ATHENS, Greece – American sailor Kevin Burnham (search) politely waved to race officials at the finish line, let out a whoop and did a back flip into the deep-blue Saronic Gulf.
It was a gold-medal splashdown, one he'd been waiting a long time to do.
Burnham, of Miami Beach, and his skipper, Paul Foerster (search) of Rockwall, Texas, outwitted and outmaneuvered their British rivals in a classic match race Saturday in the 470 class to win their first Olympic gold after years of trying.
``Absolutely unbelievable,'' Burnham said after drying off from his spontaneous celebration. ``When I saw the finish line and the Brits behind us and I knew they couldn't win, I was just so happy.''
After winning Olympic silver medals, the low-key, experienced Americans weren't interested in finishing second again.
``This is my fourth Olympics, I've had two second places, and you always think, 'Well, we won the silver, but it's kind of a letdown not winning the regatta,''' the 40-year-old Foerster said. ``It's nice not having a letdown. It feels great.''
British skipper Nick Rogers, 27, and crew Joe Glanfield, 25, got the silver.
``We knew it would be tough to beat the Americans because they had enough silver to dunk a donkey,'' Glanfield said. ``They wanted a gold. They did a good job.''
Foerster is an aerospace engineer who grew up sailing on Texas lakes. He won the 470 silver in 2000 and the Flying Dutchman (search) silver in 1992. His wife, Carrie, gave birth to their first child, Luke, three days before the Olympic trials in Houston last November. While Burnham took care of boat maintenance, Foerster flew home every night. The pair built such a big lead that they clinched the Olympic berth with one race to sail.
Burnham, a three-time Olympian, won silver in the 470 in 1992. At 47, he is the oldest member of the U.S. sailing team and has competed in every U.S. Olympic trials since 1980. He's been unemployed since April, when the Miami office of the European-based yacht manufacturer he worked for closed because the dollar was so weak against the euro.
His 6-year-old daughter, Kyla, called early one morning last week and told him to bring back the gold medal.
``It's going to be a lot of fun going to her school and showing the kids the medal,'' Burnham said.
Two other U.S. crews got off to great starts Saturday.
In the Star class, Paul Cayard of Kentfield, Calif., and Phil Trinter of Lorain, Ohio, won the first race — their Olympic debuts — and were sixth in the second, good for a two-point lead over Brazil's Torben Grael and Marcelo Ferreira. The Brazilians won the gold in 1996 and the bronze in 2000.
The powerful British team got its second gold of the games Saturday, when Ben Ainslie completed his remarkable comeback from an earlier loss in the protest room to finish first in the Finn class. Ainslie is unbeaten in major regattas since switching to the Finn from the Laser following his gold-medal performance in Sydney in 2000.
But the British had no chance against Foerster and Burnham, who came into the final race with a two-point lead. They were the only two crews with a chance at the gold, and a match race quickly developed.
The British wanted to build speed and make a timed run at the starting line, but the wind shifted and dropped below eight knots. The Americans trapped them well below the line and gained control.
``I wanted the gold and the way things fell into place, they kind of gave it to us,'' Burnham said. ``We were able to get on top of them and there wasn't enough time to get to the starting line. I knew we just had to stay in front of them. We just drove them back.''
Ignoring the rest of the 27-boat fleet, Foerster and Burnham matched the British tack for tack during a fierce duel and let all the other boats get away.
``Really, with two minutes before the start, it had gone horribly wrong for us,'' Rogers said. ``We just felt very, very stupid for getting in that position. But it wasn't easy for Paul to do what he did, to take us out of the race.''
It was as exciting as sailing gets.
``It was tense the whole race,'' Foerster said.
The Americans and British tacked 12 times in the final minutes before the starting gun, then tacked nearly 30 times on the upwind first leg.
The Americans followed the basic rule of match racing by keeping their boat between the British and each mark. Foerster and Burnham won the gold by three points.