2004 Olympic Sailing Competition
In a tribute to the sport of sailing, the XXVIII Olympiad was officially opened by a sailor, with Nikolaos KAKLAMANAKIS (GRE) lighting the Olympic flame on Friday 13 August. Sixteen days later at the Closing Ceremony on Sunday 29 August the flame of XXVII Olympiad was extinguised by gold medallists Sofia BEKATOROU and Emilia TSOULFA (GRE). The first time in the history of the Olympic Games that sailing has been honoured in this way.
At the Opening Ceremony, a further eight sailors were selected to carry their nation’s flag in the parade of athletes - Carlos ESPINOLA (ARG), Colin BEASHEL (AUS), Roman HAGARA (AUT), Peter BROMBY (BER), Torben GRAEL (BRA), Allan JULIE (SEY), Ali Enver ADAKAN (TUR), Thomas JOHANSON (FIN), with three carrying their nation’s flag at the Closing Ceremony – Andreas CARIOLOU (CYP), Mark MANSFIELD (IRL) and Gal FRIDMAN (ISR) – a fantastic representation for the sport.
The Olympic Sailing Competition was a spectacular affair with 400 sailors representing 61 nations competing on the waters of the Saronic, Athens, Greece. 126 races were held for 11 sailing events over 15 days of racing, with 54 athletes receiving medals. A superb effort from Great Britain saw them comfortably at the top of the medal table for the second consecutive Olympiad, with two Gold, one Silver and two Bronze medals, followed by Brazil with two Gold medals. Host nation Greece was ranked fifth with one Gold and one Silver medal. All eleven events sailed their scheduled races, eleven races apiece except the 49er which had 16.
The breeze, as would be expected, played a key role in the medals. The much anticipated Meltemi only came into play on a few days, blasting in from a northeasterly direction. Its antithesis, the predictable and preferred seabreeze came in from the opposite direction, but for the 2004 Olympic Sailing Competition it did not come often enough. Instead, something of a hybrid breeze introduced itself from the northwest to challenge the sailors.
Dominating their respective events, three crews won their medals with a race to spare, with Sofia BEKATOROU and Emilia TSOULFA (GRE) in the 470 Women, Shirley ROBERTSON, Sarah WEBB and Sara AYTON (GBR) in the Yngling, and Torben GRAEL and Marcelo FERREIRA (BRA) in the Star.
Torben GRAEL also became the first athlete to win five medals in the history of the Olympic Sailing Competition – placing him amongst the most prominent sailors of modern times – with his Gold in Athens complementing three previous medals in the Star (1988 – Bronze, 1996 – Gold, 2000 – Bronze) and a Silver in the Soling in 1984 – and marking the third medal he has won in the Star with crew Marcelo FERREIRA.
Across the other eight events, the medals were decided on the last race and the performances of all athletes at the Olympic Games are etched in history. However, special note should be made of some outstanding achievements.
In the Windsurfer Men event, Gal FRIDMAN fulfilled a dream for himself and Israel by winning the country's first ever Olympic gold medal. Fridman raced a tactically flawless final race on the Mistral to finish the race in second place, sufficient to claim the Gold Medal for Israel – the nation’s first after 52 years and 12 Olympics.
Ruslana TARAN (UKR) became only the second woman to claim three Olympic Medals, helming her Yngling to the Silver medal in the Keelboat Women event – equalling the tally held by Barbara KENDALL (NZL) in the Windsurfer Women event. This silver complements the bronze medals she won with crew Olena PAKHOLCHYK in 1996 and 2000 in the Double-handed Dinghy Women event in the 470.
The Czech Republic and Slovenia claimed their first ever medals in the sport of sailing, with both being won by women. World ranked number 4 Lenka SMIDOVA (CZE) held herself safely in the leading pack throughout the eleven race series to claim a Silver medal for herself and the Czech Republic, and the first ever Olympic medal for the land-locked nation.
Over in the 42 boat entry Laser fleet, Vasilij ZBOGAR made history for Slovenia by achieving the nation’s first Olympic medal for sailing. An eight year sailing career in the Laser was preceded by the path of the Optimist and 470, an outstanding medal for Zbogar on his second Olympic campaign.
The youngest medallist was Siren SUNDBY (NOR), who aged 21 won gold in the Europe class, while the oldest was 48 year old Kevin BURNHAM (USA) who won gold in the 470 Men – a sport for life.
