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Mendelblatt sails closer to goal of reaching top level

Mark Mendelblatt wasn't being cocky when the St. Petersburg sailor said he expected at least a silver medal at the Pan Am Games.

"I've been sailing against those guys for a while now and have been beating them _ except for Scheidt," Mendelblatt said.

Brazil's Robert Scheidt was dominant in the Laser Class at the Pan Am Games, taking the gold medal while Mendelblatt finished with the silver and a comfortable margin over Diego Romero of Argentina, who took the bronze. Scheidt is the reigning Olympic champion and likely will be the one to beat at the 2000 Sydney Games.

The week-long regatta included 11 races sailed on Lake Winnipeg _ one of the world's larger lakes _ in midwestern Canada above Minnesota. More than 100 sailors from the United States, Canada, Mexico, South America, the Caribbean, and Bermuda competed in 10 classes. The U.S. teams won gold in Lightning and Mistral Women, silver in Laser and Finn, and bronze in Sunfish and Mistral Men.

According to Mendelblatt, the conditions were a little unusual as he had expected less wind, which might have favored his style of sailing.

"It turned out to be really windy," Mendelblatt said. "We sailed most of the regatta in over 15 knots. There were only three light-air races out of 11. I think I would have had a better shot at taking more races from the Brazilian in lighter winds. It is more technical and there are more chances for mistakes in the light air."

Mendelblatt finished second four times and won three races, including the closing race that Scheidt skipped having already locked up the gold medal.

"I feel like I sailed well," a travel-weary Mendelblatt said, "and I feel like I'm getting better all the time _ getting closer to the top level. The racing is physical, but a lot of it is also mental _ staying focused and concentrating. He (Scheidt) sails with a different level of intensity. He's on a different level than the rest of us at this point."

Back at his office in St. Petersburg with only a few hours of rest after airline delays, Mendelblatt will have about six weeks of local training before heading for the pre-Olympic regatta in Australia. The mid-September event will bring together the world's best Laser sailors for a preview of the competition expected in 2000.

Mendelblatt, 26, a Tufts College graduate and former collegiate All-American, works for William R. Hough & Company in St. Petersburg and grew up sailing with the St. Petersburg Yacht Club Optimist program.

His father, Dr. Frank Mendelblatt, said, "Mark was racing just before he turned 7, coached by John Jennings, who was in high school at the time.

"This is a big honor for Mark to represent the U.S. in a sailing competition, a great thrill. Mark has always been a very good sportsman, and now that he's doing more racing internationally, his respect and enjoyment in the sport seems to be more than it ever was."