SAILING | Four Bulldog sailors have Olympics on their minds

Every Yale athlete represents the blue. But some also represent the red and white, too.

Four members of the Yale sailing team — Marlena Fauer ’14, Claire Dennis ’13, Cameron Cullman ’13 and captain Joseph Morris ’12 — also represent the United States in their sport, and are training for the 2016 Olympics.

Captain Joe Morris ’12 is one of four Yale sailors with a chance to make the U.S. Olympic team.
Captain Joe Morris ’12 is one of four Yale sailors with a chance to make the U.S. Olympic team.

Dennis is currently on U.S. Sailing’s AlphaGrafics team — a direct pipeline to the Olympic team — in the Laser Radial Class. According to U.S. Sailing, AlphaGrafics consists of the highest-ranked boats in both the Olympic and Paralympic classes.

Fauer, Cullman and Morris are all on U.S. Sailing’s Development Team, which is a youth pipeline for 48 Olympic prospects. While the ultimate goal of Fauer, Cullman and Morris is the Olympics, joining the AlphaGrafics team is a more immediate ambition.

Fauer is a skipper on the Development Team in the 420 class. However, she said that in November she will transition to the 470 class, which is an Olympic class. Cullman is on the Development Team for the Laser Class, while Morris is on the Development Team as a skipper in the 49er class.

Admission to the various U.S. teams is based on performance in qualifying races. In Dennis’ case, a sixth-place finish in the Laser Radial class at US SAILING’s 2010 Rolex Miami OCR, Miami race earned her a coveted spot on the AlphaGrafics team.

Pending permission from professors, Fauer, Morris and Coleman will be competing in the US SAILING’s 2011 Rolex Miami OCR in January to try to qualify for the AlphaGrafics Team in their respective classes. Fauer said the race would be a chance to gain experience and practice.

TAKING TO THE SEA

For Cullman, Dennis, Fauer and Morris, sailing has been almost a life-long endeavor. Each began sailing in Optimist boats between the ages of six and eight, and eventually made the transition to 420s, 470s, ’49ers or, in Cullman and Dennis’ case, Lasers.

With the exception of Morris, each cited a father or brother as his or her motivation to begin sailing, but the sailors’ dedication and enjoyment of their sport is now uniquely their own.

“I like that sailing is very physical and mental at the same time,” Fauer said. “It combines a lot of different aspects of everything in life, including strategy, fitness. You’re always multitasking.”

Cullman said he enjoys the culture of sailing and competition.

“You can always go sailing no matter what’s going on in your life,” he said. “On the water, you can forget everything else.”

Morris said he does not come from a sailing family but came across the sport through a friend.

“When I was old enough to start sports, my best friend, who comes from an all sailing family, said he would play lacrosse with me if I sailed with him,” Morris said. “Ironically, he is now playing Division I lacrosse in college, and I am sailing.”

Now, the foursome’s training takes them all over the world. This past summer alone Fauer competed in Germany, Spain, Turkey and Israel. Cullman took last year off from Yale and devoted time to competing in World Cup events in Spain and France.

Fauer said the international dynamic of the sport has enabled her to meet sailors from all over the world.

“You feel proud to be representing the U.S.,” Dennis said. “You really feel like you’re part of something. You get to be with sailors who are much older. For them, the Olympics is a reasonable thing. It’s cool to go through the process and figure out what to do to get to the top.”

SAILING AT YALE

Somehow all four balance this with another unique opportunity — attending Yale.

Sailing head coach Zach Leonard ’89, who is a member of the U.S. Olympic Sailing Committee, said Yale’s course load is challenging, and, as a result, the students on the development team do not do much sailing with their development team during the school year. Most of it takes place during vacation time.

“In some other countries, their sailors don’t really go to college,” Cullman said. “How consuming the U.S. college system is is a slight disadvantage.”

Yet for various reasons, each sailor said Yale fits in nicely with their sailing careers.

“I have a strong group of friends on the college teams and internationally,” Dennis said. “But it’s nice to have group of friends at Yale that know nothing about sailing.”

And while Yale has plenty of students with limited knowledge of sailing, Coleman, Fauer, Dennis and Morris said the Yale sailing team itself has been a worthwhile training experience.

“Practice is really competitive,” Fauer said. “Zach is really good. He coached me the past two summers also. He is very knowledgeable.”

In the U.S. Team classes, both Dennis and Cullman sail Laser Radials and Lasers, respectively. The Laser are single-handed, unlike the 420’s in which Yale competes. Despite the varying boat designs, Cullman, Dennis and Leonard said there is much to gain from sailing a double-handed vessel at Yale.

“The process of learning what to do in the 420s helps them to become true masters of their Olympic boats,” Leonard said. “Lasers are generally faster boats than 420s. Without a speed advantage, they have to tighten up their tactical games.”

Dennis said she was still more comfortable sailing single-handed, but there was a lot from double-handed sailing she can apply to her Laser Radial racing.

Morris said the format of college racing is different from that of Olympic racing. Olympic races can be miles in length, while most college sailing races are around 20 minutes. The shorter length of the races at the collegiate level the more sailors emphasize boat handling and maneuverability because the boats are confined to a smaller space. In contrast, the Olympic races focus more on sheer speed.

Beyond training benefits, the sailors all said the sailing team is warm, welcoming, and a lot of fun.

When asked if he was pleased with his decision to attend Yale, Cullman replied, “Absolutely. I love sailing at Yale.”

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