In high school, Stuart McNay ’05 had one ultimate goal in sailing: to qualify for the Olympics.
Fast forward to summer 2008: McNay will be sailing in the 29th Olympiad.
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On October 14th, McNay, along with partner Graham Biehl, completed the grueling eight-day, 16-race U.S. Olympic sailing trials in Long Beach, Calif., and qualified for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. The two will compete in one of the 11 sailing events scheduled for the 2008 Summer Games.
The 26-year-old McNay, a Boston native, still cannot believe he finally realized his goal.
“Each day it feels great,” McNay said. “It’s very satisfying knowing that my goal was reached after so much hard work and dedication.”
At the Olympic trials, the twosome had to compete in 16 races over eight days. Their placements in those races were then added up, the competitors with the lowest combined score were granted the lone American spot in the division.
McNay and Biehl dominated the field — so much so that the pair did not even need to go out for the final two races to stamp their ticket to Beijing. The duo ended up in first place with a cozy 12-point margin separating them from their closest competitor. The final tally read 64-76.
The duo, who call themselves Team MB, began sailing together at the beginning of 2005 after splitting up with their previous teammates.
“I had sailed against him before and I knew he was very good,” McNay said. “We both felt that our best chance of qualifying for the Olympics was to sail with each other.”
Since then McNay and Biehl, a San Diego native, have developed into one of the top pairs in the country in their division of 470. The 470 label refers to the length, in centimeters, of the boat in which they compete.
The boat, similar to the popular 420 found in college sailing, is one of the smallest two-man boats featured in the Olympics. The boat’s small size makes it very sensitive to body size and sailers’ movements. The twosome on board is comprised of the skipper, McNay, and the crew, Biehl.
Reaching the Olympic level has taken much more than just showing up for races — a tremendous amount of training and sacrifice was required of McNay and Biehl. The team’s training schedule heading into the trials consisted of 11-hour sessions, five days a week for eight straight months. The typical day included workouts from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m., a team meeting from 9:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. and sailing from noon until 4 p.m.
This level of dedication from McNay is nothing new.
“He deserves it more than anyone,” Yale sailing captain Zach Brown ’08 said of McNay. “Being his college teammate my freshman year, I saw how dedicated and talented he is. He’s been at it forever, I’m really happy for him.”
But simply qualifying for Beijing is not enough for McNay and Biehl. McNay said he is looking to win big on the Yellow Sea in 2008.
“Our goal is to bring a medal home,” McNay said. “Qualifying was totally cool but our ultimate goal is to medal.”
Medaling will be no easy task. More diligent training is in store for McNay, Biehl and the other 16 American sailors over the 10 months leading up to the start of the Aug. 9 competition in Qingdao, China. Team MB will resume training after Thanksgiving in Australia for an extended period of time, McNay said.
Dean Brenner, chair of U.S. Sailing’s Olympic Sailing Committee, said he thinks McNay and Biehl — as well as many other first-time Olympians — should be able to compete for a medal.
“We have a very young sailing team across the board, a lot of first-time Olympians,” Brennan said. “If the right amount of work is put in, McNay and Biehl, along with the others, should be able to compete for a medal, but it’s going to take work.”
Throughout his expedition, McNay has maintained a strong relationship with the Yale sailing program and head coach Zachary Leonard ‘89. After serving as an assistant to Leonard during the fall 2005 season, McNay decided to step down and train full-time. Although his training and competition consumed much of his time, he has continued to come back to New Haven to practice with the squad and coach in several regattas.
Having McNay around gives Yale sailors hope that they, too, can one day make the Olympics.
“Personally, the Olympics has been a goal of mine for a while now,” Thomas Barrows ’10 said. “But Stu has shown me what it takes to get there — hard work and dedication.”
The Yale sailing program and the entire Yale Athletics Department have been very supportive on McNay’s quest, he said. He is especially fond of Leonard, who himself made an attempt to qualify for the Olympics. Leonard’s insight and experience has aided not only his own journey, but also those of other Yale sailors, McNay said.
He said he has enjoyed coming back to New Haven to sail with one of the best college teams in the country.
“It feels good to be welcomed with open arms,” McNay said.
Come August, Beijing and the Games of the XXIX Olympiad will be welcoming him with open arms, too.