13 Aug 2004
29 Aug 2004
Country of the host city
Buenos Aires (ARG), Cape Town (RSA), Rome (ITA) and Stockholm (SWE)
Full circle for the modern Olympics as they returned to Athens. The sailing venue was at Agios Cosmos, some 14km south of Athens city centre and close to the old airport. A harbour was built here in the 1960s and it was expanded and modernised for the Games into a huge venue. When a Meltemi blew it flushed out the Athens city bowl and the Acropolis was in clear view from the course area. Other times, notably in the second week of competition, the sea breeze was the dominant force and became weaker the closer courses were to Piraeus.
Sailors had different views of their Athens experience, correlated to whether they got the best of the first week's breeze or worst of the second week's. This is certainly true of the Star class where most reckoned the 11-race series split into the five good sailing days and six frustrating ones. All the more reason to marvel at Brazilian Torben Grael's performance in taking the gold; Grael's feel for the breeze is uncanny. Analyse the legs of each race and Grael, with his long-standing crew Marcel Ferreira, gained on nearly 75%.
Even if Grael was well placed in the fleet in terms of key rivals, he often backed his ability, raced the breeze and not his opponents. Quite outstanding. So too was Britain's Ben Ainslie, like Grael, one of the great Olympians of modern times. Having outgrown the Laser, Ainslie had moved into the Finn, jumped straight to the top of the class and was clear favourite for another gold. His first two races were weak with conservative starts and some missed shifts. Then he tangled with Guillaume Florent whom he crossed on port tack believing the Frenchman had waved him through.
Ainslie was DSQ and was 19th after two races, his two discards effectively used. He responded with a breathtaking display of sailing. His starts were courageous and inch perfect, he was in sync with the shifts and Ainslie picked-off competitors at will. It was a bravura display. With Ainslie out of the Laser, Robert Scheidt utterly dominated the class to win his third medal and second gold. An old class, the 1967 Yngling designed by Jan Linge hot on the heels of his larger Soling, having won the IYRU Olympic selection trials, was brought in for 2004 as the Women's fleet racing keelboat.
It drew many former Europe competitors with Shirley Robertson winning with a race to spare. It was a second gold for her as it was for Roman Hagara and Hans Peter Steinacher in the Tornado, the catamaran having reinvented itself with twin-trapezes, reconfigured mainsail and jib and the addition of a spinnaker and seen off new classes in Evaluation Trials. Greek celebrations were ecstatic when Sofia Bekatorou and Aimilia Tsoulfa won the 470 Women's class, backed up by the 1996 gold medalist Nikolaos Kaklamanakis winning the silver in the Mistral windsurfer behind Israel's Gal Friedman, who won the bronze in 1996.
Though match racing had been dropped from the Games, Americans Kevin Burnham and Paul Foerster were engaged in one by Britons Nick Rogers and Joe Glanfield for the 470 Men's gold, the result going the Americans' way. Forester had won Flying Dutchman silver 12 years earlier in Barcelona. Despite the best laid plans for making the venue accessible to the public through a walkway, breakwater and specially created medal ceremony amphitheatre, the Greek authorities had a late change of mind and one of sailing's best ever facilities become a secure encampment.