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Everyman's Olympics
Mort Lund
August 08, 1960
With competing costs down, more able skippers tried for the honors of Olympic racing
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August 08, 1960

Everyman's Olympics

With competing costs down, more able skippers tried for the honors of Olympic racing

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Fifty years ago, when taxes were lower and money went further, a yachtsman by popular definition was a special sort of amateur who could, and gladly would, pay plenty to race in international competition. This image of well-heeled superamateurs at every helm should have disappeared along with the big America's Cup J boats in the wake of the Depression, but somehow it persisted. Following World War II, a free trip abroad was becoming a standard reward for trackmen, swimmers, wrestlers, boxers, skin-divers, sky-divers and all manner of amateurs, but sailing's superamateurs were still expected to pay their own way to the Olympic Games.

In 1956, when the Games were held half a world away in Australia, some 400 U.S. competitors in 16 other sports got free rides, meals and rooms. It cost the 11 U.S. sailors on the team a total of $50,000 to represent their country. Vic Sheronas, a Philadelphia industrialist sailing in the 5.5-meter class—largest boat of the five classes on the Melbourne program—spent $5,000 to ship his 31-foot hull and $5,000 more on transportation, food and board for himself and his crewmen. And Sheronas' expenses before being chosen were equally steep. Including the price of the hull, the cost of tuning it and racing in the U.S. trials, his total expenses came to $25,000. Another Olympics is upon us, but Sheronas is still paying for the last one.

Hopefully, Sheronas is the last Olympic sailor who will have to mortgage a slice of his life to the archaic notion that sailing is a rich man's game. To give the sailors a fair break at the Rome Games, the U.S. Olympic yachting committee set up a U.S. International Sailing Association to raise $35,000 for the transportation of hulls and men to the 1960 Olympic competition on the Bay of Naples. The USISA is successfully collecting donations from rank and file U.S. sailors. And in this Olympics, for the first time, the central Olympic committee will pay the sailors' living expenses while they are in Italy.

Thanks to such measures, more sailors tried out for the Olympics than ever before. There is, however, a further problem. Many of the country's best skippers do not regularly compete in one of the five classes on the Olympic program. For want of a hull, many do not try out. This summer President Glen Foster and Secretary Harry Anderson of the Finn class—the smallest boat of the five on the Olympic program—worked out a practical and very generous solution to this problem. They issued a blanket invitation to all interested sailors which read, in effect: if you have no Finn hull, we'll help you get one. If you beat us in our trials, you will represent us at Rome.

Foster and Anderson set up a special series of trials at Newport Beach, Calif. and Marblehead, Mass., open only to sailors who did not own Finn hulls. The eight nonowners showing best in these trials were taken into the finals at Marblehead—a remarkably openhanded gesture, considering that the finals were limited to 20 entries.

A sailor who showed up at the finals with nothing more than his shorts and nonskid sneakers was assured an equal chance with the most opulent owner. For the finals a group of Finn owners had financed a fleet of 22 new hulls, all formed on identical molds and issued to the competitors in rotation.

This put the premium on ability, not equipment. The nonowners took the invitation literally. When the finals were over a nonowner had won over an owner by a very slim margin. The winner was Peter Barrett of Madison, Wis. who, though he has sailed relatively little in Finns, has a fine reputation as a skipper in the Midwest's C-Scow class. Barrett, an engineering instructor and law student at the University of Wisconsin, drove east for the trials with his wife, baby and mother. They all tented at a public campground 18 miles from Marblehead. "I came because I knew I would have the same chance as anyone racing," Barrett said as he stood at the victory banquet with the winner's plate under his arm.

Many Stars, few Finns
In an old, established racing class, such as the Star—to cite one on this year's Olympic program—there is relatively less need to encourage non-owners to try out. There are 1,500 Star hulls active in the U.S. today. So when one Star skipper wins his local, regional and, finally, the national trials, as Bill Parks of Chicago did in the trials at Atlantic Highlands, N.J. two weeks ago, he has fairly well proved his worth. The Finn class, in contrast, has a national fleet of only 100 hulls, but because the Finn owners encouraged outsiders their finals at Marblehead were crowded with talent—nonowner Barrett had to beat eight present or past national class champions. By putting their fleet to its fullest use, the Finn sailors made certain that a worthy, battle-hardened skipper would represent them at the Games, and at the same time added stature to their small class. Just which Olympic sailor in which class faces the hardest test to make the team is something that can be argued forever. But the generosity of the Finn sailors has, as President Foster put it, "established a different concept for choosing an Olympic sailor."

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Vic Sheronas 1 0 0
Peter Barrett 2 0 0
Marblehead (Massachusetts) 15 0 0
Glen Foster 1 0 0
United States 8021 0 232