LONDON — About three years before the 2012 Games, Stu McNay ’05 and Sarah Lihan ’10 sat on a train traveling through London with the U.S. Sailing Team. McNay had competed in the 470-class at the Beijing Games and Lihan remembers him telling her to make the transition from training as a single-handed radial sailor to competing with a partner in the women’s 470 division, where her 6’1” frame would be useful as a crew. Now the pair are back in England and just days after McNay finished 14th in the fleet at the London Olympics, Lihan is scheduled to sail in the women’s 470 medal race on Friday.
Lihan said she did not think much of McNay’s suggestion to switch divisions, and even laughed it off at the time. Then in February of 2011, just four months before the first of two U.S. Olympic Trials races, Beijing Olympian Amanda Clark’s crew retired. Clark came to Lihan to ask if she would make the very transition McNay had suggested.
Lihan had competed in two U.S. Olympic Trials, but she had never qualified for the Olympic Games. She wanted to travel to London 2012 and knew it would be difficult to make the team as a single-handed laser radial sailor, a division in which she had finished 16th at the 2009 World Championships.
“It’s funny, Stu was right and I was wrong,” Lihan said with a laugh during an interview with the News before the Olympics.
Since switching divisions, Lihan and Clark have recorded a number of top finishes, including 2nd place at the 2012 ISAF Sailing World Cup this June. They entered the Games ranked No. 3 in the world by the International Sailing Federation.
In hindsight, Lihan called the idea of switching classes just four months before the first of two Olympic Trials races “insane.” She explained that most sailors train in the same boat for anywhere from four to twelve years and said she didn’t know of anyone who had switched classes just months before trials.
“The basic premise is the same as before, sail around a set number of buoys,” Lihan said. “But that is about where the similarities end.”
Lihan had to learn a new boat and how to achieve the necessary level of “single mindedness” required to work with a partner at the Olympic level. She compared switching divisions to starting a new sport, and said she spent the first six months of training with Clark just learning which tasks she needed to execute and when.
Lihan and Clark, who call themselves Team GO SAIL, are in 9th place in the fleet going into the final medal round at the Games and have set a goal to finish fifth, according to their Facebook page.
In Friday’s medal race, scheduled to start at 8:00 a.m. EST, the points awarded according to finish position are double those that have been awarded in the 10-race qualifying series. Teams from New Zealand and Great Britain lead the fleet with 33 net points each. Team GO SAIL has 78 net points and is 17 points back from their 5th-place goal.