Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Where The Dead Rats Are Fresh And The Condoms Crisp

Sailing is one of the more maligned events of the Olympics. It's boring. It's too long. It looks like a screensaver. It's just for rich people. I'm not in disagreement. Even I can't stand it. But there are instances when it can be interesting.

You just need the completely, totally wrong venue.

In Barcelona 1992, the sailing was set to be held in Barcelona harbor. The problem was that Barcelona harbor had what might be described as a 'shit-ton' of garbage in it. Bruce Kendall of New Zealand, in the runup to the Games, noticed what the Los Angeles Times described as "five rats and two refrigerators" within a day of showing up in town.

The Olympics have a way of making dirty towns clean up nice for the neighbors. And if athletes are coming in to town telling you about refrigerators in the harbor, by God those refrigerators have to come out of the water no matter how apathetic you were about them when it was just the locals using it. And also maybe the rats. And the condoms. Four garbage ships were sent in to get all the trash out of the harbor in time for the Games.

They didn't get enough.

Mike Gebhardt of the United States was in the men's Windsurfer division. He won silver, to go along with a bronze he'd won in Seoul 1988. The way Olympic sailing works is, you run a series of races, each of which gives you points based on your position. The winner gets zero points. At the end of the competition, you drop your single worst result, and whoever has the least points after that wins. By the seventh race (of 11), Gebhardt had already run what would end up being his drop race, an 11th-place finish in race 4.

During the last lap of race 7, with Gebhardt cruising along in fifth, a garbage bag stuck to his boat, forcing him to spend time getting it off. Six sailors took the opportunity to pass him, and he ended up in 11th again, which this time would end up on his score sheet.

The way things ended up, if he'd even so much as come in 10th, it would have been enough for gold. Instead, gold went to Franck David of France.

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