By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
RIO DE JANEIRO, July 23, 2011 – The U.S. women's sailing team took home the bronze medal yesterday here at the 5th International Military Sports Council's World Games.
This is the third medal that U.S. teams have garnered in the competitions, all earned by female teams.
The team, made up of Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps service members, has only sailed together for a total of 11 days, including the competition. The group met during their training week in Annapolis, Md., before flying here for the July 16-24 competitions.
"We sailed an awesome regatta. The girls came together really well during the practice week," said Coast Guard Lt. Krysia Pohl, skipper of the five-woman team. "We just got better every day. We stayed confident. We never got down when we made mistakes."
The team's medal will be one of only a handful the United States expects to earn at these competitions, which often times pits U.S. troops coming from duty stations around the world against athletes from other countries who are already Olympic medalists.
Pohl said she was proud to compete at this level against some of the world's top sailing athletes.
"I think it's really important that we continue to support athletes in the military to attend events like this because it does more for unity among the countries," she said.
In addition, she made friends with other U.S. troops she would have otherwise never met.
"The friendships that I made on the boat with the U.S. team, these are friendships that I'm going to have forever," she said. "I've known these girls two weeks and they are my friends for life."
The United States was represented by a four-man team and a five-woman team. There were 26 teams from around the world in the fleet race event. Twelve races were held off the waters of the Brazilian Naval Academy who played host for the event.
The races were also part of the 45th annual world sailing event, sponsored by the International Military Sports Council.
Navy Capt. Eric Irwin, the U.S. sailing team captain, said both teams did an "outstanding job."
"They learn more about the sport of sailing. But most importantly they meet sailors from around the world in the military, so it's a great opportunity to establish long-term ties and relationships," Irwin said.
Both teams boasted a mix of Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps, officer and enlisted. After only a week of training, they begin competition here on waters in which none of them have sailed.
The men's team finished in eighth place, but improved consistently throughout the regatta, it's skipper said.
"We were able to come here and improve throughout the regatta and by the end we were the best team out there today," Navy Lt. Cdr. Rodman Burley said.
"From meeting each other, to getting up to speed, to racing at a world championship against Olympic-caliber professional athletes was a pretty amazing accomplishment," Burley said. "If it started today I think that we probably would have had a very good chance of being on the podium.
Burley said he has competed in the military world games in Italy in 2003, and this is the fourth time representing the United States at the sailing world championships. He has gold and bronze medals to his credit.
"This is an amazing, live-changing experience," he said. "To be able to put on the Unites States of America uniform and to stand here amongst other athletes from other countries makes me very proud to be an American and to be chosen to represent America in this prestigious event."
The United States has 141 troops from all of the services competing here. Officials here don't break the athletes down by service, but the Army and Navy make up the largest contingent of the group. Of the athletes 79 are men and 62 are women.
The games offer more than 20 venues, including the popular track and field, boxing, swimming, volleyball and basketball. It also features equestrian events, parachuting and orienteering. For the United States, the largest participation is in volleyball with 23 athletes competing, followed by track and field and soccer with 18 each. Fifteen U.S. troops are competing in swimming, 12 in basketball, 11 in the triathlon, nine each in parachuting and sailing, eight each in beach volleyball, taekwondo and judo, and two in the modern pentathlon.
As of yesterday, women's teams have earned gold and silver medals in parachuting's formation skydiving and team accuracy respectively.