So far, most of the attention during the 2006 Laser Radial Worlds being held in Marina del Rey by the California Yacht Club has been directed towards the women’s division due to the event’s inherent Olympic ramifications.
The upcoming Olympic Games, to be held in China, mark the first time the Laser Radial will be a class for woman sailors, making this regatta all the more pertinent as it pertains to Olympic dreams.
Female sailors came from all over the world to Marina del Rey in an effort to place high in the standings and increase their prospects of making it to China to compete in the ultimate contest, but the sailor who waxed the fleet and won the gold had already bought her ticket to China.
Olympics or no Olympics, 19-year-old Chinese native Lijia Xu will be returning to her homeland, but she hopes to be defending her home court when the games begin and judging by her sailing this past week — it could be a lock.
By the second-to-last day, Xu had built herself a solid lead and remained consistent into the final day’s races, whereupon she was able to sit out the last race of the regatta, based on a mathematical win.
She has only been sailing the Laser Radial for eight months and was by no means a favorite, so Xu was delighted, yet humble about the victory.
“I just tried to calm down and not be too nervous,” Xu said of her emotions going into the all-important 11th race, which, if sailed well, would insure her victory.
“I thought, if I sail my best, I think I can do it,” she said.
The favorite in the event was 19-year-old American Paige Railey, who was the world champion coming into the regatta, but she suffered heartache at the hands of the officials, who sited her for violations that involved illegal kinetic movement such as pumping the sail and sculling the rudder.
Railey received three yellow flags, forcing her to drop out of the event, and this left her banished to a last-place spot in the standings.
“She didn’t have much luck this year,” said the newly crowned world champion Xu of Railey’s tribulations.
“I have regarded her as my idol since I began to sail Radials. She is still the best,” Xu said.
The other American favorite, Anna Tunnicliffe, 23, of Florida, who so often shares the winner’s podium with Railey, struggled during the middle races, but came back strong towards the end of the week to finish in a respectable fourth place.
Germany’s Petra Niemann finished second behind Xu and Elias Calles Wolf Tania of Mexico came in third.
The final week of the Laser World’s will spotlight the youth division, where sailors between the ages of 15 and 18 will compete for the coveted world champion title.
There is no reigning defender of the title in the youth male class, as last year’s winner, New Zealander Blair McLay, has passed the age limit and moved onto the men’s division.
The Worlds have never been held in the United States and there are plenty of American entrants — almost half of the 181-person fleet.
With these ratios, the United States contingent is hopeful that one of the young sailors will be the first American to ever win the event.
“We have a strong team,” said coach Brett Davis, who recently observed the international Laser contenders at the 2006 Volvo Youth Sailing ISAF World Championship in Weymouth, Great Britain.
“I expect the competition to be challenging, compared to previous years,” Davis said.