Sailor Coutts begins his meteoric rise

Glittering sporting careers can often be kick-started by a meteoric performance at the Olympic Games, and New Zealand sailor Russell Coutts is a prime example.

When Coutts arrived as an inexperienced 22-year-old at the 1984 Olympic regatta at Long Beach, California, he was not expected to vie for the title against the cream of the world’s Finn class sailors.

He had a youth world title under his belt from three years earlier, but his performance over seven races in the California sunshine were to propel him towards one of the greatest sailing careers of them all.

Coutts would later become a four-time winner of the America’s Cup, the most prestigious event in the sport’s team calendar, and it was the tenacity that marked his 1984 gold medal in Los Angeles that singled him out as a great of the future.

The waters off Long Beach offered perfect, warm conditions for sailing and from the very opening race of the series it was clear Coutts’ main rival for the top step of the podium would be American sailor John Bertrand.

The race opened in controversial circumstances. In the first race Bertrand was adjudged to have clipped Coutts’ bow and he was disqualified.

The worst finishing position of a sailor’s series can be cancelled out but it meant the pressure was on Bertrand for the rest of the competition, any mistakes could have proved fatal to his chances.

However the American showed a steel resolve to claw back the deficit on Coutts, who was racing in pain due to boils on his bottom caused by the friction, salt and heat inherent in top-flight competition.

Bertrand won two of the next four races and the pressure was right back on Coutts in the closing two showdowns.

But the New Zealander held his nerve and crossed the line in the final race with a 3.7 point advantage over the home favourite.

The drama did not end there however.

When Coutts attended the post-race weigh-in it was discovered his clothing and outfit were marginally over the 20kg limit and disqualification was a very real threat.

On the third time of weighing, after his clothes had dried and he arranged them more beneficially, he was finally confirmed the winner, and his one and only Games ended in a golden shimmer.