OLYMPICS / Barcelona 1992: Sailing: Smith spares blushes with sole medal

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The Independent Online
A BRONZE medal for Lawrie Smith yesterday saved Britain from its worst performance in Olympic sailing for 30 years. On the final day of the match-racing in the three-man Soling class, Smith and his crew, Rob Cruickshank and Ossie Stewart, beat the 1988 gold medallist and world champion, Jochen Schumann, of Germany, 2-1.

Smith had lost 2-0 to Kevin Mahaney, of the United States, in his semi-final, while Schumann suffered a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Denmark's Jesper Bank. The contests were watched by a large crowd of fellow sailors and other athletes from the Olympic Village. Smith was made to struggle for his medal, winning the deciding race in the best-of-three series for the bronze by less than a boat length. It was a boost to a British squad that had arrived in Barcelona with high hopes, but had subsequently had morale shaken.

Bank wore a brace on a left knee to guard badly twisted ligaments which have failed to mend over the last six weeks. But that did not prevent him from inflicting two crushing wins over the highly fancied Mahaney in the final to take the gold medal.

It was an unexpected upset for Mahaney, who had sailed superbly throughout the series, winning the initial fleet race qualifiers and the round-robin of match races for the top six. He had also prepared his campaign regardless of expense.

With crew members, Jim Brady and Doug Kern, he had campaigned three boats, had Ed Baird as his personal coach, and had flown both John Kostecki and Larry Klein to Barcelona for final match-race training.

But he was caught in one of the patches of light wind on the course just off the harbour wall in his first race against Bank and then had to take a penalty for a pre-start collision in the second. That put the best-of-three series beyond doubt, but Brady was able to say afterwards, 'We're happy with the silver medal, don't worry.'

The contrast with Smith was stark. He had spent six months in a bid to improve the fourth place he had achieved in the Soling in 1988 in Seoul, mainly because America's Cup and Whitbread projects failed to materialise.

Few competitors can go into an Olympic final lighting a cigarette but he did, regularly, and was joined by Cruickshank in the race- off for the bronze.

But, Smith pointed out: 'We don't light up during the race.' He also said that winning an Olympic medal is 'better than most things', but does not envisage doing it again in 1996, and paid tribute to Bank, who has concentrated on the Soling since 1982 and himself won the bronze in 1988.