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Old 09-28-2000
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Bob Merrick is on a distinguished road
Reynolds Shines in the Star

As the Olympic Sailing Regatta winds to a close, SailNet.com’s correspondent and US Men’s 470 silver medalist Bob Merrick files a closing report (see sidebar), and we offer a round-up of the action from Sydney.

The final contests for the Laser and Europe Classes were sailed in the waters of Sydney Harbour yesterday, and despite a climactic duel between Laser contenders Ben Ainslie of the UK and Robert Scheidt of Brazil, it took an additional four hours ashore for Ainslie to be determined as the gold medal winner, with Scheidt taking the silver. The outcome reversed the results of the 1996 Olympics where Scheidt schooled the younger Ainslie at the starting line of the final race to grab the gold. In yesterday’s race—sailed in variable breezes from five to 15 knots—it was Ainslie’s turn to teach, and he used his skills to push Scheidt back in the pack early in the race. Each competitor filed two protests against the other for an incident at the first weather mark as well as a starting line infraction, but the international jury disqualified the Brazilian in the first protest. Ainslie was seven points behind his rival going into the final race; the outcome of the protest gave him the gold medal by one point. The bronze medal went to Australian sailor Michael Blackburn. The US representative in the Laser, John Myrdal, finished 13th overall.

Dutch Europe Dinghy sailor Margriet Matthysse performed superbly on Friday, winning both races, but it wasn’t enough to oust Shirley Robertson of the UK, who won the gold medal by just two points. Despite winning the final three races, Matthysse couldn’t overcome her poor form in the early days of the regatta and had to settle for silver. Robertson got off to a good start in the early races of the event, and it ultimately made the difference as she won her first Olympic medal. Serena Amato of Argentina posted scores of 12 and 8 on the final day, dropping from silver to bronze in the overall scoring. The US representative in the Europe, Courtaney Dey (the 1996 bronze medalist), finished 16th overall.

The good news for the US Team was that Star representatives Mark Reynolds and Magnus Liljedhal climbed back into medal contention yesterday with scores of 2-4-1. With one race remaining, Reynolds and Liljedhal, the current Star World Champions, are assured of getting a medal, but which one will be determined today. In the standings, the Brazilian team of Torben Grael and Marcelo Ferriera lead the Britons Mark Covell and Ian Walker and the US team by five points.

In the Finn Class, US representative Russ Silvestri sailed keeper races of 4-3 yesterday and stands in seventh overall, only 10 points away from the bronze. With 25 boats in his fleet, he sees today's final two races as his chance to skew the numbers in his favor. "I was mad at myself after yesterday," said Silvestri of his disappointing finishes of 16 and 18. "It was a battle of inches and feet, and I gave away feet. Today I wasn't going to give an inch. In the second race, I nailed the start and hung it out there. It was a typical Finn race where you just hike and go, in 12 to15 knots and big waves. On the second beat when it hurt, I thought, "this is the Olympics, it's supposed to hurt!'" Leading in the Finn fleet is Great Britain's Iain Percy, who has 26 points to Swedish sailor Loof Fredrik's 46 for second. Silvestri has 63 total points.

The final sailing medal ceremonies will take place on Saturday, with the closing ceremonies scheduled for Sunday.

Bob Merrick’s Olympic Summary

When we woke up Thursday morning, it was drizzling again, and the forecasters did not think we would have much wind. Well, they were wrong again, and the race committee sent us out to a building northeasterly, which is a sea breeze here.

We raced on Course B, and the TV boat and helicopters were assigned to our course since Australia had a chance for two gold medals.

The race committee put the women's flag up to race an inner double loop, which meant we would have to wait for their fleet to start before we could get onto the racecourse. Not that everyone was already pretty amped-up!

In the women's fleet, the Australians had a nine-point lead, and there were about five other boats that had a chance for medals; our women's team was in the hunt. The Australians got off to a good start and led all the way around the course. The Americans were not so lucky and were out of the medals till the last run when they turned on the burners and passed a pack of boats, including the Israelis, which they had to beat to take the silver. It was an awesome finish and a great result for our team.

