Great Moments at the Games
Olympic sailing launched on a low note—the 1896 races in Greece were cancelled for lack of wind—but there have been many high points since. Olympic sailors have created a wonderful legacy. By way of example, we tip our hats to the great …
Paul Elvström for the longest Olympic “moment” ever. It’s been a show to watch, from the gritty determination that led him to build the world’s first hiking bench to the euphoria of the 20-year-old dark horse (“They told me, if you will not be the last, we’ll be happy.”) to winning gold that year and repeating in 1952, 1956, and 1960. Later he returned as the grand old man, showing up beginning in the 1980’s as Denmark’s Olympic Tornado representative with his daughter Trina on the wire.
Here’s a picture: Preparing for the regatta at Melbourne in 1956, with the Finn fleet hunkered down on the beach, Elvström launched through the surf to practice—alone, in a screaming wind—and put in his time, then returned to the beach standing on the transom of the boat, surfing like mad, and gybed, still standing, in front of all. Ultimate intimidation. The regatta was over before it began.
Bill and Carl Buchan for being unique. Father and son both won gold in ’84—Bill as the Star skipper, Carl as the Flying Dutchman crew—accounting for 2 of 3 U.S. gold medals. Here’s Bill aw-shucksing it: “I’ve never done a lot of training in the pure sense; I’ve just always been in a sailing frame of mind.”
The spirit of sailors. Also in 1984, New Zealand’s Rex Sellers and Christopher Timms nailed the Tornado gold and hit the beach to party hearty. They were going at it in fine style when Princess Anne arrived to congratulate them on behalf of the Commonwealth, and they duly toned things down in her honor. They also presented the princess with one of the tiny, fuzzy, pin-on Kiwis that were making the rounds. Meanwhile, a white-garbed figure stood watching from a respectful distance until the audience had reached a seemly point. Then he approached, put out his hand, and said, “Hello. I am King Constantine of Greece, and I want to congratulate you on a splendid performance. And I was wondering could I possibly have one of those Kiwis?” Whereupon the group broke up into equal parts laughing and shouting, “Kiwi! Kiwi for the King!”
Mark Reynolds and Hal Haenel for taking it on the chin in 1988—the mast came down in the final race, and they still almost won gold—and sticking themselves right back out there. The path was strewn with roses in 1992. “Barcelona was one of those regattas where everything goes right,” Reynolds fondly recalls of the first of his 2 Star gold medals. “If we got a bad start and had to tack, a shift would come along and put us right back in there.”
The 1992 U.S. team for bringing home 1 gold, 6 silver, and 2 bronze, medalling in 9 of 10 events.
Carl Eichenlaub, team mechanic and master tinkerer, for taking it to the nth degree. He’s never limited his attention to the U.S. team. There was that time, for example, at Barcelona, where the women’s 470 from Argentina was all but totaled in a collision, and Eichenlaub worked through the night to fix it. But here’s what makes this guy special. By the time the dawn touched the treetops, the gelcoat matched.
Lowell North and Peter Barrett for doing the seemingly impossible at Acapulco in 1968. When the halyard broke in their Star, they lowered the mast right there in the starting area, lashed the head of the sail to the head of the mast, and rerigged. They ate the gold medal for lunch.
Allison Jolly and Lynne Jewell for one of the great spinnaker rides of all time, “balls to the wall,” as now recalled by Lynne Jewell Shore. They went into the final 470 race with the odds on their side for gold, but it was a hard day forcing them to roll the dice on setting up for the puffy, light air prevailing or set up for medium winds, on principle, which they did. Being mid-fleet was plenty good enough, and that’s where they were when the new wind slammed in, 8 knots cranking up to 30 “like somebody threw a switch.” Fourth around the first leeward mark was golden. Then the jib halyard wire snapped, and then they were last, and then they were repaired (took a while), and then they were around the weather mark, still dead last . “We threw the kite up,” Shore said. “There was white-water carnage everywhere, boats going down, boats going down, boats going down, and we were flying.” To gold.
Last but not least, we salute all who answer the guns in 2004. There really is nothing quite like the Olympics.