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The beautiful varnished hull of BARRANJOEY, currently on display at Wharf 7 and part of the Sydney Heritage Fleet Collection.

Australian Olympic Sailing

1948 - 1956
The sport of sailing was in introduced to the Olympic Games at Paris in 1900, but Australia's involvement in sailing events began tentatively with two crews for the London games of 1948, then three crews in 1952 at Helsinki. None of the crews won medals, but when the games came to Melbourne the competition was fierce just to join the team representing Australia, and sailing on the home waters of Port Phillip Bay helped two crews onto the dais. Australia fielded five crews, with Jock Sturrock's 5.5 metre class crew on their yacht BURADDOO winning a bronze medal, while Roly Tasker and his crew in the 12m Sharpie class FALCON IV won a silver medal. Tasker's silver was awarded on a count back after FALCON IV had tied with the New Zealand crew for the gold medal. A contentious protest incident and disqualification from the last heat cost Tasker the points that would have seen him take first place outright.

The 1960 Rome games held high hopes for Australian crews who again went through competitive trials to be picked, but Tasker's Flying Dutchman class dinghy was damaged before the event and he finished poorly in a series many thought he could win. The other four crews struggled in the light weather and overall results were poor with the exception of Ron Jenyns 4th in the demanding Finn class.

5 crews again contested events in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, with moderate results for 4 of the crews, but the first Australian yachting gold medal and one of the most remarkable gold medals ever won went to Bill Northam in the 5.5metre class, sailing BARRANJOEY. Northam was 59, a grandfather of five and he a brought as sense of fun and gamesmanship to his contest. Considered too old by many, he had BARRANJOEY designed and built for the event, and teamed with a young and skilful crew, Pod O'Donnell and Dick Sargeant to beat more fancied crews in the Australian trials. The gold medal was in the balance right up the last leg of the final race, with BARRANJOEY finishing 4th and their main rival from the USA disqualified as he fought desperately to win on the finish line.

1968 and 1972
The 1968 Mexico games yachting venue was off Acapulco, and whilst the 5 crews were consistent with placings from 7th to 4th overall, none could win a medal. This was turned around in 1972, when two crews showed their experience from previous Olympic events and won gold medals for Australia, David Forbes and John Anderson in the Star and John Cuneo, Tom Anderson ( twin brother of John) and John Shaw in the Dragon class. John Bertrand, later to become famous in the 1983 Australia II America's cup victory was 4th in his Finn class. Cuneo dominated his event with three straight wins to start, while Forbes was consistent with 4th, their worst place counted, yet both had struggled in lead up events. A last minute change of sails gave Cuneo and his yacht WYUNA the speed they lacked; a last minute change of boat from SCALLYWAG to the chartered Star SIMBA did the same for Forbes.

1976 and 1980
Australia's lowest ebb in Olympic Games performance overall was at Montréal in 1976, but yachting managed to provide two bronze medals. They were Ian Brown crewed by Ian Ruff in their 470 class dinghy HOCUS POCUS, and John Bertrand again in the Finn class. Bertrand uncharacteristically capsized in one heat costing him a higher place overall, while Brown and Ruff fought with determination to secure their medal in the last leg of the final heat. The other 4 crews had mixed results in the lake run series. In 1980, the yachting team that was selected was one team that withdrew over the boycott issue and did not compete at the Tallinn regatta.

1984 and 1988
1984 saw the games held in Los Angeles and whilst they went with high hopes and a world champion crew in the Tornado class, the best result was bronze medal for the Tornado sailor Chris Cairns and John Anderson. A full team of eight crews participated in Seoul 1988, including the woman's 470 class, the first time woman's yachting was introduced. The results were relatively poor, the women finishing 6th in their class for the best result in the team.

1992 and 1996
Eight crews again sailed in the Spanish Barcelona games of 1992, with three women's events included. The men recorded two bronze medals, one for board sailor Lars Kleppich, and the other for Tornado Crew Mitch Booth and John Forbes. The remaining crews again struggled in the European conditions and close competition against the experienced teams from other countries. The following games in 1996 at Atlanta USA began the improvement needed, where Mitch Booth and Andrew Landenberger won a silver medal in the Tornado Class while long time campaigner and Olympic representative Colin Beashel won bronze in the Star class with his crew David Giles.

With the 2000 Olympic Games back on home waters, and the events based on Sydney Harbour and courses just offshore, a tremendous effort was put in to develop a strong team. The results showed this with two gold medals, a silver and a bronze, the best ever by the yachting team. Australia won the two 470 class events, reigning World champions Tom King and Mark Turnbull took the men's event, and Jenny Armstrong and Belinda Stowell the ladies, both teams clinching victory with strong performances in the final heats, sailed on the same course, on the same day in classic Sydney Harbour north-east breeze conditions. Darren Bundock and John Forbes continued Australia's consistent Olympic results in the Tornado class with a silver medal, and Michael Blackburn won bronze in the popular Laser class.

Athens in 2004 was something of a let down after the victories of 2000. A full team of experienced sailors was chosen, many with current high standings in their class. They trained strongly in Europe beforehand, but the 11 crews put in inconsistent performances, with the best result a 4th place in the woman's Europe class.

The Beijing Olympics was another triumph for Australian yachting, particularly in the 470 class where once again Australia won gold in the men's and women's events. Elise Rechichi and Tessa Parkinson won the womens eventm, while Nathan Wilmott and Malcom Page won the men's series. Darren Bundock and Glen Ashby won silver in the Tornado class multihull.

