On a weekend of sailing in the heart of Southern California on the Santa Monica Bay there were 46 sailors engaged in a serious competition who were thinking more about a city in eastern China on the Yellow Sea than anything or anywhere else Friday, Saturday and Sunday, October 20th to 22nd.

That’s where the city of Qingdao sits and that’s where the 2008 summer Olympics (for sailing and some other sports) will be held.

Leading up to the mother of all sporting events, certain locations in the United States have been chosen to conduct trial and pre-trial races based on their similarities to the Chinese Olympic venue.

The California Yacht Club in Marina del Rey is one of those locations that will host both pre-trial and trial events and the club hosted the Olympic Pre-Trials for the Star Boat Class last weekend.

“We wanted to make sure we could offer all of the athletes an opportunity to compete in great sailing conditions and there are several of those around the country,” said Dean Brenner, chairman of US Sailing’s Olympic Sailing Committee. “In the end, we needed to go with what we felt was best for the sailors.

“We are confident that this decision will help us produce the strongest U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Sailing Teams. These organizations will be great partners and we are looking forward to a great event.”

True to form, the weather patterns of Santa Monica Bay kept the sailors on their toes — sometimes wondering and guessing.

“Conditions were crazy with the wind so light — it was easy to go from first to worst and back again in the short 0.7-mile legs,” said second-place finisher Andrew Horton after his first day of racing in this area, which he was not yet accustomed to. “We learned a lot today and can’t worry too much about having one bad day.”

All three of the days had predominantly light winds except where fog was so thick Saturday that racers couldn’t always see the marks.

“As we rounded the mark the visibility went from miles to 100 yards,” said Horton. “We lost sight of all the boats in the race and started timing our tacks in hopes of coming out even at the top of the leg.

“It took us 40 minutes to sail the first two legs, so we assumed the third leg would take about 20 minutes.

“We sailed on port for nine minutes, then starboard for seven, then port for three, starboard for three, port for one, starboard for one, then we started reaching back and forth, just lost in the fog.

“It turned out the race had been abandoned and everyone went back to the starting area, leaving us sailing towards Hawaii.”

Horton ended up in second place behind George Szabo from San Diego, who recently won the North American Championship in this same location and was ranked number one in the world earlier this year.

Szabo has been sailing extremely well this season and is going to be a strong Olympic candidate. In all likelihood, he’ll be competing against former Gold Medal winners Mark Reynolds and Hal Haenel this time next year when the Olympic trials are held.

Interestingly, he and Reynolds work together on sail design for Szabo’s campaign.

“We’ve already built two in the last week and tried them out and I’m sure we’ll have a few more versions as we try to see if we can find something that’s better, but it’s hard to do, since our standard sails have been good for up to ten years at a time — so it’s been hard to improve on what we have.”

Szabo and most of the other sailors who participated in the Pre-Trials will be taking part in a succession of important contests that will inevitably lead them right back here for the Trials in October next year. Then things will come into focus as to who gets to take part in the big dance.

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