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The Olympic Perspective

US Olympic representatives in the 470, Bob Merrick and his skipper Paul Foerster won the silver medal in yesterday’s final race. Here’s Bob’s overview of that contest and the recent days of Olympic competition.

Paul Foerster and Bob Merrick capture the final win at the Olympics to win the silver medal.

Wow, what a finish!  Paul and I just ended our two-plus-year Olympic campaign by winning the final race of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. We sailed a near-perfect race in the finale, taking the gun in a dying breeze, but we couldn't keep the Australian team—Tom King and Mark Turnbull—from sailing a good race as well.  At the end, it was nip and tuck, but we managed to edge them out just before the finish. Their second place was enough to nail down the gold medal and give us the silver. 

We started in roughly 15 knots of breeze, and were in great shape at the first mark—Tom and Mark were in 10th. But they steadily made their way up through the fleet to pull even with us. We traded the lead a few times, but got ahead of them in the end. It was a pretty amazing scene with hundreds of spectator boats out there and countless people on shore.

Adding to the intensity, the final race in the Women's 470 took place just before our race, and it was a similar Australia-vs.-USA scenario. JJ [Isler] and Pease [Glaser] sailed well to finish sixth and win the silver medal after the Australian team finished first.  It's hard to describe the kind of atmosphere that win produced. Jenny Armstrong and Belinda Stowell, the Australian 470 sailors, sailed around with the Australian flag tied to their mast and the crowd loved it.

US 49er bronze medalists Jonathan and Charlie McKee at the ceremonies earlier this week.

Earlier this week we experienced the first medal ceremony for Olympic sailing. Medals were given to Mistral Men and Women, Tornadoes, and 49ers. The ceremony was held at the base of the steps to the Opera House with the Sydney Harbor Bridge lit in the background. Most of the sailing team was there to cheer on Jonathan and Charlie McKee, our team’s first sailing medallists of these games. Jonathan and Charlie won the bronze in the 49er class. Team Leader Magnus Liljedahl summed up the experience later that night when he said, "It just makes you want to try even harder," if that's possible.

It may be an over simplification, but at this point, trying as hard as you can all the time seems to be the key to doing well. In our class at least—Men’s 470—the teams that have finished well are the teams that have been able to slug it out when the chips are down. All the best teams have had mark roundings in the 20s, but the teams at the top have been able to grind back consistently through the fleet and turn the race into a top-10 or low-teen score. On Sunday, the Portuguese found this out the hard way. After finishing 25th and 16th that day, they dropped from second to sixth overall.

Practice and persistence pay off. Bob and Paul sailing in the Sydney venue nearly a year ago.

When you are back in the pack, the temptation to wing it out to a corner and hope for some luck is far too strong. This strategy, however, almost never works. At this level, everyone else on the course is too well in tune with what's going on to miss some big shift that you may catch by luck. Fortunately Paul and I have been able to do our share of successfully slugging it out in the pack and we've managed to stay in the hunt. The first race of the regatta was one of those races. We did two 720s at the weather mark and rounded the second mark almost in last. At this point you have to think to yourself that you can't change the past so you just race from where you are. We finished eighth that race and managed to save our throw-outs for later and it made a big difference as things turned out.

Another big mistake would have been to not do our circles and risk being disqualified. It was a close call and we may have been in the right, but it was too big a risk. The defending gold medallists from the Ukraine found this out on Tuesday when they were disqualified in a port-starboard incident with the Portuguese. It was their second disqualification of the regatta. That combined with a premature start in Race four put them back in the pack for good.

We've had some crazy moments over the past few days, but the mood has been relatively relaxed. It’s a mindset that we tried to maintain throughout the last race, and it looks like it paid off. All in all it's been a great Olympics.

Stand by next week for a final wrap up report from Sydney by Bob Merrick.

The Medal Count

Sydney's Harbor Bridge and its Olympic rings—the backdrop for the sailing medal ceremonies.
Formerly a powerhouse in Olympic sailing, the US Team came away from the ’96 Olympic Regatta in Savannah with only two medals. Now, more than halfway through the Sydney Games, the US Team has secured medals in three of the 11 classes. Here’s a look at how the medals have been distributed to date.

 Mistral Men  
GoldAustriaChristoph Sieber
SilverArgentinaCarlos Espinala
BronzeNew ZealandAaron McIntosh

 Mistral Women  
Gold ItalyAlessandra Sensini
SilverGermanyAmelie Lux
BronzeNew Zealand Barbara Kendall

 Gold  Austria  Roman Hagara and Peter Steinacher
 Silver  Australia Darren Bundock and John Forbes
 Bronze  Germany  Roland Gaebler and Rene Schwall

 Gold  FinlandThomas Johanson and Jravi Jyrki
 Silver  Great Britain Ian Barker and Simon Hiscocks
 Bronze  US Jonathan and Charlie McKee

Men’s 470   
 Gold AustraliaMark Turnbull and Tom King
 Silver USPaul Foerster and Bob Merrick
 Bronze Argentine Javier Conte and Juan De La Fuente

 Women’s 470  
 GoldAustralia Belinda Stowell and Jenny Armstrong 
 SilverUSJJ Isler and Pease Glaser
 BronzeUkraineOlena Pakholchyk and Ruslana Taran

Suggested Reading List

1.  Olympic Report - 9/4/00 by Bob Merrick
2.  Olympic Report - 9/19/00 by Bob Merrick
3.  Olympic Report - 9/26/00 by Bob Merrick

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