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Bob Merrick
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2000 Olympic Games Retrospective

SailNet's Team 2000 Paul Foerster and Bob Merrick showing their silver-medal form.
The 2000 Olympic Sailing Regatta marked 100 years of sailing’s inclusion in the Olympic Games, and as it does every four years, this event brought together the best sailors in the world for two weeks of unrivaled competition. Four hundred and two sailors representing 69 countries competed in the eleven Olympic classes in Sydney. Forty-five of the sailors competing were past Olympic medalists. The Australian organizing committee, led by former Laser World Champion Glen Bourke, was an excellent host, putting on a superb event.

The first Olympic Regatta of the new millennium will likely be remembered as the one that brought sailing to Olympic spectators. The decision to run races close to shore and to make the boats easily distinguishable by placing colorful country flags on the sails made this regatta an amazing spectacle. The shifty conditions on the harbor ensured that the regatta was always exciting, with race victories never guaranteed until the finish. And on a personal level, listening to a crowd of thousands erupt after a close-crossing situation with the home team was truly a unique experience.

"In the end, the US Team brought home four medals."
The US Olympic Sailing Team went into the regatta predicting, although not publicly, four medals with a realistic chance at five. At the end of the regatta, the team brought home four medals—bronze in the 49er, silver in Men's and Women's 470s, and gold in the Star. The team from Great Britain topped the medal count with five—three gold and two silver. And like the US, Australia also won four medals—two gold, a silver, and a bronze. What follows is a class-by-class breakdown of how the US Team fared.

Laser    Competing in his first Olympic Games, John Myrdal finished 12th in the 43-boat Laser fleet, the largest class at the event. John showed strong potential in Races Six through Nine, with three seconds and a first, but was not able to remain consistent throughout the 11-race series. As the youngest member of the team (at 29), John offered strong indications that the future of the US Laser Class looks bright, particularly if he's among the sailors seeking an Olympic berth in 2004.

Bronze medalists in the 49er, Charlie (left) and Jonathan McKee get their ya yas during practice.

49er    Jonathan and Charlie McKee finished with a bronze medal in the 49er. "I have a lot of respect for the entire fleet, not just for the medalists," said Jonathan after the regatta. "There were guys looking just as good behind us, but it wasn't their day. We're happy about how we sailed; we came into this knowing we had an outside chance, but we were in no way the favorites."

Jonathan, age 40, and Charlie, 38, have each won Olympic medals before (Jonathan won gold in the Flying Dutchman 16 years ago at the Los Angeles Games, while Charlie won the bronze 12 years ago in the Seoul Games in the Men’s 470). "We've sailed together on and off for 25 years," said Charlie, "so it's something special to win a medal together at what we see as the end of our Olympic careers."

Europe    Courtenay Dey, an Olympic bronze medalist in '96, had high hopes going into the Olympic Regatta in Sydney, but it was not to be. Dey finished 16th in the 28-boat Europe fleet. Reflecting on her regatta, she sighted her unfamiliarity with the local conditions. "I'd see the wind, it was there, it wasn't a mirage, but by the time I'd get to it, it was gone." said Dey. "Except for one other race, that was the story of my entire regatta. If I were to come here again, I'd re-evaluate my style."

Finn    Russ Silvestri got close to a medal in the Finn Class, ultimately finishing a very respectable sixth. "I made three bad decisions in the regatta that cost me the silver medal," he said when asked to assess his performance. Providing the Finn is voted to remain an Olympic class for 2004, Silvestri (38), who has been sailing Finns for over a decade, doesn't have plans to give up just yet. "I've got good equipment, a good boat, and a good mast. It'd be a shame to throw it all away."

How sweet it is—JJ Isler (left) and Pease Glaser celebrate their silver medal in the Women's 470.

Women’s 470    JJ Isler and Pease Glaser finished with a surprise silver medal in this class. "We started our campaign late," said Isler, a bronze medalist in 1992. "Our best international finish was a seventh all year. It was fun being the underdog." For Glaser, competing in her first Olympic Games, the victory was especially sweet. As the longest- standing consecutive member of the US Sailing Team (13 years), she had launched three previous Olympic campaigns as a 470 and Tornado skipper.

