Greeks win first sailing gold; Americans have a chance, too

Updated: August 19, 2004, 1:56 PM ET
Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- After winning the first sailing gold medal of the Summer Games, two Greek women capsized their boat and celebrated on the overturned hull to the delight of spectators and photographers.

Not long after, a three-woman British crew won a gold and took a synchronized leap into the Saronic Gulf.

Come Saturday, it could be the laid-back American crew of Paul Foerster and Kevin Burnham doing the celebrating. They took the lead in the 470 class with one race left, putting them in position to sail for the first gold medals of their long Olympic careers.

Foerster-Burnham have a two-point lead over the British duo of Nick Rogers-Joe Glanfield, with the gold and silver guaranteed to be decided between the two crews.

Foerster and Burnham are former silver medalists, but neither has had a lead going into the last race.

"I'm liking the change," said Burnham, who at 47 is the oldest member of the U.S. sailing team. "It's exactly what I've always wanted. It's why I keep on going. I've done every Olympic trials since 1980 with the hopes of winning the gold medal. I figure maybe I'll stop if I get a gold, but I don't know. I can't guarantee it."

Foerster-Burnham will either try to get into a match race with the British or put boats between them and their rivals in the 27-boat fleet. To clinch the gold, the Americans can't finish worse than two boats behind the British. If they tie on points, the tiebreaker will go to the Americans because they've won one race during the series and the British haven't.

There are more famous members of the U.S. sailing team -- America's Cup star Paul Cayard sails his first race Saturday in the Star class -- but none with the experience of Foerster and Burnham, who have a quiet confidence in each other.

Foerster, of Rockwall, Texas, is in his fourth Olympics. He won the 470 silver in 2000 and the Flying Dutchman silver in 1992. Burnham, a three-time Olympian from Miami Beach, won the silver in the 470 in 1992, crewing for Morgan Reeser. Burnham and Reeser finished second to Foerster and Bob Merrick in the 2000 trials.

After those games, Foerster and Burnham were looking for new partners. They teamed up and were so dominant that they clinched the U.S. Olympic trials in Houston in November with three races left. It's a good thing, because Foerster needed the rest.

His wife, Carrie, gave birth to their first child, Luke, three days before the trials. While Burnham took care of boat maintenance, Foerster flew home every night during the trials and back to Houston each morning.

"Coming home every night, it was probably the best regatta I've had," said Foerster, an aerospace engineer for Raytheon. "It was worth it, those first days, just to come home and change his diapers."

Foerster is doing the same thing in Athens.

"I was up at three this morning changing diapers," Foerster said.

Burnham, meanwhile, got a call from his 6-year-old daughter, Kyla, back in Florida.

"My daughter woke me up this morning and told me to bring home the gold medal," he said.

Foerster-Burnham are in position to do just that after finishing fourth in the 10th race in a building sea breeze to leapfrog the British crew.

The Americans rebounded from 18th place in the ninth race, their worst finish of the regatta, in brutally slow conditions. The wind shifted 30 degrees to the left and never came back, burying them.

Foerster had a good start in the next race, ahead of the British, and Burnham spotted a wind shift on the second windward leg that helped them pass four boats.

The British team had finishes of 10th and 19th.

Sofia Bekatorou and Aimilia Tsoulfa of Greece clinched the women's 470 gold after building an insurmountable lead following 10 races. They capsized the boat and waved the Greek flag from the overturned hull.

"We wanted to 'paint' in the sea and we managed it," Bekatorou said.

She was such an important medal hopeful that after she experienced excruciating back pain during the world championships in May in Croatia, she was flown back to Greece for surgery.

"There were days I couldn't move freely because of my injuries," she said. "This is an answer to those that lost their faith in us."

Shirley Robertson, Sarah Webb and Sara Ayton of Great Britain clinched the gold medal in the Yngling class with one race left, then took a dip.

The silver and bronze medals in the women's 470 and Yngling will be determined Saturday. Carol Cronin of Jamestown, R.I., is eighth in the Yngling and Katie McDowell of Barrington, R.I., is sixth in the 470.

Tim Wadlow of Boston and Pete Spaulding of Miami jumped to eighth in the 49er, and Kevin Hall of Bowie, Md., was 14th in the Finn. Mark Mendelblatt of St. Petersburg, Fla., dropped to 10th in the Laser and Meg Galliard of Pelham, N.Y., fell to 11th in the Europe.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press

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