Shelter Islander picks up a new crew for her Olympic campaign

COURTESY ARMORY ROSS/US SAILING | Clark sailing with her previous partner, Sarah Chin, at the Rolex Miami OCR.

2012 Olympic sailing hopeful Amanda Clark will continue her campaign in the 470 Olympic class with a new crew, Sarah Lihan of Ft. Lauderdale, FL, after her previous crew of nine years, Sarah Chin, officially ended her participation in the campaign last month.

Clark’s sad to see her longtime crew go after so many years of strong performances in countless regattas that led the girls to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. “It’s strange to think that I’m not continuing with her,” Clark explained. “She wants to move on with other things in her life. She knew how much effort she would need to put in to make it to the Olympics and knew she just didn’t quite have the motivation to do it. She didn’t want to go any further knowing that she wouldn’t give it 100 percent, and I give her a ton of respect for that.”

As soon as Chin quit, one of the first calls Clark made was to Jeff Bresnahan, her coach at Connecticut College and the program director at the Shelter Island Junior Yacht Club. “We started brainstorming about different possibilities” and he gave her suggestions of different potential partners to explore. After searching far and wide, Clark held a week of tryouts and eventually decided on Lihan on February 21, and so far is very pleased with her choice.

Lihan is a very accomplished single-handed Laser Radial sailor, having earned All-American honors her senior year skippering at Yale in 2009-2010, first place in the Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association’s Women’s National Championship in 2009 and two Olympic Trials under her belt.

The girls have already begun an aggressive training schedule for the upcoming months; they’re currently in Miami training with the US Sailing Alpha Grahpics team. On the March 17 they’ll head to Colorado Springs to participate in a physical fitness camp with the US Sailing Team at the US Olympic Training facility. “Four days of pure torture,” Clark said with a laugh.

They’ll continue training, with minimal breaks, until the Princess Sofia Trophy regatta in Palma de Mallorca in Spain in the first week of April and the French Olympic Sailing week starting April 23. Then they’ll head to the first half of the Olympic Team trials, which will be held in Weymouth, England in the beginning of June. The second selection event isn’t until mid-December in Perth, Australia.

At first glance, signing up a single-handed sailor to crew on a double-handed boat might seem strange. “470 crews are in shorter supply,” Clark explained. “There’s definitely a learning curve, but she’s progressed so fast, and I’m just shocked actually, I didn’t expect it to go this well.”

Having an experienced skipper as a crew has its advantages. Clark said, “What she’s bringing to the art of single-handed sailing is not necessarily relying on someone else for instruction, but instead following natural instinct to make it happen. It’s refreshing to have a different perspective.” Furthermore, she explained, her experience being in command of a single-handed boat will come in handy in a 470: “The crew controls the boat. I steer it in a straight line but all of the balance and weight movement comes from the crew. She has tremendous control over what the boat does through the water.”

It will take some work to get completely in synch. “It’s definitely tricky to start sailing with someone new. Chin and I were able to work together with minimal cues in terms of boat handling and what was going to happen next.”

Clark will also need to become accustomed to her new coach, Zack Leonard, who was also Lihan’s coach while she was sailing at Yale. “He’s going to be an excellent coach in terms of mental focus and preparation at regattas and race strategy, the places that I’m looking to focus on.” It’s a lot of change for her to adjust to. But though the players may change, Clark’s dream of Olympic gold remains the same.

“We’re looking forward to a successful season.”