Nate Silver wrote a couple weeks back that sailing was the most wide-open of all the Olympic sports. Because so much depends on guessing and timing wind shifts, any country could win a medal with luck. The best teams don't always win.
This news of statistical variance is cold comfort, though, to anyone who follows American sailing. For the first time since 1936, the USA won't grab a medal in sailing. We jingoists don't like being shut out in a sport with six medals—triathlon, say—but we like this news even less in sailing, where there are 30, yes, 30, medals awarded, and where the U.S. is the all-time leader in Olympic medals.
Oh, it gets worse. Team USA's sailors weren't even close to a medal. No one finished fourth. No one got jobbed by a bad jib or jibe. They finished seventh in Star racing, eighth in women's Laser racing, 12th in Finn racing, 14th in men's 470 racing, 15th in 49er racing, 20th in women's windsurfing, 22nd in men's windsurfing, and 29th in men's Laser racing. The best-case scenario remaining for the women's Elliott racing is a fifth-place finish, and the women's 470 team currently sits in ninth.
If anyone cared about this sport, these athletes would get called a big bunch of floating frauds. But instead the mainstream media will happily complain about Lolo Jones while the Swiss, Lithuanians, Cypriots, and Israelis beat us at men's windsurfing. Seriously. That happened. Eight years ago, that was basically our national sport. Where are all the youngsters who grew up on John Kerry?
On second thought, I guess a handful of people do care about sailing. They can have the floor now:
"This is not the distinction this team was going for," said Dean Brenner, the outgoing chairman of the U.S. Olympic Sailing Program. "Listen, there's no hiding. There's no way to spin it. There's no way to suggest anything other than we didn't perform."
U.S. Sailing President Gary Jobson, who spent a week watching the games before returning to Annapolis, Md., was equally blunt, calling the failure to medal "a heck of a wake-up call."
"In essence, we weren't competitive in any class," Jobson told The Associated Press by phone.
"I was a little surprised, and, like all American sailors, disappointed," Jobson said. "The question for me is, what do we do about it? I can't predict how the review will go, but I can tell you it's going to be thorough. This isn't going to stand long-term."
Great job, everyone. You all made Bode Miller look like Mark Spitz. In the future, stick to land.