Friday, April 18, 2008

Larger than Life. . .One Extraordinary Week

Before I really get started here, one note about my blog, and this particular post. I haven’t been updating as much as I’ve liked. I was holding off because I’ve been having some difficulties uploading photos. However, it’s time to take the blogging a little more seriously, as serious things are happening with my career. And about this post: I’ve held myself back…the tone is restrained and I’ve left out a lot of details.

First of all, as you have read, I am tremendously happy and excited to be working with my new sponsor, Compass Marketing. I’ve been going through a lot of financial struggles lately with the redress situation from the Trials, and more importantly, the spring regatta season in Europe. The burden has been eased and I am extremely grateful for that.

The decision to re-open the redress hearing from the Olympic Trials came as a bit of a surprise. I believe that US Sailing did feel that the evidence we had was compelling enough to take a second look at the situation. It was hard to change gears from racing back to legal fight, fly home, and immediately get to work. Every day I was thankful that I had such great help coming from many places, as I had a lot on my plate already with fund raising, training, and logistical planning.

There were some nerves on my part, flying up to Rhode Island. It is a really big deal for me to have a part in arranging something that was this logistically and financially complex. Not to mention I was bearing their logistical costs as well. Not only was this a financial problem, it was also a social complication, because of the tightness of the American windsurfing community. Three out of the four witnesses that were present know Nancy well and are friends with her, and more than one witness decided to not participate because of the same situation. I also hadn’t met my lawyer, Doug Smith and was a little keyed up about that as well.

Although I was nervous about meeting the witnesses, after we were all together everything started to revert back to windsurfing community normal. It’s impossible to be around a bunch of windsurfers and not have fun. On the way to the hotel we were joking, laughing, and razzing my poor volunteer manager, John Bertrand. I gained a lot confidence that night, because I could clearly see that they would give real and honest testimony. We were also really confident in the evidence we would present.

The first day of the hearings, held in Providence in the law offices of Morrison Mahoney (the firm of US Sailing’s lawyer), was a reopening of Nancy’s redress. Although the hearing was supposed to be “de novo,” meaning starting from new, the same jurors were present that had already decided against me once.

There was a lot of waiting involved during Nancy’s redress hearing while all the witnesses were being heard. Finally, the jury emerged from the room after two hours of deliberation. They handed us their written decision. Basically, they had re-written the original decision from the Trials, and thus given us an even more challenging situation to work with. The disappointment was overwhelming. My witnesses and I all believed the situation could have been turned around. All we could do was rally for the second day, which was to be my redress hearing. I signed the protest form knowing that I was at a serious disadvantage working against the hearing that had just occurred.

That night there wasn’t much sleep to be had, but we did the best we could. The next day we were up early and ready to go. John, witnesses and I were the first up the elevators to the 9th floor legal offices. We were greeted by Charley Cook, US Sailing’s lawyer, who was sitting enthroned in one of the plush mahogany leather chairs of the office reception. He opened the day by curtly informing my witnesses that they couldn’t stay in the office, but had to wait in the lobby at the bottom of the elevators. They would then be summoned individually to testify. After the warm welcome, the hearing got underway. My lawyer, Doug Smith, was to represent me and because he was in the room, I wasn’t allowed in. I wasn’t sure what was behind that rule, but I waited in the reception with Nancy while she was called in and out again. We both tried to look busy and important, reviewing our notes and writing things down. Eventually she turned her back to me in a swivel chair!

Throughout most of the afternoon, I regulated our team by calling witnesses up and down the elevators. I knew some cross-examination was certainly happening. I didn’t realize how bad it was though, until one of my witnesses came out of the room in tears. I wasn’t even allowed to talk to her and she had to stand up against the elevators apart from the lawyers, jurors, and observers. After most of the afternoon, they called a half hour lunch break, after which I was called into the room. My lawyer and I went through time-stamped sequence of pictures taken after the start of the disputed Race 16, and after the first windward mark rounding. There was a lot of interest in the time-stamped series. After the discussion, we took a short break, and after that the cross-examination began.

Charley Cook began the marathon with dissecting the time-stamped pictures, trying to poke holes in distances, times, and order of the competitors’ first windward mark rounding in race 16. The cross-examination moved in the direction of the redress form I had filed the previous day. Charley tried to pick apart all the details in his booming voice, led me in a few circles, and made me look like an idiot. A few of the things that he wanted to bring to light was the fact that I am mostly ignorant of legal proceedings so my redress had no grounds. After the comments on bias, there were even some questions as to the motive for my redress, and the motives of my manager and legal team for working with me. I exited the room completely angry and shaken.

On the way out, Nancy’s sail was standing against the wall. Since I had never seen the slice in real life, I asked if I could unroll it and look. The jury member standing near me agreed, so I got to finally see the slice in real life. I wasn’t allowed to comment on it, and had to roll it back up after a few seconds, but it was nice to look directly at the source of so much contention

We ate a late dinner and in a completely exhausted and hyper state, drove back to the hotel and promptly fell asleep. The flight back home was quiet and contemplative. Just today, April 15, I found out that the jury denied me redress. Time to move on to the next forum that involves arbitration and a completely new set of eyes. What a strange joy there is in the heat of battle, and I hope it will certainly translate to the intensity of the racecourse!

My Bottom Line

Nancy and I were both fouled and slowed by a third competitor shortly after the start in the final and deciding race of the Olympic Trials. We both recovered quickly and sailed hard in the planing conditions. No one on the race course noticed she was not sailing properly nor saw any damage to her sail including the jury that never left the start area, and a fellow competitor sailed next to her all the way back to the harbor entrance after the finish, in which Nancy arrived in the harbor first. Only after exhaustive review of the pictures at the first weather mark taken by professional photographer Rick Roberts did our own sail expert finally show us a small 4 ½ inch faint dark line was the actual sail damage that she claimed slowed her. And this he was sure of only because he knew where to look otherwise it would have been invisible.

Regardless of what the US Sailing statement says regarding the hearings, five witnesses gave compelling testimony that was backed up by photographs that are conclusive that Nancy lost only five second more than me in the incident, the slit in her sail was only 4 1/2 inches during the race (not the 8” to 10” tear the jury claimed the collision caused in the first hearing), she overstood the first weather mark and finished ahead of her nearest competitor at the time the photos were taken and who trailed her by only 15 seconds and who was the third ranked girl at the Trials.

For the life of me I don’t know why I have the burden to prove this and not on Nancy. The only proof Nancy has is her story, and a willing jury to believe her.

Because of the way in which the jury chose to handle both cases I have been burdened with proving these facts, rather than Nancy being asked to refute them as would happen in a conventional hearing.