U.S. Olympic Sailors win just two medals

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Non-profit foundation will underwrite one team per class to better train for 2008 games

U.S. sailors won a gold and a silver at the Olympic Games in Athens, leaving the medal harvest to Great Britain with five altogether, and continuing America’s disappointing slide in Olympic sailing.

Veteran Olympians Paul Foerster of Rockwall, Texas, and Kevin Burnham of Miami brought home the gold in the Men’s 470, winning it in the last race. The Americans went into the final race just two points ahead of silver medalists Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield of Great Britain. As the 470s jockeyed for position before the start, the breeze shifted and melted, giving Foerster and Burnham an opening to slip between the British and their wind, and cover them tack for tack for the remainder of the race. Foerster and Burnham tacked eight times before the start and at least 20 times on the first leg to keep their rivals bottled up.

“It was pretty tense all the way round. I just knew I couldn’t let Nick past, so we just covered him all the way round,” Foerster told a reporter for the International Sailing Federation.

Both Americans are previous 470 silver medalists, Burnham winning his first medal in the 1992 games and Foerster in 2000.

Tornado sailors John Lovell of New Orleans and Charlie Ogletree of Houston were contenders for the gold up to the last race, when Roman Hagara and Hans Peter Steinacher smoked the fleet, winning top honors for Austria while the Americans took the silver.

“We tried to get Austria behind us, but they broke away and got to the right side of the course at the critical point in the race, Lovell said in a posting on the US Sailing Web site.

After that, the Austrian sailors were untouchable.

Though the U.S. performance was disappointing, American sailors were in the hunt in three other classes. Katie McDowell and Isabelle Kinsolving finished fifth in the women’s 470, as did Tim Wadlow and Peter Spalding in the 49er, and Paul Cayard and Phil Trinter in the Star.

U.S. Olympic sailing results have eroded over the last decade from seven, five and nine medals in 1984, 1988 and 1992, respectively, to two in 1996, four in 2000 and two this year.

As the news from Athens came in, California software entrepreneur and international yachtsman Philippe Kahn announced in a report in Scuttlebutt, the online sailing digest, that his nonprofit Pegasus Racing foundation was organizing an Olympic training program for both U.S. and non-U.S. sailors for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Kahn said the foundation would underwrite one U.S. team per class, and give them “100 percent support” to sail 250 days a year under the direction of expert coaches, fitness trainers and nutritionists. The international composition of the program will ensure that the competition in training is keen.

“Sailing has evolved, and the approach to the Olympics should evolve, too,” he said in Scuttlebutt. “We’ll always have one U.S. team per class that we support, but next to them we’ll have the best in the world to push them all the way to the games.”

The big medal winners in sailing were Great Britain, with two golds, a silver and two bronzes, and Spain with a gold and two silvers. Brazil came away with two golds, and Austria, Greece and the United States each won a gold and a silver.