The huge crop of gold medals harvested in Tokyo by U.S track and field men was well publicized in America, but as far as the daily press was concerned the Olympic yacht racing—on the bay called Sagami where Fujiyama forms a serene background for some of the world's most frustrating sailing conditions—was conducted in relative secrecy. And when the news finally seeped through that American sailors had won not a single gold medal, it seemed almost like a report of failure—a thoroughly false impression that in fact obscured a magnificent team achievement for the American sailors.
For the first time in Olympic history one nation's yachts—those of the U.S.—took a medal in each of the five Olympic classes. Don McNamara took a bronze in the 5.5-meters; Lowell North took a bronze in the Dragons; Peter Barrett took a silver in the Finns; Dick Stearns did the same in the Stars; and Buddy Melges took a bronze in the Flying Dutchmen. Those who think statistically might note that this represents one-third of all the prizes awarded to the sailors of 38 nations.
The U.S. triumph has broken a virtual European monopoly in such classes as the Finn and the Dragon, both of which are as Scandinavian as smorgasbord, and the Flying Dutchman, whose country of origin is apparent from the name. In Naples, the yachting venue of the 1960 games, no Americans placed in any of these. This year they won a silver and two bronzes. In the Stars, the largest keel boat class in the world (its sail numbers extend up to 4,915, which gives some idea of the competition faced by an Olympic finalist), there was an improvement of U.S. position from third to second. It was only in the 5.5-meter class that an American boat missed doing as well or better than last time, but it was a miss no more than the thickness of a few coats of paint, in the last few yards of the last race.
As Team Manager Julian K. (Dooley) Roosevelt put it. "We had to show up with five potential gold medal winners in order to be sure of a medal of some sort in each class."
Just how close the American team came to a possible clean sweep of the top spots will remain a secret of the shifting winds of Sagami Bay, but golds were within reach of most U.S. helmsmen throughout, if the breaks had gone one way instead of the other. The Russians, incidentally, won nothing, and only Germany and Denmark accounted for more than a single prize.
Most of the credit for this strength across the board belongs to the United States International Sailing Association, formed in 1958 primarily to help finance American racing sailors who might otherwise be unable to compete in overseas events.
Prior to 1960, the first requirement for anyone wishing to compete in the Olympic Games was a purse deep enough to pay the transportation costs of boat and crew. From bankrolling representatives abroad, the USISA moved into the business of improving the quality of the export. This has not only taken the form of assistance to individuals but also to class organizations, especially those competing in the Olympic Games.
Ten years ago there were no Finn dinghys in the U.S., although they had been designed by Richard Sarby of Sweden in 1950 for use as the Olympic single-handed class in Helsinki. In 1956, U.S. eliminations before Melbourne had to be held in other types, and American sailors had to borrow Finns from Canada to hold the final trials in the boat they would be using in the Games! Now there is an active national class. The 200 Finn monotypes scattered among fleets throughout the U.S. are only a splash in the bucket alongside the 1,000 or more maintained by the Soviet Union, but through such encouragement as using the Finn in the Massachusetts Bay and NAYRU Single-handed Championships, experts like Barrett have been developed, and no doubt the process will continue to accelerate in the next four years.
Another effort of the USISA has been to encourage outstanding sailors in non-Olympic classes—or in Olympic classes where there is talent in depth—to shift their allegiance to Olympic-sanctioned boats. Thus this year in Japan four-time Star Class World Champion North sailed a Dragon, while three-time Mallory Cup winner Harry C. Melges Jr. was lured into the cockpit of a Flying Dutchman. Like the Finns, both of these European classes now have active American organizations and the numbers of boats being raced in each is steadily increasing.
"What encourages me so much is that we've had no significant drop in our strong classes, while becoming competitive in our bad," said Dooley Roosevelt on his return from Japan.