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U.S. Olympic Sailing Trials : Allison Jolly Skippers Dinghy Into First Place

Times Staff Writer

Skipper Allison Jolly of Valencia arrived back at the beach in her black drysuit Thursday, her hair a mess and white zinc oxide sun block smeared across her smiling face--the look of a winner.

Husband Mark Elliot met her with a kiss and pulled her boat up the ramp. Jolly and Lynne Jewell had just sailed into first place in the women’s 470 dinghy class of the U.S. Olympic sailing trials, seemingly from out of nowhere.

“These have been our conditions,” Jolly said. “Wait till it’s light air and you’ll see a completely different set of people. In really heavy air there’ll be still another set. We kind of favor the medium stuff.”

Perhaps, but with the wind gusting from a steady 12 knots to an atypical 18 or 20 hooter that pounded the leaded windows of the mansions along Newport’s upper scale shore, the sailors who like it rough came through.

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Jolly and John Shadden of Long Beach followed Wednesday’s opening second-place finishes with victories Thursday to take the leads in their series. There are eight or fewer races to go, depending on wind, fog and other concerns that prey on sailors’ minds.

Gary Knapp of Port Washington, N.Y., who a day earlier had complained about being too big, used his beef to blow past Long Beach’s Pete Melvin in their win-swapping duel in the Tornado catamarans.

J. B. Braun of Marblehead, Mass., out-sailed the rest of the Flying Dutchman fleet, while around the corner of the coast Mike Gebhardt muscled his way into the sailboard lead by placing second to fellow Floridian Sean Hawes.

South Korea will hold the first Olympics in which women have a sailing class all their own, but so far in these trials the American fleet leaders have failed to appear. The winner of the Olympic berth was expected to come from a group including Susan Taylor, J.J. Isler, Lisa Niece and Pease Herndon, but at this early juncture they stand third, sixth, seventh and ninth, respectively.

Niece is still recovering from mononucleosis, but the lackluster performances of the others is a mystery.

Jolly may have the answer. While those four and their crews globe-hopped in a covey the last couple of years to sharpen their skills in international competition, Jolly and Jewell stayed home to practice in their 470 and sail a similar Snipe dinghy in open competition with men.

Was that as good as sailing in the big-time events?

“Better,” Jolly said. “Those Snipe guys are hot.

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“Our coach said, ‘Your biggest problem is boat handling. There’s no reason for you to go to the worlds. I don’t like foreign travel much, anyway. It takes me out of the gym for my workouts, and it’s hard being away from my husband.”

Their personal coach is Newport sailmaker Bill Shore, who recently did a coast-to-coast merger with Newport Beach’s Dave Ullman, who coached both 470 fleets this year and made most of the sails.

Shore also is Jewell’s fiance.

“Bill set the whole program up,” Jewell said. “He’s the mastermind. We did the Snipe circuit for tactics and teamwork because it’s kind of an equal boat.”

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Shore said: “I think the work they did here in the States instead of going to Europe really paid off.”

Jewell said, hedging: “Well . . . we’ll say that at the end.”

They beat Taylor by only a couple of boat lengths.

“When we finished, both of our faces were bright red and our hearts were beating, ka-boom, ka-boom ,” Jewell said. “It’s not going to get any easier.”

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Shadden and crewman Charlie McKee have been the leaders in the men’s 470 fleet for the past year, although when Morgan Reeser of Miami won Wednesday’s race in lighter wind, it seemed he had regained his dominance of ’85 and ’86.

“We’d always done real well in light air, and we didn’t have any windy regattas for a time,” Reeser said. “Then we had three or four windy regattas and got killed. That put us back in our place.”

Reeser’s place Thursday was fourth, leaving him second in the standings, but Shadden and McKee--talented in all conditions--may be tough to catch.

“This is our usual conservative style,” McKee said after they finished only four lengths ahead of Tom Kinney of Kings Point, N.Y. “In these medium breezes, everyone goes the same upwind, and everyone is too smart to make any stupid mistakes and let you come roaring back.”

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But, as did Jolly and Braun, they sensed the wind shifts well and kept their boats moving through the slop.

“There are so many more races, we’ll still be conservative,” Shadden said. “Eventually we’ll have a battle. We’ll just have to be ready for it.”

Melvin, who won Wednesday with crewman Pat Muglia on a day for lightweights, had a strong lead over Knapp and crewman Chris Steinfeld through the first of three laps, but Knapp flew past when the wind churned Rhode Island Sound into super-wash cycle.

“When it gets wavy, we have to pinch,” Melvin said. “Those guys can just drive through. We don’t have enough weight to hold the boat down.”

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At Marblehead, Mass., Navy Lt. (j.g.) Brian Ledbetter of San Diego rebounded from Wednesday’s 14th place with his second win in three races.

Technically, Stewart Neff of Cambridge, Mass.--third Thursday--is the series leader with 11.4 points after three races, but Ledbetter can use Wednesday’s poor performance as one of two throw-outs, unless he suffers other serious setbacks.


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