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XVII Olympic Games Naples, Italy - Regatta Report

XVII Olympic Games Naples, Italy 1960
Stanley E. Smith (From the 1961 Star Class Log reprinted from the November 1960 issue of the American yachting magazine
Motor Boating.)
Complete results

Timir Pinegin, Gold Medal winner.

Undoubtedly the biggest surprise of the yachting events was the performance of Russia’s Timir Pinegin in the Stars. When he won the first race, many wrote it off as a fluke. But when he turned in a second and two more firsts in the next three races, there was a shaking of heads in bewilderment. How could one man make so many winning rolls in this nautical dice game?

Olympic veterans recalled how Pinegin had languished far behind the leaders in Melbourne. They had no reason to believe the situation would be any different this year, especially since the Russians had not entered any important European regattas. People like Paul Elvstrom of Denmark, one of the world’s greatest racing skippers, had predicted that the Russians might do very well in the Finns, which were all built in Italy, but doubted if they could do much in the other classes because of inferior boats.

This time Pinegin had a good boat - a Skip Etchells product from Old Greenwich, Conn. Canada, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Spain and the U.S. also had Etchells boats, so Pinegin was in good company. He also had a suit of Lowell North’s sails from Mission Bay, Calif.

What he did with these equal materials in just four races is somewhat fantastic. With three firsts and a second he was 1,800 points ahead of Portugal’s Mario Quina, his nearest competitor, and in a good position to coast the rest of the way, avoiding possible fouls. This he did, and by this time it was too late for anyone to worry about covering him.

But if the rest of the yachting world was surprised by Pinegin’s performance, he himself was even more amazed. When interviewed after the fourth race, he said that he had come to Naples with hopes of being within five boats of the leader. He thought that a fourth place might have been the best possible he could attain, especially in the light breezes of the Bay of Naples. His colleagues on the Soviet team were also surprised—they knew he was a good helmsman, but they had never anticipated anything like the actual result.

The immediate assumption was that perhaps the Russians had spent the past four years investing in foreign boats, culling out the best. This is far from the truth, according to Pinegin. Although the number of Stars in Russia has tripled since 1956, there is only one American boat—Pinegin’s Tornado. There are also a handful of German boats and one English. The remainder of the 200 Stars were built in Russia. Likewise, except for Pinegin’s set of North dacrons and four others by Murphy and Nye, the sails for the Soviet Stars are made in Tallinn on the Russian Baltic coast.

The fact still remained, however, that the boat Russia sent to the Olympics was an American. Did this mean that it is much better than the Russian-built boats?

Not at all, said Pinegin. This was probably true until about three years ago, when the Russian builders began perfecting their technique. Now they are about equal. Pinegin emphasises this by explaining that he had much closer competition in the first four races in the Olympic qualifications in Moscow than he had during the first four actual Olympic races at Naples. He had led by only 100 points in Moscow—in Naples his lead was eighteen times as great! The logic of this thinking could be challenged, but it nevertheless means top-flight competition from the Russians from now on.

There is no question of Pinegin’s ability as a skipper, especially to windward. Although not a particularly good starter (he prefers to avoid close quarters, waiting for an opening to keep his wind clear), he works his boat beautifully and appears to be exceptionally cool—and either clairvoyant or lucky in the wind shifts. He has been sailing a Star for about seven years, but does much more sailing on an “M”, a Russian-designed boat which he says is the most popular in the Soviet.

America’s Star entry, Bill Parks of Chicago, started the series badly, but improved his position daily and eventually won a bronze medal. He was ninth and seventh in the first two races, never went below fourth after that and finally won the last one. He came to Naples with a reputation for rarely making a mistake, but he night have taken two more firsts had it not been for a couple of tactical errors.

One occurred in the fifth race, in a tussle among the U.S., Russia, Switzerland and Italy. The American boat, Shrew II, was fourth at the last lee mark, with a beat to the finish line next. Parks sailed beautifully, edging past the Russian boat, then past the Swiss boat, which had rounded first. Italy’s gifted Agostino Straulino, perennial European champion, who was second around the leeward mark, also passed the Swiss. About 150 yards from the finish, both Italy and the U.S. were on the starboard tack, with Parks to leeward, holding a small but clear lead.

Straulino was laying the middle of the line, while Parks apparently realised he couldn’t fetch on that tack. Therefore he went about, crossed the Italian’s bow on the port tack, then tacked to windward of him. Either Parks’ wind failed him a bit, or he lost time in tacking, but whatever it was it was enough to allow Straulino to sneak across the finish line six seconds ahead. Instead of crossing Straulino, it would have been tactically better for Parks to have tacked in the safe leeward position, which would have meant a shorter route to the line.

The other occurred on the following day in the sixth race. The U.S. was at that time fifth in the overall standings. Russia was first, beyond overhauling. In second, third and fourth, respectively, were Portugal, Italy and Switzerland, with just a few points separating them from each other and from the U.S. Durward Knowles of the Bahamas stood sixth, more than 500 points behind Parks.

In rounding the last leeward mark, the U.S. was third to the Bahamas and Russia. In fourth and fifth places, just astern, were Portugal and Italy. Knowles chose to stand out to sea on the starboard tack and Russia followed. Portugal and Italy stayed on the port tack and headed inshore. Here Parks clearly had a choice, and it appears he chose the less fortunate one. He decided not to cover Portugal (whom he had to beat to pass in the series) and Italy, but to tag along with Russia and the Bahamas.

As it turned out, Portugal and Italy found a more favorable breeze inshore and finished first and second. The U.S. caught Russia on the final leg, but not the Bahamas, thereby finishing fourth. If she had covered Portugal, whom she had an excellent chance of overhauling in the rankings, she probably would have won the race.

It is perhaps too easy to criticise in retrospect without the tension of the actual performance. It must be said that Parks had his boat going exceptionally well toward the end of the series and he won the bronze medal. That should speak for itself, especially against the type of competition he faced. Knowles, third at rough Melbourne, was sixth at placid Naples, Straulino, second in 1956, was fourth.

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