Olympic teams can take years to blend. They might include people who hardly know each other at the start and end up as close as family. Or, as in the case of the 1948 Star sailing class, they feature people who start off as close as family – because that's just what they were.
The gold medal battle was between two father-and-son teams. From the United States, we had ahead Paul Smart and his son Hilary; from Cuba, Carlos de Cárdenas and his son, Carlos de Cárdenas Junior.
The Smarts were a New York family who spent much of their time on the water. Paul was 56 years old, the oldest athlete in the United States team, and a successful lawyer. Alongside him was his son Hilary, 23, skipper of the boat “Hilarius” and destined for a long career in sailing.
But the Cubans were tough opposition. Their country had not won an Olympic medal in any sport since 1904, and they knew this was the opportunity. The de Cárdenas has just as much water in their veins – two more sons, Jorge and Alvaro, would compete in the Star category internationally in years to come – and the contest went down to the final race. Despite winning two of the seven races, and coming second in two more, the Smarts needed to finish in the top nine to secure gold. In the end, they finished sixth, but only after wrestling with that familiar dilemma of whether to play safe, or to race normally.
“It was kind of like playing a golf tournament knowing you can win by getting par instead of shooting for birdies,” recalled Hilary Smart decades later. “It was, in a way, a difficult position to be in because, if we were too careful, there was a chance it could slip away." The Smarts did not return to Olympic competition, although Hilary Smart continued to compete for 50 years. He even qualified for the 1981 World Championships when in his mid-50s. The de Cárdenas name reappeared in the Olympic Games of both 1952 and 1956, with fourth and sixth places respectively.