The medal spread was impressive, with 20 of the 61 nations in Athens claiming medals. This medal spread exceeds the 2000 Olympic Sailing Competition, and almost equals the recording breaking 1996 Olympic Sailing Competition when 22 nations won medals.
Keelboat Men – Star
After 10 races, Torben GRAEL and Marcelo FERREIRA clutched Brazil's second sailing gold medal at the 2004 Olympic Sailing Competition with a race to spare, and with it Grael claimed an unprecedented five Olympic medals.
Going into the last race, French crew Xavier ROHART and Pascal RAMBEAU were second ahead of Canada’s Ross MACDONALD and Mike WOLFS, but unfortunately for the French, the Canadians outsailed them and won the Bronze medal. Behind them, Flavio MARAZZI and Enrico DE MARIA (SUI) were fourth overall, while Paul CAYARD and Phil TRINTER (USA), after a disappointing last race, lost not only every chance to make it to third, but dropped to fifth.
“We tried to make it work, but it almost seemed like a bad joke. Everything we tried didn’t work and we got a serious distance behind. 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.” Commented Paul CAYARD. Cayard first accompanied the US Olympic Sailing Team to the Los Angeles Games 20 years ago as an alternate and has since established himself as one of the most recognizable sailors on the planet. Crew Phil TRINTER considered the emotional letdown to be a natural part of being an athlete. “You’ve got to remember, it’s still the greatest thing in sailing to be here,” he said. “The Olympics are something special, and to get here is a great accomplishment and honour.”
The Star was one of the hardest contested classes, with even the best crews visiting the rear of the fleet several times.
Multihull Open – Tornado
It took all 11 races to do it, in a fleet that was very strong with points close all the way down to tenth place, but in the end Austria's Roman HAGARA and Hans Peter STEINACHER added a second Gold Medal to their collection. The Austrians finished ahead of a strong USA team of Johnny LOVELL and Charlie OGLETREE who were on their third Olympic campaign and made their first trip to the medal podium to claim the Silver. In a close third were the 2004 World Champions from Argentina, Santiago LANGE and Carlos ESPINOLA.
France’s crew of Olivier BACKES and Laurent VOIRON secured fourth overall, three points behind the third.
Netherland’s Mitch BOOTH and Herbert DERCKSEN were fifth overall, followed by Australia’s Darren BUNDOCK and John FORBES with only one point difference. It was a very tight race for the top of the fleet, ensuring the battle for medals was through to the end.
Interestingly, the Tornado fleet was the only fleet to not have any boat on boat protests.
Double-handed dinghy Open - 49er
A royal reception awaited the new 49er Olympic Champions as Iker MARTINEZ and Xabier FERNANDEZ stepped ashore after the last race of the regatta. Her Majesty Queen Sofia congratulated Spain’s Gold medallists with a kiss and a few words of gratitude on behalf of a proud nation.
The 49er regatta rounded off with a light-wind race of single-wiring, ideal conditions for taking the fight to Spain. The Ukraine team of Rodion LUKA and George LEONCHUK looked close to threatening the Spanish points lead as they moved into the lead of the race at the midway point, but it was not to be with the Ukraines taking the Silver. For the Spanish duo and reigning World Champions they now have the one that they really wanted, but which at times in the past year has looked far from their grasp. Injury forced them out of most of the 2003 season, and a broken finger prevented Martinez from completing the European Championships as recently as a month and a half ago. Despite their injury problems, the Gold was always expected to go either to the Spanish or the British, but at times in this regatta the outcome looked far from certain and it took all 16 races in these fluky conditions to establish a clear pecking order.
The hotly tipped British team of Chris DRAPER and Simon HISCOCKS claimed the bronze. Crew Simon HISCOCKS admitted to being disappointed at not having claimed the Silver, but was also realistic enough to realise that coming away with any medal from this competition was a great achievement.
Others in the fleet will be left to rue their mistakes. Chris NICHOLSON and Gary BOYD won four races, twice as many as any other team, but the Australians picked up a lot of penalty turns along the way. Fourth overall were Christoffer SUNDBY and Frode BOVIM (NOR) who, despite being early leaders just couldn’t turn on the pace required for a podium finish. However, a good result for the SUNDBY family, having won a gold medal in the Europe and fourth place in the 49er.
