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Yngling sailors take time for dose of March sanity

A month off precedes 5 weeks of racing in Europe

By Candus Thomson

Sun Staff

March 7, 2004

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Forgive the local sailors who just made the U.S. Olympic team for not standing in the spotlight.

After three years of hard work and with a full schedule of European competition ahead of them, Liz Filter of Stevensville and Nancy Haberland of Annapolis, along with Rhode Island skipper Carol Cronin, hung up a "Do Not Disturb" sign this month.

"We're introducing ourselves to our families once again," said Filter, who is spending time with her husband and two young children. "We're trying to protect our March."

The team, selected to compete in the Yngling class, leaves March 31 for about five weeks of competition on the European regatta circuit to test their skills against sailors already selected for the Athens games and those still trying to make the cut.

"Europe has a very good Olympic circuit in spring and summer. We'll be competing against some of the best," said Cronin.

The team will scoot home for some rest and then head back to Europe for more competition.

The home-and-away schedule puts the women back in Annapolis at the beginning of June for the Women's Match Racing World Championship (formerly the Santa Maria Cup), hosted by the Eastport Yacht Club.

There, the team of three will split, with Cronin and Filter sailing with two other women and Haberland teaming with Liz Baylis and two others on J/22s.

"We qualified for this in November. Liz [Filter] and I decided it was very important to have goals beyond the trials," Cronin said. "It's what we jokingly call cross training."

In addition to family time, the women are still savoring their Olympic trials victory last month in St. Petersburg, Fla., aboard Spidey, their Canadian-built boat.

The win was "15 different emotions in one minute" followed by a surprise, said Filter.

Her husband, Henry, who had said he wouldn't attend the Florida races to avoid being a distraction, broke his promise.

As the team crossed the finish line after the first race on the final day with the Olympic berth in hand, Filter saw her husband on one of the nearby powerboats.

"My heart almost burst right there," she said. "It's so hard to surprise me - birthdays, anniversaries - but he really did."

This will be the first Olympics to include Ynglings, nimble, 21-foot keelboats with a maximum weight of 450 pounds.

"It's added visibility and added expectations for us," Cronin said. "The U.S. traditionally medals in women's sailing events, in keelboats and in new events. We're a three-for."

Only one Olympic class remains to be decided. Sailors in the Star class will be trying for the final spot during racing March 18-28 at Florida's Coral Reef Yacht Club and U.S. Sailing Center.

Injured Wilson optimistic

Blaine Wilson has been down before.

The five-time U.S. gymnastics champion and two-time Olympian has had four shoulder surgeries and had to sit out the 2001 season after tearing his right rotator cuff.

When Wilson, 29, tore his left biceps muscle while competing on the still rings at the Visa American Cup on Feb. 28, many fans of the sport thought he might have suffered a career-ending injury.

The usual recovery time from a muscle torn that badly is six months, about the amount of time left before the start of the Summer Games. Complicating matters is that the Olympic trials are June 24-27.

But in a conference call with reporters Thursday -two days after surgery in Birmingham, Ala. by noted sports orthopedist Dr. James Andrews - Wilson and his coach, Miles Avery, sounded upbeat.

"Everything went well," Wilson said. "Basically, it's up to me. ... In the past, that hasn't been a problem."

The injury occurred just two moves into his routine. Wilson said he felt a small twinge and then he felt the muscle tear "like when you rip chicken off the bone. I grabbed my hand so my arm wouldn't be flinging around, and I sat down and thought, `What have I done?' Then immediately, `How do I fix this?' "

He was helped from the mat and had a magnetic resonance imaging test the next day, which confirmed the extent of the damage.

Wilson said he will begin stretching and flexibility exercises tomorrow and expects to be training again in six weeks.

"Once it's fixed, it's fixed. ... I'm not afraid of hurting it any worse," he said.

USA Gymnastics officials have indicated that Wilson could sit out the trials and petition for an invitation to the Olympic team selection camp in mid-July, when the final four members of the squad will be chosen. The top two finishers at trials automatically qualify.

Time for Titan Games

Athletes in seven of the lesser-watched Olympic sports will get center stage during the Titan Games in Atlanta on June 18-20.

The event is expected to pit the top U.S. boxers, fencers, shot-putters, wrestlers, weightlifters, judo and taekwondo athletes against former and present Olympians and World Cup medallists from other countries.

The inaugural Titan Games were held last year in San Jose, Calif. U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive Jim Scherr said the competition gives U.S. athletes the opportunity to test their skills against some of the world's best without having to travel overseas.

The opening of the Titan Games will coincide with the arrival of the Olympic torch in Atlanta on June 18.