American Olympic Sailing worst performance since World War II

The Olympics brought good news for two of America's more dedicated sailing teams.

Paul Foerster and Kevin Burnham finally won a gold in the men's 470 dinghy class after earning silver twice (in the Flying Dutchman and 470).

And John Lovell and Charlie Ogletree medalled for the first time, claiming a silver in their third Olympics sailing in the Tornado catamaran class.

But two medals in 11 classes equals the worst performance by American sailors in the Olympics since World War II.

As recently as a dozen years ago, American sailors claimed a record nine medals in Spain.

In 1984, the American team won seven off Long Beach.

‘We can do better,’ three-time Olympic medallist Mark Reynolds said yesterday.

Reynolds, who lost the Star berth this time around to Paul Cayard, cites a number of factors for the American team's struggle in Greece.

‘One of the biggest reasons is that the rest of the world is getting better,’ Reynolds said, ‘and sailing has become a much bigger sport in Europe than here in the United States.

‘That fact has helped lead to European sailors having more sponsors and financial support than sailors from the United States.’

Other factors include the unusual conditions that greeted the sailors in Greece and the fact that many of this nation's top sailors are off making money sailing in such competitions as the America's Cup.

‘There isn't one reason, but there are plenty of reasons,’ Reynolds said. ‘I remember when I was comparing budgets with the British team before the Sydney Olympics, they had about four times to spend what we had.’

The British team, by the way, led all nations with five medals in Greece.

‘Many countries also focus on fewer sailors,’ Reynolds said. ‘They decide early who has the best shot in each class and support them as a national team. Here, the United States' way is to have a wide-open trials with the winner going to the Olympics.’

Reynolds has represented the United States in the venerable Star class in four Olympics. He won a silver medal in South Korea in 1988 and golds in 1992 (Spain) and 2000 (Australia).

He failed to medal in 1996 when the sailing was conducted off Savannah. ‘Those winds were unique,’ said Reynolds, who used the same word to describe the winds that Cayard and his teammates encountered in Greece.

Reynolds spent a week in Greece coaching Cayard.
‘You got strong wind and no wind. You got wind that bounced off mountains and changed directions down canyons,’ Reynolds said. ‘Sometimes, it didn't make any difference if you made the right tactical decisions.

The only thing that counted was where you were when the wind hit. When you look at the final Star standings, a lot of good sailors finished down in the standings.’

Cayard (and crew Phil Trinter) finished fifth in his first Olympics, the same position that native San Diegan Tim Wadlow (and crew Peter Spaulding) finished in the 49er dinghy class.

Both had a chance to medal going into the final day. But Wadlow's effort was considered a breakthrough while Cayard's was a disappointment.

The difference? The United States has always done well in the Star class. Wadlow's finish was the best by an American skipper in a 49er world championship event. The only other Americans to finish as high as fifth were Katie McDowell and crew Isabelle Kinsolving in the women's 470.

Meantime, the Olympic bug has not passed Reynolds, 47. The San Diegan is taking a long look at China in 2008. That is, if the Star remains in the Olympic lineup when the classes for the next Games are selected in November.