Windsurfing

The Baltimore Sun

Farrah Hall's Olympic dream might have caught its second wind.

The Annapolis windsurfer finished second at the RS:X team-selection trials in October after a jury's controversial decision to grant another competitor's appeal. After Hall won the regatta on the water, a jury ruled that Nancy Rios' race was affected by a tear in her sail and awarded the Miami windsurfer the trials' win. Only the first-place finisher is slated to represent the United States at the Summer Olympics.

The jury initially declined to hear Hall's request for redress because it was filed too late. But confronted with new photographic evidence, US Sailing has decided to reopen the case and hold a special hearing next month.

"From the beginning, we have been completely confident in the process and the decision that the original jury made," Dean Brenner, chairman of US Sailing's Olympic Sailing Committee, said yesterday. "The right thing to do when new evidence is presented is to take a look, consider it and decide whether it merits a reopening."

Hall was unavailable to comment but released a statement in which she revealed that she had photographs from the trials, taken by spectators and the event photographer.

"When we reviewed the photos, we could not see any distortion that would indicate that Nancy's performance was affected," Hall said in the statement. "We immediately brought these photos to the attention of US Sailing and Nancy's lawyer."

What exactly the photos depict is not clear, and Brenner said he has not seen them. The photographs were shared with the U.S. Olympic Committee last month. Hall's case will be heard in Providence, R.I., on April 8 and 9 by the same jury that ruled against her. Two additional jury members have been added, Brenner said, and the five members will hear testimony from Hall, Rios and witnesses.

"Considering the importance of these Olympic Selection regattas, my suspicion is that the jury decided this is a big deal, they should take a look at this," Brenner said. "Juries reopen hearings -- that should not be read as an indication that they're changing their minds. It should be read as [an] indication that they have an open mind and they're considering all possibilities."

Rios' attorney issued a statement yesterday calling Hall's claims "unfounded."

"The sailing jury has taken the unusual [but allowed] step to review its prior decision and the photographs, and Nancy looks forward to presenting her request again," Thomas Ingram said in the statement.

The trials, which were held in Long Beach, Calif., consisted of 16 races in eight days. While Hall led for the early portion of the competition, Rios won six races in a row and carried a slight lead into the final day's two races. Hall won the first race, but the second was marred by a collision shortly after the start.

In her complaint, Rios said her sail was torn during the collision. Two of the three initial jurors witnessed the crash but did not see the tear in the sail until after the race. Hall crossed the finish line first and was under the impression that her ticket to the Beijing Olympics had been stamped. As she celebrated, though, Rios was formally protesting the race.

In her redress filing, Rios claimed the tear in her sail adversely affected her, and when presented with the damaged sail, which had an 8- to 10-inch gash, the jury agreed.

According to US Sailing rules, redress is awarded when "a boat's finishing place in a race or series has, through no fault of her own, been significantly made worse." When Hall returned home to Annapolis, she filed for her own redress but was denied because the deadline had passed.

"Ms. Hall had the opportunity to seek review of this determination shortly after the jury decided to award redress, but did not do so within the time limit applicable to this race, " Ingram's statement said. "Since that time Ms. Hall has amassed a sizeable legal team, rules advisors and public relations consultants in a multi-faceted effort to change the final score in the Trials regatta. Included in this campaign is the suggestion that the jury may have made a 'clear error' based on a handful of photographs of the clear, mylar sail, photographs they recently submitted to the United States Olympic Committee. Some of these photos show evidence of a tear in the sail, but Ms. Hall's counsel refuse to acknowledge that is the case."

Hall has been navigating the legal channels to win back her spot on the Olympic team. An arbitration hearing is scheduled for May in California, at which time Hall is expected to contend that she wasn't afforded due process.

Rios and Hall continue to train for the Olympics.

"In my mind, I never really lost," Hall told The Sun last month.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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