Short Tack with Johnny Lovell (US Olympic Silver Medalist)

Published: February 2005

I recently sat down with New Orleanian Johnny Lovell, the silver medalist in the 2004 Athens Olympics in the Sailing Tornado Class.

You went from 8th in 1996 to 7th in 2000 - What do you consider was the difference in elevating you and your teammate’s game to a Silver in 2004?

Lovell - We had a more complete campaign this quadrennium. We also had more funding and this made it possible to train harder and experiment with new equipment. The Olympic Committee at New Orleans was a tremendous help. I think we had the potential to win in '96 and 2000 but we had a few bad breaks. In '96 we were third going into the last race with a good shot at silver. We blew it the last race and when I look back I think a lack of experience was the biggest problem. In 2000 we were also a favorite but we had bad luck with the breeze. We had targeted heavy air performance because everyone thought it would be 15 knots plus in Sydney. We gained weight and our boat and sails were set up for big breeze. We trained for a month before the games and everyday it blew 15 to 25. Then when the games started the wind disappeared and the whole event was sailed in 6 - 10 knots. We still managed to be in the hunt until we got DSQ'd in the race that we won.

NOYC - With your father a contender in the US Olympic trials in 1980, for you to medal must have been very emotional?

Lovell - Yes, it was. I have sailed in three Olympics and spent over 15 years trying to get onto the podium. It was very special to win a silver in Athens, were the Olympics started.

NOYC - Sports Illustrated picked you & Ogletree to win the bronze. That's pretty strong. As far as I can tell, SI has never picked the Saints or any other New Orleans based team to win anything. Does this mean SI could be wrong about the Saints not winning the Superbowl this year?

Lovell - I don't know about the Saints going to the Superbowl after Sunday's game, but it was nice to be picked as a favorite.

NOYC - In training for the Olympics, who did you feel were going to be your biggest competitors?

Lovell - Austria, Argentina, Australia, Spain and the Dutch. The Dutch were the best in big breeze and the Austrians were the best in light air.

NOYC - Where do Austrians sail?

Lovell - They have several lakes, but most of the Austrian Olympic Sailing team is always on tour going from regatta to regatta.

NOYC - How many accountants have competed in the Olympics?

Lovell - I don't know but I think I may be one of very few.

NOYC - As someone in his mid-30's, I feel empowered to know that someone only a little older than me competed (and medaled) in the Olympics. Did the other atheletes ever mistake you for an official or anything other than an athelete?

Lovell - No, in fact the bronze and gold in my class were won by older guys. Sailing at that level takes an incredible amount of experience.

NOYC - In real life, is Amanda Beard really as hot as she appears on TV?

Lovell - I did not get a chance to meet her.

NOYC - How has sailing Lake Pontchartrain prepared you for racing on the Olympic level?

Lovell - I think Lake Pontchatrain is an extremely difficult place to sail. On the lake you have to keep your head out of the boat and sail smart to win. Several places that I have sailed are what I call one way tracks. For instance in many of the places I have sailed you can go the same way every beat and you will be on the correct side 80% of the time.

NOYC - Does SYC hold the US record for Olympic medals won by its members?

Lovell - I have no idea, SYC has 2 gold and 2 silver medals.

NOYC - If you could crew on any Wednesday night race, which boat would it be? and why?

Lovell - On Wednesday night I prefer to sail on a big cruising boat with a blender.

NOYC - On wednesday night races, do you prefer J-mark or alternative courses? and if alternative, what would be your prefered course?

Lovell - I think the current course is great but I would like to see a change once in a while to keep it interesting.

NOYC - Ogletree, he's really only railmeat right?

Lovell - Charlie is one of the best sailors I know. Not only is he a great crew but he made our sails. It was a huge advantage to have one of the best sailmakers in the US on my boat.

NOYC - What can Mayor C. Ray Nagin, Gov. Kathleen Blanco and the State of Louisiana do to keep you from moving to San Antonio or L.A.?

Lovell - I love New Orleans and don't have any plans to move right now. However, If there is extra $ money in the budget for a high tech sailing center on the lake, that could keep me here.

NOYC - Does the silver medal get you free drinks at Galatoire's?

Lovell - Not yet.