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Olympic Hopefuls Seek Financial Help

February 17, 1988|Rich Roberts

A great misconception is that among all Olympic hopefuls, one would never have to throw a benefit for the sailors.

Who would need less help than a rich kid in a rich man's sport? Isn't it like a Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland movie, "Hey, let's get a boat and go to the Games?"

That may have been true once, and although world class and working class are generally synonymous in sailing now, the image dies hard and the participants suffer for it.

In the liberalized economics of the Olympics, most competitors in the major sports are either state-supported or outright professionals. Sailors are neither.

That's why nine young boat people calling themselves the "Long Beach Olympic Sailing Team" will have a benefit tonight at the Hyatt Edgewater Hotel in Long Beach, 5:30 to 8 p.m. They will mingle, show slides of their boats and talk about their campaigns. Tickets are $30, tax deductible.

The group includes Steve and Ron Rosenberg, who are ranked first nationally in the Flying Dutchman class; John Shadden and Charlie McKee, second in men's 470; Pete Melvin and Pat Muglia, third in Tornado catamaran; Pease Herndon and Cindy Goff, fifth in women's 470, and Richard Byron, sixth in Finn.

The Rosenbergs, their boat turtled atop their van, last weekend returned from Miami, where they placed third among Americans in the FD Midwinters and second in the Canadian-American regatta.

Next September at Pusan they hope to be sailing for medals, but in Florida they were sailing for money. Their success was worth $4,000 in campaign funding from the Olympic Yachting Committee because it pushed them ahead of J.B. Braun and Bill Kenney of Marblehead, Mass. as the top-ranked U.S. crew.

The figure their three-year campaign will cost them is more than $130,000.

Steve said: "I know we've spent over $80,000 right now. We have a $30,000 (bank) loan we have to pay off and a $12,000 loan from dad.

"If the IRS ever catches up with us, we'll just throw all the receipts on the table and let them figure it out."

Because boats wear out, they have two. One cost $18,000, the other $12,000. Sails cost $500, and they wear out a lot faster than boats.

"It's spent before it's raised," Steve said.

And try selling an FD or its gear after the Olympics. There are only a handful of active classes in the country.

The sailors wonder why the Olympic Yachting Committee, an arm of the U.S. Yacht Racing Union, can't help more, especially when they hear about million-dollar windfalls from the '84 Games and sponsors supporting the U.S. Sailing Team and gaining a lot of publicity for it.

After '84, when American sailors won gold medals in three classes and silvers in the other four--"the most productive American sport" in the Games, noted Andrew Kostanecki, chairman of the OYC--one might have expected more.

OYC Director Jonathan Harley, on the phone from Newport, R.I., said the total sponsorships from Volvo, CIBA-Geigy and Sebago amount to only about $80,000. The majority of funding comes from USYRU, which had its own problems on "Black Monday" with its $1.3 million share of the $222.7 million surplus from the '84 Games.

Kostanecki, speaking from New Canaan, Conn., said USYRU converted the money into an endowment, of which only $50,000 has trickled down to the sailors.

Overall, Harley said: "We asked for $440,000. They gave us $200,000."

With an Olympic budget of $800,000, they hope to get more with the stock market's comeback. What they have must be apportioned among the five top-ranked boats in each of eight classes, a total of 75 sailors who comprise the U.S. Sailing Team.

"If we give each of those guys and gals $2,000 to go to Europe (for a major competition), that's $150,000 and we pay for the shipment of their boats, which is $100,000," Harley said.

Some of the ranked Star and Soling sailors have complained about being cut off from funding entirely for their recent world championships because, they suspect, they're already best in the world. Harley said funds were withheld because the world competitions for those classes were held within the last few weeks when "we weren't sure we were even gonna get the $200,000."

Besides, Harley added, only one Soling will fit into a 40-foot container to Australia, at $10,000 per container, which can hold eight 470s.

So, according to Harley, the OYC is doing what it can, but the sailors aren't getting nearly as much help as it appears.

Kostanecki: "The America's Cup has siphoned off a tremendous amount of support. They go around pleading poverty to clubs. The fact is, (Olympic sailors) have to raise their own. The only way the sailors will get subsidized is when the local areas, such as Long Beach, get sensitized to the situation."

Steve Rosenberg, 24, has a broadcast journalism degree from Cal State Long Beach. Ron, 21, has his biology studies on hold at UC San Diego. Virtually all their time is spent sailing, preparing their boats and raising funds. Is it worth it?

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