THE United States has so much salt water running through its historical blood lines, it's not surprising that US sailors have won their share of Olympic yachting medals (including 10 golds).
The US again has high hopes for the 1996 games, where the sailing venue is Savannah, Ga. "In almost every discipline, I can see progress," says Bill Shore, the chairman of the US Sailing's Olympic Yachting Committee, which oversees the training. US Sailing is a national organization that coordinates sailboat racing.
Exactly how much progress will be clearer later this month at the Olympic trials in Savannah.
One of the reasons for Shore's confidence is that the US has several of the world's top sailors. For example, Mark Reynolds of San Diego, a gold medalist in the 1992 Games, won the Star Class World Championships last year and is favored for a medal.
Shore also has high expectations for the Soling class. He has recruited Ed Baird, the Rolex Yachtsman of the Year and the world's No. 1 match racer. This is important: Olympic racing begins with fleet (group) races, but the top six competitors then race one another in a round-robin.
Small-boat racing requires intense training, Shore says. A typical day starts with a morning of aerobic activity such as running or jumping rope. In the afternoon, trainees practice sailing.
Conditioning is essential, since the boats are small and responsive. "In above-normal winds," Shore says, "you have to stretch your body out from the side of the boat." It's called "hiking out." "The further you stretch your body, the faster the boat goes." Extra speed comes from the stability achieved by the weight shift.
The racers are also trained to be more aware of wind, current, and waves. Shore says the most important attribute is the ability to prioritize.
A sailor may spot a wind shift taking place on one side of the race course, but the current may be more favorable on the other side. Then there are the capabilities of the other racers to consider.
The US expects tough competition for the 10 gold medals, especially from France, New Zealand, Denmark, and Canada. Overall participation is higher than anticipated: Sixty-two nations will race in the Laser class.
Europe: Women's single-handed dinghy; 11-ft. hull; single sail.
Finn: Men's single-handed dinghy; 14 ft., 9 in.; single sail. A high-performance sailboat.
470: Men and women's two-person boat; 15 ft., 5 in; three sails. Teamwork a necessity on this light, narrow boat.
Laser: A man or woman will compete in this one-sail boat; 14 ft.; the world's most popular racing boat, perhaps.
Mistral: Men's and women's individual classes; 12 ft., 2 in. windsurfer; fastest sailboats in the world.
Soling: Mixed three-person crew, usually big men; 27 ft.; three sails; some of the most famous yachtsmen sail these.
Star: Male or female two-person crew; 22 ft., 8 in.; two sails; the sailors must be big - average combined weight 420 pounds - and strong.
Tornado: Male or female two-person multihull; 20 ft.; two sails; speed!