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April 8, 2005
In 1982, a 17-year-old Puerto Rican kid named Enrique Figueroa took the sailing world by storm in Brazil when he won the Hobie 14 catamaran title at the World Championships. Fast-forward to Santa Barbara, Calif., 23 years later. Thats where Figueroa, now 40, won the Hobie Tiger Worlds in a stunning display of technical skill, beating out the same sailors who relegated him to seventh place in the Tornado class at the 2004 Olympics.
"This is the biggest thing for us," said Figueroa, who won the title with Jorge Hernandez crewing for him. "Hobie Tiger is the most competitive and most popular class. Its the biggest championship in any class. It was a thrill for us to compete against the same sailors we saw in the Olympics."
Even after three decades of domination, Figueroa showed hes the Nolan Ryan of his sport. Hes the only Puerto Rican athlete to win four Central American-Caribbean Games golds and just the second to win back-to-back Pan Am Games gold medals (1999 and 2003). Figueroa won his first Hobie world championships (14s) at age 17 in Brazil. 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. In 2002, 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 Karla Malatrassi earned their first Pan Am gold sailing Hobie 16. It was Puerto Rico's lone gold medal in Winnipeg. He was seventh in the Tornado class in Athens.
If Puerto Ricos Department of Sports and Recreation had been recently having doubts about keeping a 40-year-old sailor on its Aid-to-Full-Time Athletes payroll, Figueroa quelled them after this performance.
The veteran sailor practically gave the title away after he missed a connecting flight in Miami and had to forfeit the first days regatta, relegating him to 45th place in the 89-boat field, one of the most competitive Hobie Cat fields ever assembled.
"We had never competed with so many boats at one time," said Figueroa of the regattas format in seven to 12 knots of wind. "They usually divide us into sections, but due to the weather conditions and the time constraints, they had us sailing against each other all in one group. It made the competition very exciting and really complicated. When youre in small fleets and you make a mistake, you only fall back by maybe two boats. But in a big fleet like this, one mistake and youre way back."
After missing the first race and struggling in the second and third races with sixth and ninth place finishes, Figueroa redeemed himself as the regatta wore on, winning the fourth, fifth and sixth races before finishing third in the final race for an overall 21 points.
"We were able to recuperate," said Figueroa. "In the next regattas we were able to erase the bad finishes, take the lead and maintain it until the end."
The Puerto Ricans beat the Australian father-son team of Mitch and Taylor Booth, the defending champions, by just two points. Booth was fifth in Athens and served as coach to Figueroa prior to the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
"In our first race [the regattas second] we were in 30th place rounding the first buoy and we finished sixth," said Figueroa. "We had speed, a positive attitude and a will to win."
Figueroa was one of four Puerto Ricans to win titles at the Rolex International Regatta in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, two weekends ago.
Collazo dethrones Rivera at welterweight
Puerto Rican fighter Luis Collazo, of Brooklyn, scored a controversial split decision victory April 2 over fellow Puerto Rican Jose Antonio Rivera, of Worcester, Mass., for Riveras WBA welterweight belt. The fight was held in Riveras hometown on the undercard of the Jean Marc Mormeck-Wayne Braithwaite fight, which Mormeck won.
Puerto Rico Baseball Academy High School wins 4x100-meter relay track title
When John Kruk uttered his now famous phrase: "Lady, were not athletes, were baseball players," he hadnt yet met the 2005 graduating class of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy High School. Four of the schools outfielders, all of whom will be heavily scouted for their hitting and fielding talents this month at the 2005 Excellence Tournament, set a new Puerto Rican high school record this past weekend at the island championships, winning the boys 4x100-meter relay in 42:78.
Not bad for a quartet that never ran track prior to entering the specialized high school in Caguas, Puerto Rico. The team, coached by Alfonso Petters, and made up of seniors Brian Carreras, Juan Parra, Nicolas Figueroa and junior Angel Sierra, were to have earned a free trip to the Penn Relays at the end of the month in Philadelphia, Pa. However, PRBAHS principal Edwin Correa, a former Texas Rangers pitcher, turned down the honor.
"The Excellence Tournament is our World Series," said Correa. "Thats where all the scouts will be and thats their chance of getting drafted."
Correa said he entered the team in the high school relays to motivate the students to do their track work.
"Now it has become something that everyone wants to do," said Correa. "At the same time were helping increase interest in track and field because kids are now seeing that in order to play baseball you also have to be able to run."
Gabrielle Paese is a sports reporter in San Juan. She was 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.