Riding Out the Storm : Olympics Jewell’s Goal After Up-and-Down Career
In a 1980 poll of yachting experts, Dennis Conner and Lynne Jewell were crowned yachtsman and yachtswoman of the year--the king and queen of sailing.
Although most landlubbers were not aware of Conner back then, he since has ensured his place in sports history by winning the recent America’s Cup. But Jewell, without the benefit of a sports spectacular like the Cup, remains an obscure sailor despite two world championships and nine national titles.
In 1988, however, the summer Olympics will be open to women sailors for the first time, and Jewell realizes that a gold medal could make her the gem of the ocean. The 27-year-old resident of Studio City and skipper Allison Jolly of Valencia are testing the Olympic waters by taking part in the Alamitos Bay Regatta in Long Beach today, th e Olympic pretrials in May and Women’s World Championships in June.
“Long Beach will be a training ground to build a strong foundation,” said Jewell, who competes in the 470 class. “We want to perfect the mechanics, speed and tactics we will need in the Olympic Games.”
Jewell splashed onto the international scene 10 years ago as a college freshman, but her voyage hasn’t been smooth sailing. Although she often has reached the top of the sailing world, she also has plummeted to its depths, enduring prolonged slumps and enough negative experience to seek the help of a sports counselor.
“Very few people know what it’s like,” Jewell said, “to climb that mountain, fall down, climb it again and learn to maintain it.”
The problem, Jewell realized, was not the competition but her own self-inflicted fears and negative attitudes and the way she let pressure paralyze her during competition.
“When I was the underdog I worked harder,” she said, “but as the champion I got complacent. And my biggest downfall was self-pressure. I felt if I lost one regatta, I would lose everything. I screwed up and was horrified. I was so unsure of myself. I was starting to break down.”
Competitive sailing’s rough seas weren’t apparent to Jewell when she was introduced to the sport at the age of 7 by her mother, Lydia, a two-time Southern California sailing champion. Lynne and her twin, Bill, learned to sail during summers at their grandparent’s home in Plymouth, Mass.
A track star at Grant High, she was voted the school’s female athlete of the year in 1977 and accepted a track scholarship to Boston University. BU had a sailing team and, for a lark, she tried out. To everyone’s surprise, she beat “all the top people,” Jewell said, and knew then that sailing, not running, was her sport.
But BU would not let her give up track without also giving up her scholarship. “Lynne needed to keep her track scholarship because we were not doing well financially,” Lydia said. But the pull of the sea proved too much for Lynne, and her parents took out a loan to pay her tuition for her freshman year.
When Jewell helped BU reach No. 1 in the New England Intercollegiate Sailing Assn., Yale, Radcliffe and MIT offered her full four-year scholarships.
“I was going to leave BU after the first year because I couldn’t afford it,” Jewell said. “But BU caught wind of the other scholarship offers and gave me an athletic grant.”
In 1980, after competing for two years internationally, Jewell captured sailing’s Triple Crown, winning the Women’s World Championship, the Women’s U.S. Nationals and the Canadian Women’s Nationals. She missed the grand slam of sailing by placing second in the Canadian Laser Worlds.
“I was like a house on fire,” Jewell said. “I won almost everything there was to win.”
She was featured in articles in Sports Illustrated and People magazine and appeared on several television shows, including “Truth or Consequences,” “Real People” and “That’s Incredible.”
“It was incredible,” Jewell said. “I had newspapers, magazines and television shows calling me. It didn’t hit me for a long time, but when it did, I was pretty proud of myself. I think I got a little cocky.”
But the ride didn’t last. “There comes a point when you come down from the big wave,” she said, “and you crash.”
She defended her titles in 1981 and “bombed,” she said, placing second in the Nationals and fifth in the World Championships--and those were some of her better results. Afterward, she did a lot of crying and soul searching, she said, “But I never felt like giving up. My inner drive to be the best kept me going.”
Jewell’s quest for excellence also was a struggle for those around her.
“Lynne was hard to live with,” her brother said. “She is either up, up, up or in a depressed state, and her confidence goes out the window. It eats her up inside if she can’t win.”
“Lynne has a strong personality,” said her sister, Beth. “She can be overbearing, competitive and aggressive, yet she can turn those things around and make them work for her.”
On the race course, she was getting a reputation for being overbearing. “I challenged everyone and everything,” Jewell said. “I protested every official decision because I didn’t know the rules.”
A race official finally snuffed her curiosity. “As a punishment, I had to sit in on all protest sessions,” she said. “It was a real pain. I never knew how much trouble I caused and I never knew the rules.”
Jewell, who once skippered a boat named Inspired Insanity, became known for her risk-taking on the water and high-spirited ways off it. She was nicknamed “wild woman” by her sailing peers. “I was rambunctious,” she said. “I would play practical jokes all the time and I would never get caught.”
After a three-year slump, Jewell seemingly weathered the storm by winning the 1984 Women’s World Championships in Scotland and the Irish Women’s Nationals. Before the World Championships, she expressed her confidence in a postcard she mailed to her mother from Scotland. It read: “I am psyched. I am bringing the World trophy home. I’ll meet you at the airport.”
To Lydia, her daughter’s victory “was an unbelievable feeling. I never dreamed she would win the Worlds even once, but twice?”
But it didn’t take long for Jewell to steer off course again. She won only a single regatta in 1985 and 1986 and began her all-too-familiar battle with pressure and fear. Maintaining a positive attitude became impossible, she said, so she sought help from a Los Angeles sports counselor, Michael Anthony, who outlined a plan to renew her enthusiasm and help her focus on positive thoughts. Where she once played “mind games” with her competition to distract them before a race, she now wishes them good luck. And means it.
“Michael reconstructed my thinking,” Jewell said. “I developed negative attitudes that were hurting me in sailing and other areas of my life. I also had mixed emotions that influenced my decision-making.”
Jewell is now focused clearly on her desire to win an Olympic gold medal. She and Jolly placed fourth at the Women’s U.S. Nationals in February and have plotted a course that they hope will take them to Seoul next summer.
“We complement each other in the boat,” Jolly said. “She is big (5-9, 145 pounds) and I am small (5-4, 120). She is an optimist and I am a pessimist. She is great at boat handling and I am a better tactician.”
Jolly, 30, is an accomplished sailor. She was the 1985 Women’s U.S. Singlehanded Champion and was named yachtswoman of the year four years before Jewell.
“Allison and Lynne are the ‘Odd Couple,’ ” said Jolly’s husband, Mark Elliot. “They are entirely opposite in every aspect of sailing and personality. The only thing they share is the desire to work hard and win.”
Jewell’s family also shares some of the burden of her Olympic campaign. “I have been doing a lot of the home office work, mailings and depositing the money,” her mother said. “I listen to her questions and help with her problems.”
Bill Shore, Jewell’s fiance, also has been an important part of her life. Shore holds 25 world and national titles and was the navigator for Heart of America in the 1987 America’s Cup trials. Jewell accompanied him to Australia and served as an assistant coach critiquing the crew’s races. The trip also helped her put the Olympics in perspective.
Like the America’s Cup, she said, “There is a lot of pressure because the Olympics is a one-shot deal. I think, ‘If I make it, great. I have accomplished my goal. If not? I’ve gained years of experience.’ But I am not going to let losing happen. I am going to think positive and win it.”
Ken Fosdick, her former employer at the Plymouth Yacht Club where she worked during her college days, knows that Jewell will pursue Olympic gold like a pirate after a Spanish galleon. “Lynne sets her goals and goes after them,” he said. “If she can’t do it with style, she’ll bludgeon you to death.”