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The Olympic Primer

Rushcutters Bay in Sydney Harbor will play host to 400 Olympic sailors in September.
For two weeks this September, national and individual pride will be on the line as 18 sailors representing the US go head to head with the top amateur competitors in the world at the 27th Olympiad in Sydney, Australia. More than just an international regatta, Olympic Yachting dates back to the Games in Greece in 1896 and has long stood as a pinnacle of achievement in the sport.

For the US, the Games in Sydney will mark a century of involvement in Olympic Yachting since the first American sailors competed in 1900. The US won its first Olympic medals in 1932 at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles (gold medals in the Star and 8-Meter classes and silver in the 6-Meter class), and in the ensuing years, America has become a dominant force in Olympic Yachting, winning a total of 50 medals.

This year, the US is sending a team made up mostly of Olympic veterans. Of the 18 sailors who will travel to Sydney, 11 have previously competed in the Games. Collectively, they've won 10 Olympic medals. That alone, however, doesn't guarantee success in this arena. To get a better handle on just how well the US might fare, we checked in with Gary Bodie, the Head Coach of the US Sailing Team, for an overview as the countdown to the Sydney continues.

Seattleites Charlie (left) and Jonathan McKee should have their collective mojo working in the 49er Class.
SailNet: More than half the sailors on the US Team have Olympic experience. Do you consider that an advantage?

Bodie: Oh it's definitely a big advantage. The Olympics are not just another regatta. There's a lot of focus on it and there's a lot of pressure for the sailors. Some people don't handle that well, so it really helps to have sailors who know what it's all about and are able to maintain their concentration.

SailNet: Some Olympic pundits have been quoted as saying the present team has a chance of winning just two medals. How do you assess the team's chances?

Bodie: We're deliberately not getting into medal predictions. Another way to look at it is, we have the current Star World Champion in Mark Reynolds, and the current Soling World Champion in Jeff Madrigali, so I think these guys will be counted as a serious medal contenders. And you have Paul [Foerster] and Bob [Merrick] finishing top-three and top-four in every major European 470 regatta this spring, so I think you have to count them as players. And then you have the McKees [Jonathan and Charlie] who can never be counted out in the 49er. Then you can go down the entire list of all 11 classes and make some case or at least point to results where they were close to the top three in some kind of international competition. Russ Silvestri [Finn Class] didn't do as well in the Gold Cup but he was fifth, I think, at Spa. And look at the Tornado Class results from Kiel this week. Johnnie [Lovell] and Charlie [Ogletree] are in 16th , but ahead of them are two French teams, two German teams, etc. Take out those second teams and these guys are a very close fourth or fifth in the Olympic Games. You can't discount the fact that someone on the team might get really hot for a day or two, and that added to their normal good races will make them pretty strong. So, how many classes do we have a chance in? All of them, I'd say.

Courtney Becker-Dey (USA 121), the doyenne of the Europe Dinghy in the US, has high hopes for Sydney.
SailNet: How will the Games in Sydney differ from previous Olympic regattas?

Bodie: There will be several major differences. One, the sailing will be in Sydney Harbor, which is smaller than you think. Basically it will be much closer to shore than the past Olympics and the courses will be smaller so the sailors will sail more laps. There'll be a lot more geographic influence—Sydney Harbor has cliffs and highlands. Another big change is that there will be six courses—A, B, C, D, E, and F, and you have to be prepared to be moved around. Some of the courses will be out near the ocean with swell and some of them will be inshore with current and chop. The Olympic organizers will only tell you the day before where you'll be and the variety on these courses is pretty high. And unlike the '96 Games in Savannah, we'll be in the same location as the main Olympics; we won't be so much of a satellite sport. This adds to the fun and it adds to the distraction factor. I think it will be exciting. We'll be in the harbor and that might bring more media coverage because it will be more photogenic with all those Sydney icons in the background. More importantly, they've changed the coaching protocol so now sailors can talk with their coaches right up to the warning signal. And the coaches will be out there on their own boats. That really makes coaching more important than in the past.

