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Posted by on May 13, 2012 in Sailboat Racing, UK, US |

Team Maclaren Breaks the Rolex Curse

Since 1961, no sailor has ever won the prestigious Rolex Yachtsman/Yachtswoman of the Year Award and then won an Olympic Trials the following year—until now.

Anna Tunnicliffe (sailing with Maclaren teammates Molly Vandermoer and Deb Capozzi) have finally broken the Rolex curse. Last week they won the 2012 US Women’s Match Racing Trials, after winning the 2011 Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year Award.

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Anna Tunnicliffe, coach Dave Dellenbaugh, Molly Vandermoer, and Deb Capozzi share their victory smiles with the press on the dock.

Flashback to February, 2007: Paige Railey is awarded the 2006 Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year. A month later, I told Anna Tunnicliffe (Paige’s arch rival for the Laser Radial Olympic slot, which would be decided in October 2007) that winning that particular Rolex was a bad idea. Because “nobody has a good year after winning the watch—it’s a curse.”

I wasn’t making it up. I’d been told about the curse by an excellent authority on the subject: two-time Rolex recipient, Ed Adams, who won the award in 1987 and 1991. In both 1988 and 1992, Ed lost the battle for Olympic selection to Mark Reynolds, who with teammate Hal Haenel went on to win a silver and gold medal at those two Games.

Sally Barkow's team won the first two matches of the final day, forcing Team Maclaren to "dig deep." Photo: Richard Langdon/oceanimages.co.uk/

Sally Barkow's team won the first two matches of the final day, forcing Team Maclaren to "dig deep."

(Looking over the list of previous Rolex award winners,  you may think the 2007 recipient, Sally Barkow, was the first to break the curse. She did go to the 2008 Olympics, but she won the Trials by default, after her only remaining competition—me—retired.)

I’d forgotten all about my 2007 conversation with Anna, but she hadn’t. The first thing she told me when I joined her on the dock to celebrate her winning the Women’s Match Racing Trials? “I’ve been worried about that damned curse all year.”

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Even after rounding the leeward mark, every race was still incredibly close.

Team Maclaren may seem like the natural favorites to win the US Trials; they are the top women’s match racing team in the world and had won the two most recent Sailing World Cup events. But to earn the last remaining slot on the US Olympic Sailing Team, they had to beat another very tough and determined team, led by another 2008 Olympian and previous Rolex winner: Sally Barkow. Sailing with Elizabeth Kratzig Burnham and Alana O’Reilly, Sally had finished second at the most recent Sailing World Cup event.

We all knew it was going to be a tough battle, and the 6-3 final score doesn’t reflect the closeness of the matches or excitement of the racing. In spite of the typical English weather, other teams, coaches, and supporters came out to watch, knowing this US-only competition would showcase the excitement of women’s match racing and offer a preview the gold medal match in August.

And now thanks to Anna, Molly, and Debbie, future Rolex winners can rest assured: winning a watch doesn’t have to mean losing the next Olympic Trials.

Follow Team Maclaren as they work toward a gold medal in Weymouth.

For more information, visit the US Olympic Sailing Team site.

Photos courtesy Richard Langdon of Ocean Images.

Carol Cronin