Cayard counts on wisdom to keep his dreams afloat

In Star class, 45-year-old relies on experience first, then muscle


Athens Olympics 2004

August 21, 2004|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

ATHENS - Luckily for Paul Cayard, sailing can be an old man's game.

At 45, the America's Cup veteran is one of the graybeards at the Olympic regatta, competing in the 17-boat Star fleet, which is scheduled to begin six days of sailing today.

Only double-handed dinghy sailor Kevin Burnham, 47, is older on the U.S. team. Of the 34 Star sailors, Germany's Alexander Hagen is older by four years.

Cayard's crew is Phil Trinter, a mere child at 35.

Stepping from a big America's Cup yacht with lots of muscle power in the 16-member crew into a do-it-yourself 23-footer meant Cayard had to spend a lot of time in the gym in the past 18 months.

"It's a lot harder as you get older to have that top conditioning," he says. "I give myself an A for effort."

Cayard is counting on smarts accumulated over more than 30 years of sailing to give him an edge.

"Experience is a big factor, not just physical ability. That's why a 45-year-old can be at the Olympics in sailing," he says. "It probably will be a bigger factor in Athens. ... Here, the conditions are so variable and fluky that there's going to be a lot of bad luck and good luck. Probably the team that wins is going to be the team that deals with the bad luck the best.

"There's going to be guys who deserve to win races, had a great start, did the whole course well, controlled the fleet ... and on the last round the wind will drop or shift 50 degrees and the guy will come in 10th. That's a huge letdown."

Cayard says the shifty wind conditions in the Saronic Gulf favor Star sailors such as Peter Bromby of Bermuda and Ross MacDonald of Canada.

First built in 1911, the Star is the oldest one-design craft being raced. It joined the Olympic fleet in 1932. Cayard doesn't go back quite that far, but he has a long relationship with sailing.

The San Francisco native learned the basics from a schoolmate's family. He quickly moved from winning local regattas to winning at the North American Championships.

He missed making the 1984 U.S. Olympic team by 0.6 of a point at trials and went to Los Angeles as an alternate.

"I did get to march into the Coliseum," he says of the opening ceremony. "I can't remember the show much in L.A., but I remember the emotion. Being an American, walking into that tunnel ... the whole team got fired up and everybody was chanting `U-S-A' in this tunnel and it was reverberating really loud. ... The emotion, I'd have to say '84 was stronger."

Still, he is enjoying this Olympics experience, taking his family to the athletes' village and meeting "the stars of other sports. You don't get to do that at a regular regatta."

In 2002, he joined forces with Trinter for another Olympic run, most likely his last.

"When I first tried to go to the Olympics in '84, Bill Buchan won the gold at 49 years old, but times change and the bar keeps getting raised," Cayard says. "I doubt people over 45 are going to be very competitive in the Olympics in the future."

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