Sailing: Amanda Clark advances to Olympic medal race

COURTESY PHOTO | Shelter Island’ sailor Amanda Clark, background, has qualified for the medal race in the Women’s 470 at the London Olympics Friday.

When the final 10 boats remaining set sail in the Women’s 470 medal race, Shelter Island’s Amanda Clark will skipper the United States of America’s boat.

She will not, however, be competing for a medal.

Clark and crew Sarah Lihan of Team Go Sail qualified for the medal race after placing ninth of 20 boats in the event’s 10 qualifying races. Entering the medal race with 78 points, they can finish no better than in fifth place following Friday’s medal race.

In Olympic sailing, points are awarded based on how you finish. Finish first, you’re awarded one point. Come in second, you score two points, all the way down to 20 points for finishing last. Each team’s worse race is thrown out before the medal round. The team with the lowest point total at the end of the medal race, when points double, is the winner.

So even if Team Go Sail wins the medal race, they can finish with no fewer than 80 event points. Fifth-place Brazil, which enters the medal race with 61 points, is the top team Clark and Lihan can still catch.

New Zealand and Great Britain will enter the medal race tied for the top spot with 33 points, a positioning that has both countries guaranteed to win a medal. The Netherlands and France will be battling it out for the bronze, with Brazil also in the mix but needing things to really break its way.

After finishing 17th in Race 9 on Wednesday they needed to finish no worse than 17th again in the final prelim to assure a position in the medal race. They did just that when they finished Race 10 in ninth place.

Even though she can’t make the podium, Ms. Clark is assured of improving her standing from the 2008 Beijing Olympics where she placed 12th with former crew, Sarah Chin.

Just getting to the medal race was difficult and unsure for Team Go Sail. Even heading into the Race 10 of the preliminaries they still had to hold off tenth-place Spain and 11-place China to earn one of the final two spots in the medal race.

And they had to do so by battling what has proven to be their toughest enemy this Olympics — low winds.

Team Go Sail has spent a lot of practice time learning to succeed in heavy winds and rough surf that are more typical in the Weymouth-Portsmouth areas of England. But the races that have consistently defied their strategy with winds remaining very low.

“For [Clark and Lihan] it wasn’t conditions that suit their powerful sailing,” said U.S. Olympic Sailing Team spokeswoman Dana Paxton.

Prior to this year’s competition, Ms. Clark announced that this would be her last Olympic competition. She said she hoped to continue to work with the U.S. Olympic Sailing Team in some capacity to share her knowledge and experience.

The inability to medal might be a disappointment for Ms. Clark, who had said that was her goal this year, but residents back on Shelter Island have continued to express delight in the simple fact that their hometown hero made the U.S. Olympic Sailing Team.

“No matter where they place, we are so proud of Amanda and Sarah,” resident Jeanne Woods told the Reporter this week. “They put Shelter Island on the map,” Ms. Woods said.

Friday’s medal race is scheduled for 8 a.m. EST and a link to watch it live online will appear on that morning.