American sailors Paris Henken and Helena Scutt have won the U.S. Olympic Team Athlete Selection Series in the 49erFX, the women's two-person high performance Olympic skiff. Rio 2016 will be the first Olympic Games appearance for both Henken (20) and Scutt (23), who won bronze at the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games.
Henken and Scutt qualified for the team based on their performance at two major events; January's Sailing World Cup Miami, and this week's 49erFX World Championship in Clearwater, Florida. While two days of racing remain at the Worlds, Henken and Scutt have clinched the selection series due to their strong results over the opening races.
"It doesn't feel real right now," said Scutt, who graduated from Stanford University last year after serving as the varsity sailing team co-captain and being named an all-conference crew. "It’s going to take a while to sink in. Eight years ago I was learning how to sail. It’s pretty surreal for me, and I feel very lucky to get to sail with Paris. I know she has something special. I had a little feeling all along."
Henken said that while they are elated to be named to the Olympic Team, they might be more pleased with how they have raced so far at the 49erFX World Championship this week. "We’re really happy with our results," said Henken, who put her time at the College of Charleston on hold to pursue her Olympic ambitions. "Our goal [at the Worlds] wasn’t to just beat the other Americans, it was to perform well at this event," said Henken. "That’s what we’re doing, and we’re very happy." The pair currently sit in 9th overall in the 42-boat fleet.
Helena also noted the strength of the international fleet here in Clearwater. "This is arguably the most competitive regatta of the [Olympic quadrennium], because there are multiple boats per country, with 42 boats overall instead of 20 like we will have at the Games. We’re going to make the most of the competition, and enjoy the atmosphere on home waters."
Henken and Scutt have faced significant adversity during their journey towards U.S. Olympic Team selection, as a major accident in September 2013 nearly derailed their campaign. While competing at the 2013 49erFX Worlds, another boat collided with the Americans, and Scutt suffered a broken spine, two broken ribs and a lacerated a kidney. Nevertheless, after a successful recovery by Scutt, the pair returned to the racecourse in 2014 and have trained full-time as members of the national team, the US Sailing Team Sperry.