Aussie Olympic sailors cheered home

Sarah Blanck, the only Victorian and fourth at her first Olympics - she should be proud
Rick Matthews
Most of the Australian Olympic team returned home yesterday to much fanfare from the thousands of family, friends and supporters who gathered at the Qantas base yesterday to cheer their heroes home.

John Howard and Mark Latham attended a great pre-election opportunity, arriving early to mix with the crowd for some handshaking and photos.

Ironically and much to my amusement, Australia’s Miss Universe was there too, but the crowd seemed more intent on meeting our Prime Minister and the Opposition leader.

Channel 7’s Sunrise show also operated out of the Qantas hangar, co-host David Koch signalling the second of two jumbo jets into the hangar and we hoped he knew what he was doing.

Those of the Australian sailing team who returned were disappointed with their results. ‘No medals at all,’ and individual disappointments as well.

Even Sarah Blanck, the Victorian newcomer to the Games in the Europe class who was our best finisher in fourth place, could not believe she had missed bronze by just one point.

However, she did concede, ‘now it’s over and I have done it once, I might give it another go. You just can’t explain how strange it is going to your first Olympics. I didn’t think it would affect me the way it did, but there I was up there leading the class and all of a sudden I realised where I was and what I was doing.’

Most are now taking some time out whilst deciding where each individual’s future lies.

Colin Beashel (Star) who carried the Australian flag at the Opening Ceremony says, ‘I am not planning to campaign again, but you never know, it could happen.

Chris Nicholson (49er) will leave town shortly to join his Spanish Volvo Ocean Race team, while Nicky Bethwaite (Yngling), Belinda Stowell (470 crew) and Sarah Blanck have discussed doing some match racing. Stowell may even go down the coaching route, as her skipper, Jenny Armstrong is retiring, as is John Forbes, the Tornado crew for Darren Bundock and Lars Kleppich, the third time Olympian from the Mistral class.

Bethwaite, the ‘elder’ of the team and who, with her current crew member, Karyn Gojnich were the first women to ever represent Australia at Olympics, tried to hide her disappointment, realising, amongst other problems, their run up to the Olympics was a short one compared to others in the first-time Yngling class, but like any Olympian, sees where they could have done better. Stowell was understandably upset. She and Jenny’s lead up to the Games was a good one.

Having won Gold in Sydney and still holding a top world ranking, they both had a lot to live up to and when it did not happen, it was devastating for both.

Michael Blackburn too, was very disappointed with his third effort. A fourth in 1996, missing Bronze by two points, then the Bronze in Sydney and great results during the past year, he expected to medal. 'I should have done better,' he said. It is what most said.

Anthony ‘Nocka’ Nossiter who stunned the Finn world by beating the great Ben Ainslie to win a race and finished sixth overall, his best result ever at this level, appeared the most relaxed of the lot. Nocka, who also represented at Sydney 2000, is a pragmatist and I admire the easy going nature that allows him to move on quickly and not dwell on what might have been.

To go to the Olympics is a prestigious affair, a once in a lifetime opportunity for the elite of each sport, with onlookers admiring from afar.

Returning home without a medal and your hopes dashed, watching others with that magic medal around their necks - Olympic reality bites – and how can any Olympian make us mere mortals understand just how it all feels. They can’t.

Anyway, I talked to a lot of the welcome home crowd before those planes landed and everyone there was proud to know anyone who was on those two Olympic planes, whether they had won a medal or not.

We were all just so pround - excited to see our friends and family home and know they had represented their country to the best of each one’s ability and that they had been where most of us will never go – the Olympic Games.