Windsurfer Women – Mistral
The lead changed on the last day for Alessandra SENSINI (ITA) who eventually won the bronze medal, having led the fleet from day one, and then exchanging places with Faustine MERRET. Gold went to Faustine MERRET (FRA) who performed brilliantly and was a pre-race favourite. YIN Jian from China secured the silver medal displaying superb light air speed. Lee LAI SHAN (HKG) who secured what was and still is Hong Kong’s only Gold medal in 1996, finished fourth overall, followed by legendary Barbara KENDALL (NZL) who lost out on the medal chase after race 9 and Jessica CRISP (AUS).
For China, Yin JIAN came into the 2004 Olympic Sailing Competition marked 25 in the world, and her silver medal is only the second Olympic medal in sailing ever claimed by China. Roll back 12 years, and the 1992 Olympic Games marked China’s first appearance on the medal podium when Xiaodong ZHANG claimed the silver in the same event.
Windsurfer Men - Mistral
The Men’s Mistral provided the most agonizing final race. The winner was Gal FRIDMAN (ISR) who won Israel’s first gold medal in the history of Olympic Games. The surprise was Ricardo SANTOS (BRA), the overall leader until the last day, who fell from the Gold medal position to fourth – a touch of nerves perhaps.
Nikolaos KAKLAMANAKIS (GRE) climbed from third to second overall position on the last day putting a herculean performance to claim his medal. Glory in the final race 11 went to Nick DEMPSEY (GBR), who with it proved that everything is possible by winning the race and claiming what seemed to be the unattainable Bronze medal.
With Ricardo SANTOS disappointinly in fourth, it was the 2003 World Champion Przemyslaw MIARCZYNSKI (POL) who pulled up in fifth, with sixth going to Joao RODRIGUES (POR).
Single-handed Dinghy Open - Laser
Seven time World Champion and Atlanta gold medallist, Robert SCHEIDT (BRA), won his second gold medal to add to his silver from Sydney. Robert was never out of medal contention, sitting in Gold or Silver medal position throughout.
In the final race 11, the medals were being decided midway down the fleet. Robert SCHEDIT rounded the first mark in tenth place, with his closest rival Andreas GERITZER (AUT), a full six places behind him. The bronze medal battle between Vasilij ZBOGAR was looking pretty decided at the second mark of the course. ZBOGAR was five places ahead of GOODISON round the second mark. By gybing at Mark two immediately and splitting from the majority early on down the run, Goodison pulled back on the Slovenian athlete and by the first rounding of the leeward mark, the Brit sensationally gybed inside him for the pair to round in 19 and 20 places, but this still left Zbogar with the advantage on countback.
Ahead of them, Geritzer was desperately attempting to shave seconds off the Brazilian’s lead in order to snatch the Gold medal from his grasp.
By the top mark Goodison had split from Zbogar and the Slovenian rounded two positions ahead of him, the Bronze medal within reach. As Zbogar rounded, Goodison followed and again immediately gybed onto port tack. However, in the lightening breeze Zbogar pulled out a sizeable lead and eventually finished well ahead of Goodison to claim the Bronze medal.
Up ahead of that pair Scheidt sailed a conservative race to claim the Gold and immediately launched himself into the water. Behind him Geritzer claimed silver.
Andreas GERITZER (AUT), early leader of the competition won the Silver medal, while Vasillij ZBOGAR (SLO), training companion of SCHEIDT, won bronze.
Women’s Keelboat – Yngling
2004 marked a welcome to the Olympic arena for the new Women’s Keelboat event, being contested in the Yngling, the fourth event for women. With this fourth event, Athens 2004 saw women’s participation almost hit 35%, and a further 45 athlete slots given to women. A total of 139 women sailors were in Athens, the greatest ever number to participate in an Olympic Regatta.
British sailors and pre-competition favourites Shirley ROBERTSON, Sarah WEBB and Sarah AYTON won the event without sailing in the last race.
Dorte JENSEN, Helle JESPERSEN and Christina OTZEN (DEN) had a disappointing last day, scoring an OCS and left to sit on the sidelines and watch the race and their medal colour unfold before them. Great manouevering by the Ukrainian team of Ruslana TARAN, Ganna KALININA and Svitlana MATEMUSHEVA and gave them the Silver medal with the Danes taking the Bronze.
Nederland’s team of Annelies THIES, Annemieke BES and Petronella de JONG were eventually ranked fourth overall, only two points away from the Bronze medal. France’s Anne Le Halley, Elodie LESAFFRE and Marion DEPLANQUE were fifth while Germany’s Kristin WAGNER, Anna HOEL and Veronika LOCHBRUNNER were sixth.
