Thirteen sailors from five island nations represented the Caribbean in sailing at the Pan American Games, held July 10th – 26th, in Toronto, Canada. Two teams won medals, two sailors earned Olympic slots and the rest gained valuable experience as they continue either on their road to Rio or qualifying to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Gold medals are what Puerto Rico’s Raul Rios and Fernando Monllor proudly wore around their necks after posting first place finishes in seven of thirteen races in the Snipe Class.
“Winning at these Games is a big part of my sailing career because it now gives me a chance to get closer to an Olympic campaign,” says Rios, who hopes to qualify for Rio 2016 in the Men’s 470.
Puerto Rico’s Enrique Figueroa and Franchesca Valdez earned bronze in the Hobie 16 class.
“Conditions were extremely light, sometimes two to five knots. Teams accustomed to these conditions thrived while heavy air specialists such as us struggled. The final medal race was the best of the whole week. The 10-to 14-knots of breeze gave us a chance to prove what we can do – win! After 20 years and five Pan Am Games appearances (medaling in all five) there is not much I want to achieve, except an Olympic medal. We are still working hard to earn a spot for Rio 2016,” Figueroa explains.
Trinidad & Tobago’s Andrew Lewis and Aruba’s Philipine van Aanholt received slots into the Rio Olympics in the Laser and Laser Radial, respectively, with their strong performances.
“My primary objective was to gain the North American region qualifier spot for the Rio Olympics. This meant that I had to beat Puerto Rico, Bermuda and Mexico. Personally, I really wanted to target a medal. Tactically, and in the larger scheme, Olympic qualification was more important, so I put my energies into securing the berth more than anything. Now that I have qualified with a year to spare, it allows me to better prepare for Rio,” says Lewis, who ended seventh.
Philipine Van Aanholt missed medaling by a scant seven points, yet like Lewis, her goal was the larger one of an Olympic qualification.
“There were five of us vying for the one North American spot, so that was tough. Plus, the light winds meant I had to stay mentally focused all the time to look for puffs. It came down to the last race where I beat Kelly (Arrindell, from Trinidad & Tobago). I had a big smile on my face at the end and I saw some spectators looking at me and shaking their head thinking ‘poor girl thinks she earned a medal’. I’ll tell you, I was never so happy with a fourth place since with it I qualified for the Olympics,” says van Aanholt.
The USVI’s Cy Thompson, who has already qualified for Rio 2016 in the Laser, found the Pan Americans a great opportunity to improve his game.
“Three of the guys in the fleet were ranked in the top ten in the world, with many others close behind. It’s pretty impressive to see this level of competition at an event consisting of only 16 competitors. Although I really wanted to medal, if you look at the list of sailors that beat me, I can’t be too unhappy with myself. I believe that I have found some new confidence with certain aspects in my sailing, and I’m excited to see what happens in my next regatta, which will be one of the World Cup events in China later this year,” says Thompson.
Other Caribbean sailors competing in the Pan Am Games included St. Lucia’s Stephanie Devaux-Lovell in Laser Radial, the USVI’s Mayumi Roller and Kayla McComb in 49erFX, and the USVI’s Peter Stanton and Puerto Rico’s Ramon Gonzalez in Sunfish.
For full results, visit: www.toronto2015.org/sailing
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.