Men’s 470    Paul Foerster and I finished with a silver medal in what we knew would be a tight class. After a shaky start to the regatta, we had a chance to win going into the final race, though we needed to put four boats between the Australians and ourselves. We did all we could and got out in front at the first mark with the Australians in ninth. Two legs later the Australians moved into third and finished right behind us in second to win the regatta. For Paul, competing in his third Olympic Games, this meant a second silver medal. He won the first in Barcelona in '92 in the now-discontinued Flying Dutchman Class.

Tornado    John Lovell and Charlie Ogletree finished seventh in this 16-boat fleet. They were among the first fleets to start racing and had to deal with unseasonably light winds for almost their entire regatta. "We're not bad in light air," said Lovell, afterward, "but our strength is heavy air." This was the second Olympic Games for both John and Charlie.

"Reynolds has now won more Olympic Sailing medals than any other American."

Mistral Women    Lanee Butler finished fourth in the Women's Mistral Class. She ran into trouble in the first race of the regatta and was disqualified after a protest with the sailor from Hong Kong, but rallied for a great finish. "I'm probably the happiest fourth-place finisher ever," said Lanee after the Games. "I came in wanting to finish top-five, so anything better is icing on the cake." For Lanee, this was her third appearance in the Olympic Games.

Mistral Men    Mike Gebhardt, a two-time Olympic medalist competing in his fourth Olympics, was less-than-satisfied with his 11th-place finish in this demanding class. "This was the toughest Olympic Regatta I've sailed yet. It's getting tougher every time."

Soling    The world-championship-winning team of Jeff Madrigali, Craig Healy, and Hartwell Jordan were upset in the second round of the match-racing finals and forced to make an early exit from the regatta. "We didn't sail to our potential," said helmsman Madrigali, a bronze medalist in '96. "It was nothing in particular. You have to make the right decisions out there, and we didn't make enough of them to win the races, so we didn’t advance."

A patriotic Mark Reynolds (left) after clinching the gold medal in the final race of the Sydney Games.
Star    Competition in the Star Class came down to an exciting conclusion that resulted in a gold medal for US sailors Mark Reynolds and Magnus Liljedahl. Going into the last race of the regatta, the US team was tied with the sailors from Great Britain for second place, and both were five points behind the Brazilians in first. Reynolds and Liljedahl were over early at the start and had to dip back below the line to clear themselves. Despite a difficult start, the team rounded the first weather mark in second behind, Canada. Not knowing that the Brazilians would be disqualified for also starting prematurely, the Americans had to keep track of both the British and the Brazilians. "We were counting at each mark. All we were thinking was that we had to put five points on them," said Reynolds after the victory. "At the same time we had to watch Great Britain. It was who beat whom, and they turned out to be right behind us in the end. We were only loosely covering them. We would've covered tighter if we knew it was over for Torben (Grael of Brazil)." In the end, they had enough points on both their rivals to win the regatta. For Reynolds, it was his third Olympic medal. With silver in '88 and gold in '92, Reynolds has now won more Olympic sailing medals than any other American.

After the Olympics in 1996 it was clear that the days of American supremacy in Olympic sailing were over. In that Olympiad, the US team took home only two bronze medals after dominating the previous three Olympic Regattas with medals in almost every event. Aided by the return of many veterans in 2000, the US Team had a successful event and has once again distinguished itself as one of the top teams in sailing. In 1996, no one country was rising to the top, but after the 2000 regatta that may be changing. The British and Australian teams, with the help of substantial government funding, have both made huge strides over the past four years and both are determined to become the next sailing superpower.

The author celebrates at the closing ceremonies for the Games.

With so many veterans on this year’s US Olympic Sailing Team, the indications are that the team we send to the Olympics in Greece in 2004 will no doubt be younger and less-experienced. What the next generation of Olympic sailors may lack in experience they will make up for in determination. In the Men's 470 Class, for example, no less than three teams from the US continued with their campaigns immediately following the trials, attending events in Europe this past spring and training in Sydney for the month of August. In November, ISAF will announce the classes that will compete in the next Olympic regatta, and the campaigns for 2004 will get underway in earnest. After 2000, the US Team is back on track and in a good position to build on its success for the future.

Suggested Reading List

  1. Reynolds Shines in the Star by Bob Merrick
  2. Olympic Report - 09/28/00 by SailNet
  3. Olympic Report - 09/26/00 by Bob Merrick

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