Double-handed Dinghy Women – 470
Four times World Champions Sofia BEKATOROU and Emilia TSOULFA (GRE) won the Gold medal with a race to spare. An outstanding performance for this pair who have dominated the scene since the 2000 Olympic Games.
Natalia VIA DUFRESNE and Sandra AZON (ESP) were second going into the last race and managed to defend their position to take the silver over Therese TORGESSON and Vendela ZACHRISSON (SWE) who were third and claimed the bronze.
Fourth were Katie McDOWELL and Isabelle KINSOLVING from the USA. Vesna DEKLEVA and Kiara MAUCEC (SLO) finished fifth in the overall rankings followed by Susanne WARD and Michaela MEEHAN (DEN).
Double-handed Dinghy Men – 470
On the last day of the series, the two-points difference between USA’s Paul FOERSTER and Kevin BURNHAM and Britain’s Nick ROGERS and Joe GLANFIELD left no doubts as to what was going to happen after the start of the last race in the 470 men fleet.
This was the only final to be decided with match racing tactics, the Americans managing to maintain their lead. FOERSTER won his first gold medal, but his third Olympic medal after the two silvers in Sydney (470) and Barcelona (Flying Dutchman). For his crew Kevin BURNHAM, it was his second medal after the silver he won in Barcelona (470).
When the finish horn blasted for the duo, Burnham performed a perfect back flip off his boat, leaving Foerster alone to douse the spinnaker and round up to retrieve him…with a huge grin on his face. “For me, the journey has been 25 years or so,” said Foerster. “I didn’t realize how much I wanted it until a few days ago when I knew we had a shot at it.”
Japan’s Kazuto SEKI and Kenjiro TODOROKI were third overall, claiming the nation’s second ever Olympic medal. Sweden’s Johan MOLUND and Martin ANDERSON were fourth while France’s Philippe GILDAS and Nicolas le BERRE finished fifth ahead of Netherland’s COSTER brothers Sven and Kalle.
Single-handed Dinghy Men – Finn
Ben AINSLIE (GBR) managed to win the second gold medal for the British sailing team and the second Olympic gold medal in his career (he also has a bronze) after a rather poor start, which saw him up against it from the outset.
Spain’s Rafael TRUJILLO finished ahead of Poland’s Mateusz KUSZNIEREWICZ who was an early leader in the overall rankings and lost many valuable points after an OCS.
Karlo KURET (CRO), one of the pre-competition favourites, was fourth overall followed by Aimilios PAPATHANASIOU (GRE) who almost made it to the medals. Anthony NOSSITER, one of Australia’s best sailors, took sixth place.
It was a very tight event as at least half the competitors could have made it to the top three. Eventually, most of the pre-competition favourites prevailed.
Single-handed Dinghy Women – Europe
Siren SUNDBY (NOR) was the undisputed pre-competition favourite and she managed to live up to her reputation with gold. She led the fleet almost throughout the regatta, losing it to Sarah BLANCK (AUS) only after a bad day with an OCS and a 19 place.
BLANCK fell to fourth place, losing all chances for a medal. Lenka SMIDOVA (CZE) had the opportunity to climb up the rankings and claim the silver medal from Signe LIVBJERG (DEN), who was finally third.
Sari MULTALA (FIN) finished fifth overall, certainly not reflecting her more recent form. A similar situation for the only Olympic medallist in the fleet, Serena AMATO (ARG) who started well, but could not maintain the pace.
The 2004 Olympic Sailing Competition within the Games of the XXVII Olympiad will remain in everyone’s memory as a key moment for the promotion of the sport and the glory of the best athletes of the world. The Olympic Games is special, it is the world’s most unique sporting event, bringing together thousands of individuals of different cultures, races and religions with one goal in mind – sporting excellence.
ISAF congratulates all sailors who participated at the 2004 Olympic Sailing Competition - well done for being there and representing your nation at the highest level. To the medallists - even greater Congratulations - you deserve every accolade you will receive as an Olympic Champion.
ISAF would also like to thank ATHOC and the numerous volunteers, who provided the expertise, time and effort to all play their part in making the 2004 Olympic Sailing Competition such a great success. Without the volunteers our sport would not be possible - Thank You.
ISAF, 6 September 2004, 16:43