Caribbean sailors competing in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, gained experience and exposure, but neither Virgin Islands’ Laser sailor, Tim Pitts, nor Puerto Rico’s Tornado team of Enrique Figueroa and Jorge Hernandez, came home to the region with medals.
“The Olympic sailing arena is a magnificent facility and boat park,” said Pitts by cell phone from Athens.
The Agios Kosmas Sailing Centre, located in southwest Athens, boasts over 400 square yards of land area, plus the same again in terms of marina space. Room enough to accommodate the 51 national teams, comprising 400 athletes as well as support staff, coaches, media and officials. The venue for racing, the Eastern Saronic Gulf, had a predominant northeasterly breeze called the ”Meltemi” that blew at times with ferocity.
“The winds were light for most of our races in the Laser class,” Pitts explained. “There were no races sailed in over 12 knots of breeze, although the day it blew really hard racing was canceled.”
Pitts, easily the least experienced Laser sailor of the 42-member fleet, scored 41st, although in two races he scored 34th. However, he did experience some shining moments.
“I was up there in a couple of races, in the top 10 and top 15 at the mark. It was awesome. Much better than I expected at this level. I learned a lot,” he said.
Ultimately, Brazil’s Robert Scheidt won the Laser gold medal.
Will Pitts set his sights on Beijing and the 2008 Summer Olympics?
“Yes,” he answered. “I’m going to start earlier, right after I graduate from college next year. Then it will be all out for three years. I feel that I need to keep building after all I have learned.”
In the 17-team Tornado class, one of the last classes to complete their Olympic competition, the Puerto Rican team of Enrique Figueroa and Jorge Hernandez finished 7th, improving on the 8th place they earned in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.
The best of the 10-race series for the Puerto Rican team occurred half way through the competition when PUR1 scored a second place.
Of race five, Hernandez said: “ Today was a crazy day. So it was the crazy sailors like us who performed well. It was a tactical race and we capitalized from the shifts.”
The second, along with a fifth place earned in a subsequent race that day, sent the Puerto Rican team into sixth place overall.
On being sixth overall, Hernandez said: “We were consistent so we were not surprised that we were doing well. We’ve trained a lot here in Greece as we were here in July and in August. So far we haven’t had any bad races even though it’s really easy to lose big time with crazy conditions like the ones today.”
Ultimately, Figueroa and Hernandez did have a few near bottom of the fleet finishes before the competition was complete. In
the end, Austrians Roman Hagara and Hans Peter Steinacher won the class. Time will tell if the Puerto Rican team will try it again in 2008.