Lovell, Ogletree salvage bit of U.S. pride

Silver in Tornado gives Americans second medal, equaling 1996 letdown


Athens 2004

August 29, 2004|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

ATHENS - The U.S. sailing program averted its worst Olympic showing in 20 years yesterday when John Lovell and Charlie Ogletree finished second in the Tornado class.

The team's two-medal total this year ties the 1996 Atlanta Games for futility.

Lovell and Ogletree were unable to catch Austrians Roman Hagara and Hans Peter Steinacher, who outran the entire 17-boat fleet on the final day of sailing.

The defending Olympic titlists were so far ahead, they celebrated with a jump into the Saronic Gulf while most of their competitors were still sailing the final leg.

"The way they sailed today, there was no chance to beat them," Lovell said of the winners.

In the only other race, American Star sailors Paul Cayard and Phil Trinter struggled all day, and, instead of fighting for a bronze medal, they found themselves last in the fleet of 16 boats. They finished seventh overall.

"Everything we tried didn't work," Cayard said. "Right now, it's hard not to focus on the opportunities that were there throughout this regatta and the unfortunate fact that we didn't take advantage of them."

Cayard, 45, was an alternate at the 1984 Olympics and had spent the past 18 months training to make this team.

Lovell and Ogletree have been sailing together for more than a decade. They finished seventh in the 2000 Olympics and eighth in 1996.

Ogletree, who has the same birthday as his sailing partner, said they were disappointed as they crossed the finish line that they had been unable to win the gold medal.

"As soon as the race was over, we had our heads down a little bit, but as we got to shore and started talking to ... friends and family, it's all starting to feel pretty good," he said. "It's a dream come true."

This year, 61 nations sent a total of 400 sailors to the Olympics. Seven countries, including the United States, had entries in all 11 matches. Twenty countries received medals.

"I think it's great that it isn't controlled by one country," said Paul Henderson, president of the international sailing federation, known as the ISAF. "We have different classes, so that the wealthy countries dominate some classes and the emerging countries dominate others."

But sailing author and television analyst Gary Jobson warned that though parity is good for the sport, it does not bode well for future American medal efforts. Americans won nine medals in 1992, seven in 1984, five in 1988 and four in 2000.

"The U.S. needs a better system of identifying young sailors early and saying to them, `Hey, why don't you sail Star class or Europes?'" Jobson said. "We do a fairly good job with the really young ones and the high school-age ones, but then we lose them."

By the time the Beijing Olympics arrive, 470-class sailor Isabelle Kinsolving, now 25, would be the youngest of the current batch of 18 team members. Twelve of the current members will be over 35, and many have careers and families to attend to.

Henderson agrees.

"When I grew up ... we had a massive regatta circuit on the Great Lakes. You didn't have to go far to race every other weekend," he said. "That's totally disintegrated. I believe the yacht clubs in North America are not doing their job.

"The yacht clubs have to go back to what they were started for. Our yacht clubs are on some of the most beautiful pieces of land, but they are focused on their restaurant facilities and their swimming pools and the reason they're there has been moved to the background," Henderson said.

Gary Bodie, the U.S. head coach, named two other stumbling blocks: Olympic seasoning and sponsorship.

"Experience is a big, big factor, and it is one of the problems with our program. It does take 10 years. Across the whole field, very, very few sailors win Olympic medals their first time.

"We need more resources. Our model of relying on the sailors to get private funding isn't working. It works OK for four or five years, but then it starts breaking down for career athletes," said Bodie, who was the Naval Academy's sailing coach for 10 years. "To win at this game, you really need to be a career athlete."

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