At Weymouth, UK the Australian sailors put in one of the most dominant performances seen by any team at any Olympics, winning three gold medals and one silver medal, an effort that also dominated the overall Australian team result. Tom Slinsgby rebounded from a disappointing time in 2004 by comfortably winning Gold in the Laser class, he had a 14 point margin going into the final medal race and easily kept close to his only rival to secure the Gold medal. This was followed a day later by Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen taking Gold in the 49er dinghy class. The pair were so dominant that they only had to cross the start line in the final medal race to be assured of winning. Two days later in light and testing conditions, Matthew Belcher and Malcolm Page faced off against the British team in the Men's 470 class in the race for Gold and Silver. The British team were in front at the first mark, but Belcher and Page moved through to the lead at the bottom mark with better downwind speed and tactics. Keeping a close cover on the British, they rounded in second place but ahead of them at the top mark. The British then overplayed their attempts at rocking the 470 for more speed and were penalised by the race officials. The 360 degree turn penalty put them out of contention, and Belcher and Page took second comfortably and the Gold medal was theirs. On the final day, the surprise packet from the team, the Women's Match Racing crew of Olivia Price, Nina Curtis and Lucinda Whitty matched up with the Spanish team in the best of five races for Gold or Silver. It went to two-all in strong conditions, so the result hung on one final race. Price and crew took the lead but then lost it in a port and starboard incident while gybing at the bottom mark. Their penalty turn was not accepted by officials on the committee boat, and they had to do one more finishing behind Spain to take Silver. This was a superb result, unlike the other crews who were favourites to win, this team came into the event as one of the middle ranked teams, then promptly beat them all in the first round to set up an exciting set of final races.

Held in Brazil and sailing off shore in Guanabara Bay at Rio de Janeiro the Australian team had a good regatta. Laser sailor Tom Burton took Gold in the Laser class in a dramatic medal race, forcing the leading sailor on points into a penalty turn ptior to the start, and therefore starting last well behind the fleet, while Burton went from 9th place up to finsh third and take the Gold medal. Matt Blecher and Will Ryan took Silver in the 470 class, and Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen returned to the 49ers and managed Silver as well. A third Silver went to Jason Waterhouse and his cousin Lisa Darmanin in the Nacra 17 high performance catamaran. Jake Lilley came 8th in the Finn class, Ashley Stoddart came 9th overall in the Laser Radial class, Carrie Smith and Jamie Ryan finished 13th overall in the Womens 470 class.

General Background
Olympic Sailing brought Australia into the international sailing scene. This brought a mixture of consequences to Australian sailing as this international influence evolved.

One of the principal impacts was the gradual change from an amateur sporting ideal to a more dedicated and then professional approach. For a number of years the sailors like many other sportsman had full time jobs separate from their sport which was their weekend interest. This changed gradually as sailors dedicated more of their time to their training, and some were sail makers or boat builders closely attached to their sailing pursuit. The major shift was around the 1980s when some crews dedicated themselves to lengthy programmes of training and sailing overseas, and obtained sponsorship or other backing to assist. Eventually some have been able to adopt a fulltime and professional approach to their sailing activities.

The dedicated approach shown in Europe and North America led to a gradual improvement in the support or shore based staff and coaching. Initially it was just having reserve crew members as part of the team, but in 1976 a coach and a meteorologist went as well, and this was gradually built upon to include a number of coaches and other staff.

The Olympics introduced classes from overseas into a scene which largely revolved around locally developed designs. Initially only a couple of boats were imported or built for the different classes, starting with preparation for the 1956 event in Melbourne, but this was enough for all of the classes then involved to gain a foothold and then edge out some local fleets. The Payne Mortlock Sailing canoe and the 21 Foot Restricted class were local fleets that initially suffered. The local classes began to look dated against some of the new designs such as the Flying Dutchman. This process continued at a slow and steady place, and other non-Olympic but international classes were also accepted into Australia. The reverse situation though has only happened recently, when the locally designed and promoted 49er Class, a skiff type which represents to concept of the local 12,16 and 18-Foot skiff classes, was adopted as an International and then Olympic class starting with the 2000 Olympics.

The selection process was static for a number of years before it underwent changes. For Melbourne and many Olympics afterwards there were specific selection trials and the winner of each class was chosen to represent Australia at the Olympics. By the 1990's this was seen as unfair as it was a one off event and did not give any credit to a consistent crew with a background of good local or international results . So a system was developed that accounted for and thus encouraged a long term dedication to the class and gaining international experience. A point system for results over a number of identified series was used to select crews, ensuring they did have a wide background of racing and experience in the class. The Olympics also adopted such a system to allow each country representation, so it became doubly important that Australian crews went overseas.

Many famous names have represented the country, often at a number of Olympics. Colin Beashel carried the team flag at the Athens Olympics opening ceremony, in recognition of his sixth successive membership of an Australian Olympic team. Malcolm Page carried the flag at the closing ceremony in 2012, recognising the strength of the sailing team's contribution to the Australian team's overall success, and the fact that Page was the first Australian sailor to win two Gold Medals. Jock Sturrock was a stalwart of the early days, and he eventually became a household name with the 1962 GRETEL America's cup campaign. John Bertrand and John Cuneo were two other successive Olympic campaigners who went from Olympic success on to the America's Cup as skippers. The Bethwaite family has been involved in all facets. Mark Bethwaite has sailed Flying Dutchmen, Nicki Bethwaite has sailed 470's and Ynglings, and Julian was designer of the 49er, while their father Frank was the first meteorologist on the team. Ben Lexcen when known as Bob Miller sailed Solings in 1972. Countless other sailors who were often just well known and popular in their own locality or class have been able to go that step further and represent their country because of their involvement in sailing and yachting.

Gordon, Harry 1994, Australia and the Olympic Games, University of Queensland Press
Further material about selections and results is available in contemporary yachting magazines such as Seacraft, Modern Boating, and Australian Sailing