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."