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PUERTO RICO HERALD
Figueroa Rigs Hobie 16 Sail For Pan Am Games
By Gabrielle Paese
July 11, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
Name an open body of water anywhere in the world and chances are that Enrique "Quique" Figueroa has sailed it. Puerto Rico's only four-time Central American-Caribbean Games gold medalist and the island's sole defending gold medalist at next month's Pan Am Games, Figueroa is as comfortable off the coast of Fiji as he is by his own coral reef in Isla Verde.
Figueroa won his first world championships at age 17 in Brazil, taking the Hobie 14 catamaran title. In 1984 he was third at the Hobie 14s in the Phillippines and in 1986 he sailed to second place at the Hobie 16 world championships in Fiji. Along the way he has won the U.S. national Hobie titles at least eight times. His domination of the Hobie cat has spanned three decades. Last year he was third at the Hobie Tiger Worlds and in 1994 won the IYRU World sailing championships. He won the Hobie 20 continental championships in 1999, the same year he and his wife/sailing partner Carla Malatrassi earned Pan Am gold sailing Hobie 16. It was Puerto Rico's lone gold medal in Winnipeg.
The two were back in the waters off the coast of Fajardo last weekend for the final countdown prior to Aug. 2 Pan Am Games sailing in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic, where Figueroa will defend his gold medal. For the 38-year-old sailor, getting back on the Hobie means making the transition from the 20-foot Tornado sailboat used in Olympic sailing to the clumsier, but more comfortable 16-foot catamaran used in this hemisphere. Figueroa has been sailing the Tornado, the Formula I of catamarans, for the past two months in Europe with the hopes of qualifying for the 2004 Olympics. If he is successful, Athens will be his third Games.
"The first few days it's an adjustment," said Figueroa, who won the seventh edition of the Coors Light/Sundance International regatta in the Beach Cats division last week in Fajardo. "After that, it all comes back to you."
Figueroa is the first to admit he's still coasting on the success he had these two months in Europe sailing Tornado with Jorge Hernandez. The duo competed in seven qualifying regattas and made an unprecedented move up from 98th place to 16th.
"The regattas are important for the rankings and we were really pleased when the July 2 rankings came out and we saw we had cracked the top 20," said Figueroa. "Our plan now is to continue to work hard for the Olympic qualifier following the Pan Am Games."
This is what the authors of the ISAF July 2 rankings had to say about Figueroa/Hernandez: "Following the European Championship, held in Italy last month, there has been a small uprising of new talent within the class. None more so than the South American pair of Enrique Figueroa and Jorge Hernandez (PUR), who since the 8 May rankings have amassed an incredible 1500 points to jump into the top twenty into 16 position. They are beginning to stamp their mark on the multihull fleet."
Figueroa has two chances to qualify for Athens, the first at the Tornado Worlds in Cadiz, Spain, in September, and the second in April of 2004 at the ISAF Worlds in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. "We have made so much progress since we started," said Figueroa. "We've been so privileged to be working on a research and development project with three other teams, including Mitch Booth (Netherlands), Leigh McMillan (Great Britain) and John Lovell and Charlie Ogletree (United States)."
The four teams have been testing sails and mechanics, but Figueroa said he has benefitted as these top sailors share knowledge. Booth is an eight-time World champion who helped coach Figueroa at the Sydney Olympics. Given Figueroa's Hobie prowess, Tornado sailing would seem to be a logical step.
Yet the three-time Hobie world champion almost packed it in after the 1999 Pan Am Games. He credits support from his wife and sailing partner, Carla Malatrassi, as well as a combination of sponsors, including the government, for helping him find the motivation to continue.
Figueroa was eighth in Sydney sailing with partner Pedrin Colon (Figueroa's wife, Malatrassi was at home during those Games having recently given birth to the first of the couple's two daughters). It was a respectable finish, but not enough for a sailor accustomed to winning. This time around, Figueroa returns with a better boat, more confidence, more experience and the support of the local government as well as private sponsors. Nor has he lost sight of the first hurdle to clear -- next month's Pan Am Games.
"I don't want to be overconfident, but we're going in with a very positive attitude and we plan to sail aggressively," said Figueroa, who leaves for the Dominican Republic on July 22 to get acclimated. "We won the continental championships and we have a picture of who our competitors are this time. We have already beaten most of them."
Delgado, Posada among All-Stars
Four Puerto Ricans were named as starters for the July 15 Major League Baseball All-Star game -- three in the AL and one in the NL. Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Carlos Delgado, who leads all AL hitters in home runs (28) and RBI (92), will be making his second All-Star game appearance while veteran designated hitter Edgar Martinez, of the Seattle Mariners, will be going for the seventh time in his career. Making his fourth All-Star appearance this year is Yankees' Jorge Posada. Atlanta catcher Javier Lopez is the lone Puerto Rican in the NL starting lineup. Montreal Expos second baseman Jose Vidro was named as an NL reserve player.
Gabrielle Paese is the Assistant Sports Editor at the San Juan Star. She is the 2000 recipient of the Overseas Press Club's Rafael Pont Flores Award for excellence in sports reporting. Comments or suggestions? Contact Gabrielle at email@example.com.
Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.