The US Olympic Sailing Team took some strong strides toward redemption yesterday in the waters surrounding Sydney, Australia. Not only did both the Mens and Womens 470 representatives sail well enough to win silver medals in the final race for their respective classes, but Star Class representatives Mark Reynolds and Magnus Liljedahl won the only race contested in that class while Laser representative John Myrdal logged a 2-1 day. Both Mrydal and the Reynolds-Liljedahl crew are back in contention for a medal with two races yet to be sailed.
With the stage set by shifting winds and an overwhelming number of spectator craft, the first race of the day featured the Womens 470 Class. After falling as far back as 11th among the 19 boats, US representative JJ Isler and crew Pease Glaser dug deep to make an enormous comeback on the final leg and finish sixthgood enough to lock in the Olympic silver medal. "There were definitely teams out there that were faster than us," said Glaser afterward, "but we were really good at the racing thing.''
Isler and Glaser rounded the final top mark in 10th placeout of the medals. But they managed to pass four boats as they sailed aggressively with their kite up. Isler later related that she saw the Dutch and Greek teams take advantage of favorable wind angles near a point called Bradleys Head on the second downwind leg, so she figured she ought to try that on the final leg, and it seemed to work. Actually, it worked to perfection. Without much of a margin for error, the US women finished the regatta one point ahead of the team from the Ukraine, who finished third in that final race. "Out of the corner of my eye I was counting boats between us and the Ukrainian boat and realizing, `Ooh, this looks pretty good,' '' Isler recounted.
After returning ashore, Isler was hustled off for drug testingthe downside of the Gamesbut the results were ultimately negative. Meanwhile, the final race in the Mens 470 Class was getting underway in the wake of the womens contest. Spectator traffic was increasing with horns blaring and flags waving for the Australian team, but US sailors Paul Foerster and Bob Merrick managed to maintain their focus. They started well, and even forced the Australian team of Tom King and Mark Turnbullthe overall regatta leaders at the timeinto a bad start, and then went on to lead at every mark. At the first top mark, the Aussies were nine places back, giving Foerster-Merrick supporters a hope that the US might grab the gold medal. But King and Turnbull turned on the jets downwind and managed ultimately to pass eight boats. They drew even with the Americans, and both teams traded the lead several times, but at the finish it was Foerster and Merrick who got the gun.
Horns and cheers erupted for both teams, but most of the celebration was for the gold-winning Aussies as these are the first gold medals that country has won in sailing since 1972. As for the US team, there was much jubilation when Foerster and Merrick arrived back at the dock. For Foerster, this is his second Olympic medal (he won a silver in the Flying Dutchman Class in 1992), but it was no less sweet an accomplishment. Isler, also a former Olympic medallist, won the bronze medal at the Barcelona Games in the 470.
In the other Olympic classes, Star skipper Mark Reynolds improved to sixth overall after winning Race Seven yesterday in light winds and lumpy seas offshore, while John Myrdal posted finishes of 1-2 to move into eighth place with two races remaining. In the Finn Class, Russ Silvestri fought tidal current to finish 18th, putting him into ninth place with two contests yet to be sailed. And in the Europe Dinghy Class, after seven races, Courtenay Dey holds 16th place by virtue of a 13th in yesterdays race. The Finn Class is scheduled for a lay day today while the other classes are scheduled to sail Races Nine and Ten.