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Bob Merrick
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Olympic Reportó09/04/00

US Olympic Sailing Team member Bob Merrick continues his series of reports leading up to the 2000 Games in Sydney, which start September 15.

The venerable Starthe Olympic's oldest designhas historically been a strong point for the US Team.  
During the 1968 Olympic Games in Acapulco, Mexico, on the way out to the racecourse for the Star Class, Lowell North and Peter Barrett suffered a near catastrophe in the form of a broken main halyard. Too far away from shore to return and make repairs, the two sailors dismantled their massive rig and brought it down on deck in order to tie the main to the top of the mast. In an unbelievable feat of determination, they raised the mast with the main attached and re-rigged the boat in time for the start. Barrett and North went on to win that race and the gold medal. It wasn’t a first for either of them since both sailors had won medals in previous Olympics—Barrett had won a silver medal in 1964 in the Finn Class, and North won bronze in the Dragon at the same games. However, winning a gold medal in Mexico meant that both sailors joined Herman Whiton—the ’48 and '52 gold medalist in the Six-Meter class—as the only American sailors to win multiple Olympic medals.

A few American sailors have since followed in the footsteps of these great Olympians. Buddy Melges and William Bentsen were on the US Team with North and Barrett in 1964 and won a bronze medal in the Flying Duchman. Melges and Bentsen returned to the Olympic games in 1972 to win a gold medal in the Soling Class, along with teammate William Allan.

One of America's Olympic greats, Peter Barrett.
When Whiton, Barrett, North, Melges, and Bentsen won their second Olympic medals, they joined a short list of multiple sailing medallists. At the top of the list is the Great Dane himself, Paul Elvstrom of Denmark. Elvstrom dominated the world of single-handed sailing for over a decade. In 1948, the Olympic single-handed sailing competition was held in Firefly dinghies; it was Elvstrom’s first Olympics and his first gold medal. The Olympic single-handed class changed to Finns for 1952 and Elvstrom went on to win three successive gold medals in this physically demanding class. The Great Dane still holds the world record for the most gold medals won in sailing—four.

Valentyn Mankyn, sailing for the USSR, came close to Elvstrom’s record with three gold medals. Mankyn won gold in the Finn in 1968, the Tempest in 1972, and the Star in 1980, and now serves as coach for the Italian Olympic team.

Jochen Schumann, like Mankyn, is also close to Elvstrom’s record with three golds. Schumann—who competes for Germany—won gold in the Finn in 1976 and in the Soling in 1988 and '96. Unlike Mankyn, however, Schumann will be competing in the 2000 Games in Sydney. If Schumann manages to win a gold medal in 2000, he will tie Elvstrom’s record, which is likely because Schumann and his team of Gunnar Bahr and Ingo Borlowski are presently ranked first in the ISAF World Soling rankings.

Star sailors and would-be medalists Reynolds and Liljedhal doing what they do best.
Despite only winning two medals in '96, the US has won more Olympic sailing medals than any other country—with 50 total—and there are plenty of past Olympic medallists kicking around. Until the current Olympiad, however, American sailors vying for repeat medals have been the exception rather than the rule. In fact there are only a few to add to the list of those already mentioned. Windsurfer Mike Gebhart won a bronze in 1988 and silver in 1992; and Randy Smyth won two Silver medals, 1984 and '92, in the Tornado Class. Mark Reynolds and Hal Haenel won silver in 1988 and gold in 1992 sailing in the Star Class. Considering the amount of medals going to the US in sailing, this is a relatively short list, but that situation may not last much longer. If things go well for the US Olympic Sailing Team at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, the number of sailors with multiple medals could almost double.

Of the 18 sailors on the 2000 US Olympic Sailing Team, eight are returning medalists. JJ Isler, a bronze medallist in 1992, has returned to the Women’s 470 Class with her new teammate Pease Glaser. My skipper, Paul Foerster, is returning to Olympic competition in the Men’s 470 Class. Paul’s previous medal was a silver he won at the games in '92 in the Flying Dutchman Class. Jeff Madrigali will return in the Soling Class, in which he won a bronze medal in 1996. Another medalist returning from the '96 games is Courtney Dey. Courtney, who won a bronze four years ago, will compete again in the Europe Dinghy. And having won medals separately in different Olympiads, brothers Jonathan (gold in the Flying Dutchman Class in 1984) and Charlie (bronze in the 470 Class in 1988) McKee will sail a 49er in Sydney.  And after two previous Olympic appearances, women's sailboard competitor Lanee Butler hasn't scored a medal, but perhaps the third time will be a charm.

Olympic veteran JJ Isler (right) and crew Pease Glaser will be a threat in the Women's 470 class.
For returning veterans Mark Reynolds and Mike Gebhart, the Sydney regatta will be their fourth Olympiad. Both have medalled twice before. What motivates these sailors to pursue a lifestyle of nearly continuous preparation for the next Olympic Regatta? For Reynolds it has to do with his favorite boat and striving to be the best. "The Olympics are one of the pinnacles of our sport, and sports in general, so striving to be the best includes going to the Olympics. It's also just worked out that the boat I really enjoy sailing, and that I make sails for now—the Star—is an Olympic class, so I get a chance to go for the gold every four years."

This month in Sydney, Reynolds and Gebhart both have a chance to become the first Americans to win three Olympic medals in sailing. Experience at this level will make their Olympic regatta a familiar one, but you can bet that it’s not one that ever gets any easier.

Follow Bob Merrick’s daily reports filed from Sydney once the Olympic Games begin.


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