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Nation’s finest sailors assemble in CL

June 4

CASCADE LOCKS — For the past 10 days, Cascade Locks has been the center of the college sailing universe, hosting the 2004 Inter-Collegiate Sailing Association North American Championships at Port Marina Park.

Teams from 25 schools competed in three separate divisions, each hoping to catch the perfect Gorge wind gust to victory. But in the end, only three winners could be crowned.

Yale University won the May 26-28 women’s dinghy championship, St. Mary’s College took the May 30-June 1 layline team title, and the University of Hawaii claimed the June 2-4 co-ed dinghy championship.

Each of the participating colleges fielded a separate A and B division team for both the women’s and co-ed dinghy events. After the district eliminations, 18 teams competed for the women’s title, 14 qualified for the team race, and 16 qualified for the co-ed race.

“There is no better place for wind and water than the Columbia River Gorge,” said Craig McBurney, whose company, Windtopia, is producing the event for College Sports Television (CSTV). “That’s what brought us here, and that’s what is going to bring us back during the Gorge Games.”

McBurney said he expects to see many of the same sailors in the Gorge during the week of July 10-18, when the 2004 Gorge Games will unfold on the banks of the Columbia River.

During that time, Windtopia will be helping to launch a new professional skif racing league, which will also be broadcast on CSTV.

A growing number of sailing spectators and participants are popping up on both coasts, and McBurney wants to take advantage.

“The purpose of all this is to put more wind sports programming on television,” he said. “We are just getting started with this idea, but one of the reasons we chose this event for our beta launch is that it has a natural distribution on CSTV.”

A variety of international “mega-brands” such as Coca-Cola, Ford, Dell, Lee Jeans and Motorola have already bought into the concept, giving McBurney and others plenty of optimism for this summer and beyond.

“We are integrating several mega-brand products into our presentation of events like the North American Sailing Championships,” he said. “When businesses of that magnitude appear in our broadcasts, it helps validate us in the eyes of our viewers. And in this case, it helps raise the profile for the Gorge.”

McBurney said he has enjoyed his time in the Gorge so much that he plans to move his corporate headquarters from Annapolis, Md., to Hood River in the next year.

He expects that the wind sports television market will continue to grow. And by starting in the “wind capital” with an event like the ICSA North American Sailing Championships, it will evolve that much faster.

“The college sailors are the market we are trying to reach, so we figured why not drive cross-country and start selling the idea first-hand,” McBurney said. “The entire media concept was developed over the past three weeks, and I would say it has been worth it. You have to go where the people are.”

In all, more than 200 of the nation’s best collegiate sailors competed in Cascade Locks over the past two weeks. The event also drew a variety of spectators from Hood River, Portland and southwest Washington.

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