ATHENS, Greece -- American sailor Kevin Burnham politely
waved to race officials at the finish line, let out a whoop and did
a back flip into the deep-blue Saronic Gulf.
It was a gold-medal splashdown, one he'd been waiting a long
time to do.
Burnham, of Miami Beach, and his skipper, Paul Foerster of
Rockwall, Texas, outwitted and outmaneuvered their British rivals
in a classic match race Saturday in the 470 class to win their
first Olympic gold after years of trying.
"Absolutely unbelievable,'' Burnham said after drying off from
his spontaneous celebration. "When I saw the finish line and the
Brits behind us and I knew they couldn't win, I was just so
After winning Olympic silver medals, the low-key, experienced
Americans weren't interested in finishing second again.
"This is my fourth Olympics, I've had two second places, and
you always think, 'Well, we won the silver, but it's kind of a
letdown not winning the regatta,' '' the 40-year-old Foerster said.
"It's nice not having a letdown. It feels great.''
British skipper Nick Rogers, 27, and crew Joe Glanfield, 25, got
"We knew it would be tough to beat the Americans because they
had enough silver to dunk a donkey,'' Glanfield said. "They wanted
a gold. They did a good job.''
Foerster is an aerospace engineer who grew up sailing on Texas
lakes. He won the 470 silver in 2000 and the Flying Dutchman silver
in 1992. His wife, Carrie, gave birth to their first child, Luke,
three days before the Olympic trials in Houston last November.
While Burnham took care of boat maintenance, Foerster flew home
every night. The pair built such a big lead that they clinched the
Olympic berth with one race to sail.
Burnham, a three-time Olympian, won silver in the 470 in 1992.
At 47, he is the oldest member of the U.S. sailing team and has
competed in every U.S. Olympic trials since 1980. He has been
unemployed since April, when the Miami office of the European-based
yacht manufacturer he worked for closed because the dollar was so
weak against the euro.
His 6-year-old daughter, Kyla, called early one morning last
week and told him to bring back the gold medal.
"It's going to be a lot of fun going to her school and showing
the kids the medal,'' Burnham said.
Two other U.S. crews got off to great starts Saturday.
In the Star class, Paul Cayard of Kentfield, Calif., and Phil
Trinter of Lorain, Ohio, won the first race -- their Olympic debuts
-- and were sixth in the second, good for a two-point lead over
Brazil's Torben Grael and Marcelo Ferreira. The Brazilians won the
gold in 1996 and the bronze in 2000.
The powerful British team got its second gold of the games
Saturday, when Ben Ainslie completed his remarkable comeback from
an earlier loss in the protest room to finish first in the Finn
class. Ainslie is unbeaten in major regattas since switching to the
Finn from the Laser following his gold-medal performance in Sydney
But the British had no chance against Foerster and Burnham, who
came into the final race with a two-point lead. They were the only
two crews with a chance at the gold, and a match race quickly
The British wanted to build speed and make a timed run at the
starting line, but the wind shifted and dropped below eight knots.
The Americans trapped them well below the line and gained control.
"I wanted the gold and the way things fell into place, they
kind of gave it to us,'' Burnham said. "We were able to get on top
of them and there wasn't enough time to get to the starting line. I
knew we just had to stay in front of them. We just drove them
Ignoring the rest of the 27-boat fleet, Foerster and Burnham
matched the British tack for tack during a fierce duel and let all
the other boats get away.
"Really, with two minutes before the start, it had gone
horribly wrong for us,'' Rogers said. "We just felt very, very
stupid for getting in that position. But it wasn't easy for Paul to
do what he did, to take us out of the race.''
It was as exciting as sailing gets.
"It was tense the whole race,'' Foerster said.
The Americans and British tacked 12 times in the final minutes
before the starting gun, then tacked nearly 30 times on the upwind
The Americans followed the basic rule of match racing by keeping
their boat between the British and each mark. Foerster and Burnham
won the gold by three points.