Back When America Was Strong

Published on November 18th, 2015

There was a time when USA stood tall atop the Olympic pyramid, but now there is much more parity among the classes, and often America is not even in the conversation. While the Finn remains an active class in the country, it is by no stretch a leader on its biggest stage. But that wasn’t always the case.

It was 35 years ago when the Finn Gold Cup was held in New Zealand waters, back in 1980, where the class’ world championship turned into a battle of epic proportions between John Bertrand (USA) and Cam Lewis (USA).

Watching the contest in 1980 was Peter Montgomery, who recorded the epic battle in the Finn class 60th anniversary book ‘Photo FINNish’. Here is his tale…


It came down to the last leg of the last race. In 30 to 35 knots, occasionally gusting 40, John Bertrand tacked 32 times. Cam Lewis covered 32 times, even roll tacking in the 40-knot squalls. You had to see it to believe it. Caution was not an option.

The pulsating climax to the 1980 Finn Gold Cup was sporting theatre at its best. A riveting regatta that had it all – compelling competition and magnificent sailing – dominated by two brilliant American sailors, Cameron Lewis and John Bertrand.

Their classic confrontation was another gripping chapter in an intense rivalry that has become sailing legend. Lewis was the defending champion from the 1979 Gold Cup in Weymouth, England. Bertrand had won the 1978 Gold Cup and was runner-up to Lewis in 1979. Before that they had some intense contests in the Laser class. Bertrand had been a double Laser world champion. Going into the last race, only 0.7 of a point separated Lewis and Bertrand.

First to finish in the seventh and final heat would win the Gold Cup. The tension rose as Lewis and Bertrand became locked in an enthralling match race. While Lewis and Bertrand were locked in their own epic duel, Britain’s Chris Law led the fleet in a brilliant display of heavy air sailing, especially downhill, standing up and surfing the waves.

On the incredible final beat Bertrand tried everything he could to claw into the narrow lead Lewis had at the last mark.

Chris Law won the exciting final race from Jørgen Lindhardtsen. Cam Lewis finished third and John Bertrand fifth. That meant Cam Lewis won the regatta by four points, retained the Gold Cup and his position as No 1 in the class. Lewis joined the exclusive group of Paul Elvstrøm, Willy Kuhweide and Jörg Bruder as the only sailors up to that point in the history of the Finn Gold Cup to win in successive years.

The Gold Cup was sailed in New Zealand for the first time, with spectacular action in fresh 15 to 35 knot winds. In only one race did the wind drop below 12 knots. This was in sharp contrast to the light airs of Weymouth in 1979. But the same sailors came out on top.

The depth and quality of the 1980 Gold Cup fleet was an impressive line-up of outstanding sailors from around the world in an Olympic year. Larry Lemieux finished third overall, 23 points behind Lewis. Kent Carlsson was fourth another 12 points further back.

The Finn-tastic Americans were in a league of their own. Cam Lewis and John Bertrand had taken world Finn sailing to an astonishing new level.

The President of the International Finn Association, Jacques Rogge, had been around Finns for 20 years and was in a unique position to compare the past and present. His comments were generous. Rogge considered Lewis and Bertrand were at least as good as or better than the great names of the late 1960s: Kuhweide, Mankin, Mares, Tallberg, Bruder…

However there was more at stake than the 1980 Finn World Championship in New Zealand. A win off Takapuna would also be a huge psychological boost for the US Olympic selection trials in May and whoever survived that would be red hot favourite for the Finn gold medal at Tallinn in July.

Sadly, the dead hand of world politics intervened with the boycott of Moscow in 1980 and the sailing world was robbed of the prospect of something very special.”


The 2015 Finn Gold Cup is on November 24-29, held again in Takapuna, New Zealand. Ten races are scheduled from November 24 to November 28, with the medal race and final race on November 29. Event details.

Source: Finn class

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