Olympics: Australia (sob) empty handed

Australia ended the 2004 Olympics without any medals in sailing, for the first time since Pusan, Korea, in 1988.

The regatta concluded today with race 11 in the Star keelboat and Tornado catamaran classes.

Darren Bundock and John Forbes’ strategy to jump past the third-placed Argentineans Santiago Lange and Carlos Espinola while putting away Mitch Booth/Herb Dercksen (Netherlands) who were on equal points with them did not work out. They finished 14th with Booth/Dercksen 17th, but the Argentineans’ ninth was more than enough to win them the bronze medals.

Roman Hagara/Hans Peter Steinacher (Austria), with another brilliant light air performance in the 6-8 knot breeze, escaped a match-racing attempt by the second-placed Americans John Lovell/ Charlie Ogletree, to win the race and take the gold medal for the second Olympics in a row.

They won the gold medals with 34 points while Lovell/Ogletree (10th today) took the silver medals with 45 points and the Argentineans Santiago Lange/Carlos Espinola won the bronze medals with 54 points.

Bundock/Forbes finished sixth overall on 62 points, one behind Booth/Dercksen. Forbes said: ‘For today’s race, we had a small plan, just to try to beat the Dutch and if we beat the Argentineans by five it was all going to happen.

‘We got a great start and had the Dutch and the Argentineans below us (on the first work). The left looked fine all the way out, even coming back from the left looked fine. Then it all went light and ugly, basically like every other race we have bloody had in this joint where nothing goes the way it should go and guys are on big benders.

‘The only leg we gambled on was the second downwind where the Argentinean was sitting on top of us and Mitch was last and the only way we were going to gain some points was to split from the Argentineans. It didn’t work. It was game over from that point.’

Forbes, who is retiring from competitive sailing to spend more with his young family and in business, said he had no regrets from the regatta. ‘I think it’s just the way it goes. I am happy, today’s my last day Tornado sailing, Olympic sailing. For me it’s a great day.

‘I have had the best 17 years an, even here I have no regrets I have just come sixth at the Olympics, there is nothing wrong with that. Some who came as medal prospects didn’t even get in the top ten. We won a couple of races and were unlucky we didn’t sail the two days we had breeze our lay days, but that’s the sport.

‘I am very happy. I’ve just done a full lap of the boat park saying goodbye to everybody. And 99 per cent of the people there have been really good friends. They have been a big part of my life for a long time. My very first regatta was also Roman Hagara’s first regatta so we have been through a lot together and I am really happy for those guys. They sailed very well, they are very good campaigners.’

Today’s race began with the Americans match-racing the Austrians in the pre-start, without succeeding. The Austrians circled the committee boat and weaved through several press and photo boats to keep the Americans off their tail and soon after the start were able to tack off for the favoured right-hand side of the course. Hagara/Steinacher rounded the first mark seventh and with speed and good tactics improved to lead at the end of the third beat. The Americans, 11th at the first beat could only improve to tenth.

Hagara said winning the gold medals in Athens had been more difficult than in Sydney 2000. ‘There were eight teams that could win a medal. Racing was really tough and you had to be very focused and watching the wind shifts. This racing area was really difficult with two winds, Meltemi and sea breeze.’

Meantime on the Star course, with Torben Grael/Marcelo Ferrero (Brazil) unbeatable for the gold medals, Canadians Ross Macdonald/Mike Wolfs finished second in the last race to Mark Neeleman/Peter van Niekerk (Netherlands) to take the silver medals with 51.2 points while Xavier Rohart/Pascal Rambeau (France) won the bronze medals with 54.

Australians Colin Beashel/David Giles ended their regatta with a 13th placing to be 15th overall.

Beashel said: ‘We weren’t quick. We were competitive but not as competitive as some guys; Torben was very fast downwind.

‘You just had to feel good about the week, have a couple of things going for you and just sail confidently and keep it going. We didn’t do that.

‘We didn’t get off the line great, but quite often we were in reasonable shape halfway up the first beat but we just didn’t put the whole package together. I’m not sure why.’

Beashel, at the end of his sixth Olympic regatta, said: ‘I doubt whether I will compete again.

‘The sailing is very tough out there but I enjoy the fact that it is as tough. At the end of the day you look around and realise it was very tight race. We did not always end up where you wanted to be, but you would have enjoyed the race and been completely consumed by it. And I think that is a good way to look back on it. It’s been very enjoyable.’

Bob Ross' detailed analysis from Athens will be in the November issue of Australian Sailing and Australian Yachting.