Going into the seventh and final race of the women's 470 class last week. Americans Allison Jolly and Lynne Jewell had just about overwhelmed their opposition. All they needed was to finish in the top 14 to win the first gold medal ever awarded to female sailors. As Jolly, the skipper, said later, "I wouldn't say we were overconfident, but we had been sailing pretty well and it seemed that the last race would be no problem."
She could not have been more wrong. All week the winds on Suyong Bay off Pusan, South Korea, had been unpredictable, changing from a moderate blow one day to a gale the next. At the start of the race the wind was gusting at 18 knots, strong but not alarming. By midrace, however, it had peaked at 30 knots. That plus a heavy swell and strong tide reduced conditions to survival sailing for the fleet of 21 boats. The Americans were moving comfortably in third place through the first triangle of the course, when the top of their jib suddenly began to slide down the forestay. and the boat slowed drastically.
Short of the windward mark, Jolley and Jewell stopped sailing their 15'6"-long dinghy and worked frantically in high seas to repair the jib. They were dead in the water for almost five minutes, and when they got under way again, they had dropped to 15th place. Drenched by 13-foot waves, they fought past one crew after another, working their way steadily through the fleet until they crossed the finish line in ninth place, good enough to put them ahead of the silver medal Swedish crew of Marit Soederstrom and Birgitta Bengtsson. An exuberant Jolly said the event "attracted the best female sailors from everywhere. To win when you're not the favorite makes it real special."
The U.S. team had heartrending near-misses for the gold in two of the seven other events. Entering the final race of the Star class, skipper Mark Reynolds and crew Hal Haenel had to finish in the top five to win the gold. But near the end their mast suddenly snapped and they had to drop out of the race. Still, they qualified for the silver, behind Great Britain's Michael Mclntyre and Philip Bryn Vaile, because Olympic rules allow crews to throw out the worst single result of the seven races.
In the Soling class, U.S. skipper John Kostecki and crew members Will Baylis and Bob Billingham led nearly all week, but they faltered in the sixth race and had to settle for silver. The U.S. also won bronzes in boardsailing (Mike Gebhardt) and the men's 470 (skipper John Shadden with Charlie McKee). In all, the U.S. haul was not as impressive as the three golds and four silvers it won in '84. But given the ferocity of the seas off Pusan, any medal seemed a godsend.
Jolly (left) and Jewell didn't panic when the jib came tumbling down.