Eight Bells: Kevin Burnham
Published on November 27th, 2020
On the morning of November 27, U.S. Olympic champion sailor Kevin Burnham (born December 21, 1956; Queens, NY) passed away after a long, courageous battle with pulmonary disease. He was 63 years old.
“Kevin’s accomplishments as a sailor are extraordinary and his Olympic spirit is iconic,” said Cory Sertl, President of US Sailing. “We will remember the energy he had for coaching and teaching sailing. Kevin was an inspiration to so many and will be missed by all who had the pleasure to know him.”
Burnham started sailing when he was eight and through to 18 he and his family went cruising every week and in the summer on a Columbia 22 and then a Morgan 30. Commenting in 2004, when he was nominated for Rolex World Sailor of the Year, Burnham said, “Initially I was not interested in sailing. In fact, when I was 9, I used to sabotage the engine of the Columbia 22 so that we could not get out of the harbour and go sailing! I was more into surfing and tennis.”
His focus and passion for sailing started to materialize in 1975 when he met Steve Benjamin at the Coral Reef Yacht Club in Miami, FL. Burnham commented, “At this time, I did not even know that sailing was an Olympic sport. Steve indicated to me that my physique was ideal to be a crew in a 470 and asked if I was interested in going out for a sail with him.
“The next day we went sailing in 15 to 20 knots of breeze in the 470. This was my first day of sailing a dinghy – a lot more exciting than the Sunday sailing days on the Columbia.”
Thus began his Olympic journey which led him to be a three-time Olympic sailor and a two-time Olympic medalist for Team USA. He won the gold medal with Paul Foerster in 2004 and a silver medal with Morgan Reeser in 1992. Burnham and Foerster were named Rolex Yachtsman of the Year for their gold medal performance. Burnham also won a gold medal at the 1986 Goodwill Games.
Burnham was a versatile sailor who competed in various boats and different racing formats over his exciting career. In ocean racing events, he competed at the Sydney-Hobart Race, Rolex Transatlantic Challenge, