Veteran 470 coach Skip Whyte, who has produced three silver medals, one bronze and a gold over five Olympic Games, said, "I've seen without exception, some of the major players take themselves out of the competition very early in the Games by doing things they normally wouldn't do. Suddenly there are too many voices telling them what to do and they lose sight of who they are as a competitor and what works for them." His sage advice, "stay true to who you are and don't play a different game than what you've played in the past."
Hal HAENEL who is decorated with Olympic silver and gold medals for his performance in the Star during the 1988 and 1992 Games, is a member of the ISAF Events Committee and teamed up with Mark REYNOLDS to qualify the US for the 2008 Games, advises, "It sounds cliché, but focus on the race and the task at hand. For instance, don't change how you do your morning setup. Be thorough and do as you have always done. With light air, there will be some upside down races. Every point counts. You can't melt down if you have a 20th." Haenel concluded by saying, "There are small fleets at the Olympics and everyone is good. In the end, the consistency demonstrated by a well prepared team will prevail."
2004 Gold Medallists
Kevin BURNHAM, who sailed the 470 from 1975 through 2004 with a desire to cop an Olympic gold medal for every day of those 29 years, was ready for the podium in Athens (and probably had practiced his back flip off the boat too). Kevin sailed with US National Champion, Pete Melvin, and 1984 silver medalist, Steve BENJAMIN, before teaming up with Morgan REESER to win the Olympic silver medal in 1992.
He paired with Paul FOERSTER for the Games in Athens. Foerster, with his silver medal in the Flying Dutchman in 1992 and silver in the 470 in 2000, is "the best sailor in America and most likely the world. He can drive a boat, and has so much feel for it," said Burnham.
To say that Foerster, with his aeronautical engineering degree, was detail oriented and thorough is an understatement. Foerster and Burnham were confident in their North sails, Mackay boat and Simon Cook centerboard and went into the Athens Games on a winning streak. The decorated veterans were comfortable but also they "both thank God and the British team for letting us get them before the start," said Burnham who never gives up.
Burnham, who has been coaching throughout the quadrennial and had just returned from Qingdao, commented, "Sailing there is tricky to say the least. The current plays a major factor on the race course and the winds can be fickle. It will be very interesting to see the outcome. I truly believe that this Olympics will be a very hard one for the favorites and that a lot of different teams will be there in the mix. It really is going to be interesting to see the outcome in these Games!"
The "Medal Maker"
The "Medal Maker," Victor Kovalenko, who goes into the 2008 Olympic Games with his Australian Women's 470 team ranked #8 in the ISAF World Sailing Rankings and Nathan WILMOT and Malcolm PAGE atop of the Men's 470 Rankings with wins at the Delta Lloyd and the light air European Championships under their belts, offered the following insight:
"China has very different and special conditions with light wind and unexplainable factors. There is a lot of seaweed. If you let seaweed get on your foils, you are out of luck. Today [referring to 10 July] there was a lot of fog and we only had 25 meters of visibility.
"These are extreme conditions." Kovalenko notes that the Dutch, Italians, French and Israelis have proven themselves successful "at playing the extreme game. They have enough guts to play the extremes." Kovalenko also used "amazing sailor" in the same sentence as Nic ASHER.
As for the Women's 470, Kovalenko acknowledges that "the Japanese boat is the best boat in the world." He sees six or seven teams fighting for the gold and does not rule out a black horse joining the fray.
With Kovalenko as a coach since 1997, Australia's Malcolm Page, recalls the 2004 Games, "We slowly let it slip by. We had a DSQ the first day and took more risks than we should have, because we were not handling the pressure well. Going into the last race, we had a shot at a medal and so did six or seven other teams. We OCS'ed the last race and went from fourth or fifth to 12th. We sailed as if it was all about winning a medal. We never said a word to one another about the possibility of being over until we got to the top mark, and saw our number."
Wilmot and Page have talent and as they head for retirement following the Games, they are not apt to let the pressure get to them. They have been more thorough in preparing this time and they have spent many a morning practicing off the headlands of Sydney Harbor in light air. They have also been sparring with the Croatian and Turkish teams and the "amazingly talented" Aussie women's team. "If we can hang on to them we're going alright," said Page.
The Final Countdown
Less than a month from the Games, reports from coaches and athletes are that Qingdao has come a long way in the past year. High end cars and white tablecloth restaurants are much more abundant than they were. Food handling seems to be better, with a lot of waiters wearing white gloves. Even the algae bloom seemingly is under control. It won't be long before competitors will be able to practice on full length courses without running into patches of green. Says Kovalenko, "The algae bloom could have happened anywhere, but only the Chinese could have handled it this well."