Well, now it was our turn. The wind had picked up to 14 to 18 knots, and the current would be running upwind for the entire race, at about one-quarter knot. The main factor in the race would be how we played Bradley's Head, which is a large point of land on the left-hand side of the course. If we played it right, we would get more wind and a favorable angle, but if we played it wrong, we could get caught in a hole and have no way out.

The scores were also a major factor. We were only five points behind the Australians, so to beat them we would have to finish in the top six and have at least four boats between us. Sounds easy enough. The problem was we were the only boat that could beat the Australians, but there were two other boats that could beat us; so if we had a bad race we could be out of the medals all together.

The Australians did not care—they just wanted to sit on us and make us have a bad race so they could win the gold. The other guys that could beat us were the Argentineans, who were six points back, and the British, who were 10 points back. Also in the mix were the Portuguese, who could beat Argentina or Great Britain, but not us. Well, after trying not to think about this too much for three days and nights, we finally decided just to sail as best we could and see what happened.

As expected, the Australians tried to mess with our start, but we found a hole in the line and shot through for a good start while they were a little late and eventually had to tack out to the right.

We battled off the starting line for a few minutes, trying to stay off the guys below us and get our bow down so we could start planing and going fast. This probably helped the boats that tacked out to get an edge; at the first crossing, the Australians were just ahead. We were too close for them to tack on us, though, and finally got into some open sailing and started to rip. I called some great shifts up the left side, and we played Bradley's Head just right to round the top mark in first!

The Australians were way back in 11th, but it was a triple inner loop, so they had a long time to catch up. Also, it was pretty windy, and they are usually very fast in that wind. Well, we just decided to sail our best and try to win the race.

We were battling with the Ukrainians all the way downwind, and they got ahead at the leeward mark, but we were faster upwind and passed them back. Well, we were doing our part and winning the race, but the Australians were rapidly climbing through the fleet. At the second windward mark, they were in fourth.

The wind was getting lighter now, down to 10 to 12 knots, so anything could happen; but the Australians were just too quick, and with us messing around with the Ukrainians, the Australians even caught up with us.

So, going up the last beat, we and the Australians traded the lead a few times, and the spectator crowd on Bradley's Head went wild. When the Australians would cross us, the Australian crowd would go up in a big cheer. When we would cross the Australians, the Americans would go up in a big cheer. All of our crossings were happening near Bradley's Head—were sailing within 10 feet of the crowd at times. It was awesome!

Well, we won the last cross and got the last cheer and went on to win the race. The Australians were second, but the boats we needed between us were half a leg behind.

Overall, we gave it a great shot and won four out of the 11races. We beat the Australians in six races, and they beat us in five races, but we still lost by four points. It was a relief to get second, but still a disappointment to come so close to winning.

We feel very fortunate, however, because a lot of good boats were not in the medals, including the French, the No. 1 team in the world for the last two years; Greece, No. 1 in the world three years ago, and former world champion; Finland, former world champion; New Zealand, 2000 European champs and getting better every regatta; Portugal, winner of the 1999 Pre-Olympics; Sweden, 1999 European champs; Spain, who won the last regatta in Sydney; Ukraine, the Atlanta Gold Medalists; and, finally, Slovenia, Israel, Great Britain, Russia, Japan,
Poland, and Italy, all with an outside chance to win.

We want to thank all our supporters back home who helped us and the USA Olympic Team. When we started our campaign three years ago, we knew it was going to be a long, tough road, but with all the support we have back in the good old USA, we also knew we had to try to get the USA back where it belongs: among the ranks of the greatest sailing countries in the world.

Hopefully, you all got to see some sailing on TV this time. Thanks to everyone who stayed up all night on the Internet, going through the emotional roller coaster of watching every mark rounding change, for better or for worse.

See you back at home!



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