Presenting The US Sailing Team

 Courtney Becker-Dey (35) is one of the Olympic veterans on the US team this year, having sailed her way to a bronze medal in the Europe Dinghy in 1996. She has amassed a broad range of experience in the sport, including action in the America's Cup realm. Her aspirations for Sydney originally involved sailing in the Women's 470 Class, but when she failed to secure that berth, she jumped back into the Europe Dinghy and annihilated the competition at the Trials. A past Thistle Class National Champion and a former Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year, she stands a good chance of winning a medal, but she'll face tough competition in Sydney from several sailors almost half her age.
Hawaiian resident John Myrdal could be a dark horse in the Laser Class at Sydney.
John Myrdal (29) has been a member of the US Sailing Team since 1995. He clinched his Laser Class berth for the Olympics this spring in one of the most competitive Trials ever. A former collegiate All-American at the University of Hawaii, he became US SAILING's Athlete of the Year in 1998. Despite many years in the Laser Class, Myrdal has never won a major international regatta in this boat, but he could surprise a lot of his fellow competitors.
 Russ Silvestri (38) will be the US Finn Class representative in Sydney. This San Francisco-based investment banker has never competed in the Olympic Games, but he's been close. He nearly won the Olympic Trials in 1988 and picked up a silver medal at the Pan Am Games last year. His innovative approach to the Olympic Trials this spring brought him victory as well as controversy. He'll have his hands full competing against a strong international fleet.
 Paul Foerster (36) and Bob Merrick (26) have sailed together for over two years now and are considered one of the top 470 teams in the world. An aerospace engineer based in Texas, Foerster was a three-time college All-American at the University of Texas, and he went on to win a silver medal at the Olympics in '92 (Flying Dutchman) and a gold medal at the Pan Am Games in '95 (J/24). Sailing with Merrick, he won the 470 World Championship in '99 and this spring they beat 70 other competitors to win Hyeres Olympic Sailing Week. Merrick's first Olympic campaign began in 1994 after he graduated from the University of Rhode Island. At the 1996 470 Olympic Trials, he and skipper Josh Adams finished second. About two years later he teamed up with Foerster. SailNet is a sponsor of Foerster and Merrick's Olympic campaign.
 JJ Isler (36) and Pease Glaser (38) teamed up in 1998 to start their campaign and won the Women's 470 Olympic Trials in October last year. Isler, a three-time Rolex Yachtswoman of the Year, and a regular on the women's match-racing circuit, won a bronze medal in the 470 at the '92 Olympics in Spain. She is also a former world champion in this class. Glaser, a top skipper in the Tornado Class, has never competed in the Olympics before, but she's been on the US Sailing Team for 13 years and has competed against Olympic-caliber sailors for most of that time. She also owns three national titles in double-handed boats. Her wealth of experience and talent, along with J.J.'s, should make them a competitive team.
  Jonathan (40) and Charlie (37) McKee make up one of the top 49er teams in the world. On the helm, Jonathan is an Olympic gold medalist in the Flying Dutchman (1984) and a former world champion in that class. He hasn't finished worse than fourth at the 49er Worlds since 1997. Crewing, Charlie is an Olympic bronze medalist in the 470 (1988) and a four-time Tasar Class world champion. Together, they look upon sailing as their life's work, saying that it represents a complex challenge. "Unlike other challenges in our lives, we happen to be at a world-class level in this one. Being near the top, there is a curiosity to find out just how good we can be; to realize our potential."
 Mike Gebhardt (34), a dominant force in US boardsailing for the last decade, has been on and off the US Sailing Team since 1986. As a windsurfer, he's a veteran of three Olympic regattas and holds two medals (bronze in '88 and silver in '92). Now a professional sailing coach and consultant, he won his first national boardsailing event at age 10. His training regimen has become a lifestyle that depends upon meditation and adhering to a strict, grain-based diet. He'll have some strong competition on his hands in the Men's Mistral Class since this boat rewards physicality, but if experience becomes a factor, he's got an advantage.
 Lanee Butler (29) earned the distinction of Female Athlete of the Year from US SAILING in 1999 for her outstanding performance in competition. A two-time Olympian (1992 and 1996), and a three-time gold medalist at the Pan Am Games ('91, '95, and '99), this summer she will become the only woman sailor to represent the US in three consecutive Olympic Games.
 John Lovell (32) and Charlie Ogletree (32) have one Olympic regatta under their belts and roughly eight years of experience sailing together. Lovell, an accountant from Louisiana, is a four-time collegiate All-American. He drives the boat while Ogletree crews. Together, they won the 2000 Tornado Class Nationals and finished second at the North Americans. Ogletree, also a former collegiate All-American, is currently a sailmaker. These two will face a steep challenge in a class dominated by Australian and European sailors. They finished eighth at the Olympic Games in Savannah in 1996.

Stellar expectations are in place for Star racers Mark Reynolds and Magnus Liledjahl.
Mark Reynolds (44), a San Diego sailmaker, is a two-time Star Class World Champion ('95 and '00) and Olympic gold and silver medalist ('92 and '88), as well as the odds-on favorite to win gold in Sydney. He simply blew away the fleet in the Star Olympic Trials this spring, and went on to show consistent championship form in the 100-plus-boat Star Worlds. His crew, Magnus Liljedahl (46), is a Miami-based furniture maker who transplanted himself from Sweden several years ago to pursue a higher caliber of sailing. He has thrice won the coveted Bacardi Cup, and has worked hard to become one of the top Star crews in the world.
 Jeff Madrigali (44), Craig Healy (42), and Hartwell Jordan (38) have been sailing together for only two seasons, but they have quickly gelled into a formidable Soling team. With the San Francisco-based sailmaker Madrigali at the helm, they won the World Championship in the class this spring. Madro will be looking to amplify his medal collection in Sydney (he won an Olympic bronze in Savannah in '96), and his crew appears to be peaking at just the right time to make that happen.

The US Disabled Sailing Team will compete in the Paralympic Games in Sydney in late October. For the first time, sailing in the Sonar and 2.4 Meter Classes will be full-medal sports.

 Paul Callahan (42), Keith Burhans (43), and Corey Aucreman make up the Sonar crew that will represent the US in Sydney. All three have been members of the US Disabled Sailing Team since it was established in 1998. Callahan, the skipper, is a director at the Harvard Business School and a quadriplegic who won the silver medal at the World Disabled Games in 1998. Burhans, the president of the Harry H. Moore Corporation and a paraplegic, twice sailed in the Olympic Soling Trials. And Aucreman, a radiologist based in Southern California, was the 1998 World Disabled gold medalist in the Sonar.
 Tom Brown was a member of the US Sailing Team in the Soling Class in 1999. He won the US Disabled Sailing Team Trials in the 2.4 Meter Class by a margin of seven points.

SailNet will be checking in regularly with the competitors and the US Sailing Team as the Olympic Games approach. In our next Olympic Update, we profile the boats that are used in Olympic Racing.


Dan Dickison is offline  
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