SAILING | Bulldogs dominate U.S. Team

Kids everywhere dream of being in the Olympics, but few get to wear their country’s colors as the world watches.

Four Yalies, however, just got one step closer to donning the red, white and blue in 2012 by being named to the 2010 U.S. Sailing Development Team, the USSDT.

Sarah Lihan '10 was named to the US Sailing Development Team.
Courtesy SarahLihan
Sarah Lihan '10 was named to the US Sailing Development Team.

The team is comprised of 48 young sailors who specialize in several of the Olympic sailing classes. From Yale, Sarah Lihan ’10 and Claire Dennis ’13 who sail Laser Radials, Cameron Cullman ’13 who sails Lasers, and Joseph Morris ’12 who skippers a 470 with crew Willie McBride of the University of California, Berkeley, were selected for the elite group. The Bulldogs have more sailors on the team than any other school.

Run by the US SAILING Olympic Sailing Committee, the USSDT provides funding, mentoring and training on and off the water. Team members have access to the Olympic Sailing Committee’s nutritionists, physical therapists and trainers. Members also do joint training with the US Sailing Team AlphaGraphics (USSTAG) and other top youth prospects.

“Some of the perks are the coaching at international events, and the team atmosphere at training camps during the summer and training events,” Dennis said.

Members were selected based on the strength of their resumes and their planned training schedules for the year. The United States Sailing Association, the national governing body for sailboat racing, runs the program. The team is selected annually with the goal of preparing its members for qualification to the USSTAG and eventually the Olympic Sailing Team.

“That’s the next step up for all of us,” Cullman said. “You have corporate sponsorships: more money, more options, more people backing you.”

How you choose to use the resources provided by the team depends on who you are, Dennis added. She said that she is planning on doing most of her sailing during the school year with the Yale program, instead of missing the class time necessary to participate in the frequent training events during the academic term. She will spend the summer with the team traveling to various regattas around the world, she said.

Cullman has taken another approach: He is taking the year off from Yale to travel to term-time clinics and races as well as to take advantage of the USSDT’s resources.

“You have the opportunity to hang out with the older, more professional circuit sailors,” Cullman said. “It’s interesting to get their take on the scene and have a small view into the world of sailing for a living.”

It is a lifestyle Cullman says he is considering.

Cullman, Dennis, and Lihan were all part of the U23 sailing team in 2009, the precursor to this year’s USSDT. U23 only supported Laser and Laser Radial sailors.

The team was renamed and expanded in hopes of targeting and helping a larger selection of sailors from more diverse boat classes.

“There’s a new group this year, but I still know most of the people,” Dennis said. “A lot of them are my best friends.”

Morris and McBride are two sailors who benefited from the team’s expansion. The duo first sailed together in Greece for the 420 World Championships, and despite not having raced together before, they were the only U.S. team to qualify for the Gold Fleet. They switched to the Olympic class 470s, and now that the USSDT has expanded the number of classes it supports, the duo has qualified for the same benefits received by the Laser sailors.

Cullman added that the USSTAG program only accepts about three racers per class, making it a very competitive leap. For the Olympics, it is even more difficult: each nation can only enter one sailor in the Laser category. Despite the odds, all the Yale sailors say they are continuing to chase the dream.

Out of members currently on the team, captain Thomas Barrows ’10 is the only sailor to have been in the Olympics. He raced in the Laser class for the U.S. Virgin Islands in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

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