was held in San Francisco, California in mid-August. The qualifying event’s conditions were typical of San Francisco, with all of the days blowing above 15 knots, making it one of the windiest regattas I had ever sailed in. It was a challenging event, but I was able to finish the regatta in one of the top spots needed to qualify.

To prepare for the Olympic Trials, I used a combination of training at my yacht club, South Carolina Yacht Club in Hilton Head, and specific events chosen to improve particular areas of my sailing that I knew I needed to develop before the Olympic Trials.

For part of my training plan, I attended the Orange Bowl Regatta held in Miami in December, since it is the largest youth regatta in the US. The Orange Bowl Regatta delivered the large fleet starts and spirited competitors that I was looking for to gain practice starting on the line and holding a clear lane coming off the start.

The next large event that I chose to help me prepare was ILCA 6 Youth Worlds in Mar del Plata, Argentina in January. I chose this event for the high level of competition and for the venue. Again, the event delivered. With even more wind and waves than expected, ILCA 6 Youth Worlds served to give me ocean sailing experience that made all previous conditions I had sailed in seem mild.

These events were superb experiences in and of themselves and helped to prepare me for the conditions and competition I expected to encounter at the Olympic Trials in Miami.

At the Trials, I was able to race against the top sailors in the US. At 17, this experience enabled me to see how I compare against my idols and what skills I need to work on to get to their level. Further, participating in this event allowed me to have Olympic Trial experience leading into the next Olympic cycle for Los Angeles 2028.

Some of my goals leading into this regatta included improving holding my lane off the start line and getting more open water experience. Racing was eight days long with one day in the middle saved as a reserve day. The conditions at this event were varied and pushed my sailing skills to the limit.

Almost all of the days had a sea breeze that filled in the afternoon. Some of the days turned into survival for me due to heavy wind and big waves as I am one of the smallest sailors in the ILCA 6 and can’t keep the boat as flat as the other competitors. For one of the days, we had a front come through with 40+ knot puffs, and I was proud to be able to finish the race and sail at a record-breaking speed back to the Miami Yacht Club.

By the end of the regatta, and especially on the lighter air days, I was able to hold my lane for longer and longer every day. Back home we don’t have the opportunity to sail in such big waves, so I was thankful to have another opportunity to work on my technique in those conditions.

Coming out of the event, I learned that I need to spend even more time sailing in the ocean to learn the nuances of driving over large swell. I also need to spend more time at the gym to gain the endurance and strength needed to excel in high winds. This event was an incredible experience and I can’t wait to see what the future holds as I continue to sail at such a high level.

Since the Olympic Trials, I have had the opportunity to put the skills I learned into practice. At the ILCA Gulf Coast Championships, we had big breeze every day but I was able to put my knowledge from ocean racing at the Olympic Trials into effect. At the ILCA Mid-Winters West, which was also the Youth Worlds Qualifier, I was the top US Youth female going into day three, showing that all of this training is paying off.

Overall, the Olympic Trials taught me a lot about my sailing and what I need to do going forward.

I would like to thank all of the people and sponsors who have guided and assisted me to get me where I am now. I would especially like to thank the South Carolina Yacht Club, the Paul Miller Fund and its donors, my coach Mark Newman for the training and support, and my coach Pedro Mascarenhas for his coaching at the Olympic Trials and beyond. And of course, I would like to thank my parents for their endless support in all of my sailing endeavors.

Paris 2024 Olympic Sailing Program*:
Men’s One Person Dinghy – ILCA 7 (41)
Women’s One Person Dinghy – ILCA 6 (41)
Mixed Two Person Dinghy – 470 (19)
Men’s Skiff – 49er (20)
Women’s Skiff – 49erFX (20)
Men’s Kiteboard – Formula Kite Class (20)
Women’s Kiteboard – Formula Kite Class (20)
Men’s Windsurfing – iQFOiL (24)
Women’s Windsurfing – iQFOiL (24)
Mixed Multihull – Nacra 17 (19)
* Quota per event in parenthesis but does not include Universality Places (2 men, 2 women)

Venue: Marseille, France
Dates: July 28-August 9

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Details:
• Paris website: https://www.paris2024.org/en/the-olympic-games-paris-2024/
• World Sailing microsite: https://paris2024.sailing.org/

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