Former sailing captain earns Olympic 5th place

Crew Isabelle Kinsolving ’02, a former Eli sailing captain, and skipper Katie McDowell finished fifth in the women’s double-handed dinghy 470-class in the Athens Olympics, where 470 competition wrapped up Saturday.

Kinsolving and McDowell, a Brown graduate, have been working towards the Olympics and medal contention since Kinsolving graduated in May 2002. In February 2003, the pair won the women’s 470 at the Miami Olympic Classes Regatta to clinch the top spot on the U.S. women’s 470 team. For the past seven months, the duo has been touring the world, preparing for the Games with the U.S. sailing team and team-hopefuls Stu McNay ’05 and Arthur Kinsolving ’04.

McNay said he would have loved to see Kinsolving and McDowell on the medal stand, knowing how badly the tandem wanted to win, but said he had been very excited by their performance nonetheless.

“It’s really inspiring to see someone I’ve sailed with in college get so close to an Olympic medal,” McNay said. “They’re on of the fastest boats in the world and they had the ability to get a medal, but unfortunately they came home with great memories but no medal.”

Eli sailing head coach Zack Leonard ’87, who talked to Kinsolving and McDowell in the weeks leading up to the games and chatted with McDowell on the phone between races, said that it is extremely difficult to even qualify for the Olympics in sailing on the first try, and that the American women had done very well to get to such a high level of competition so quickly.

“They’ve both worked so hard,” Leonard said. “It’s been something like 18 hours a day for two and a half years. I’m really happy for them.”

Despite repeated attempts to contact Isabelle Kinsolving in Athens, she could not be reached for comment.

The Olympic 470 class regatta consists of a series of 11 races held over eight days, with the worst finish of each team dropped. One point is awarded for a first place finish, two for second, and so on. The team with the lowest point total at the end of the regatta earns the gold. McDowell and Kinsolving’s 84 points were 22 points out of second and 56 points behind the champion Greek team’s 38.

The Americans started slow on the first day of races, placing 12th and 16th out of a field of 20. On the second race day, they finished third and 12th, moving them to 12th overall, but still well out the medal race. Coming in at ninth and second on day three bumped the team up to seventh and just nine points out of second place overall. The fourth day of racing, however, was disastrous.

“[Kinsolving and McDowell] had one day out of the eight days of racing that took them out of contention for a medal,” McNay said. “On every day of racing other than that they could have been in the top three in the competition.”

McDowell and Kinsolving finished 16th and 18th in the seventh and eighth races respectively, dramatically damaging their chances for a medal. Although they were able to manage an eighth place and first place finish (one of only six teams to win a race) on the fifth day, the Americans were only able to move up to sixth on the leader board. Their third place finish in the 11th and final race scooted them past the Danes, into fifth. The U.S. finished behind Greece, Spain, Sweden, and Slovenia.

Yale President Richard Levin said he was delighted to watch Kinsolving, along with the eight other former, present and future Yale athletes, competing in Greece.

“It’s a real credit to our athletics program,” Levin said. “We should all be proud.”

Leonard said Olympic ambitions were something Yale sailing encouraged.

“It’s one of the goals in our program for people to continue to love to compete in our sport after college,” Leonard said. “If that participation is at the Olympic level, which is the highest level in our sport, then we want to encourage that. We’re really happy with Isabelle’s performance and we have a lot of other people who I think are on the same path on our team.”

McNay and Arthur Kinsolving went to the Miami OCR, and although they failed to make the official U.S. Olympic team, McNay has indicated that he may be interested in representing America in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

“It makes my own dreams more alive that [Kinsolving] went ahead and did something that I want to do after I graduate,” McNay said.

While the American women may have been stymied in their quest for a medal, Paul Foerster and Kevin Burnham, the U.S. sailors who won the men’s 470 class at the Miami OCR, went on to win the gold at Athens, edging a powerful British tandem.

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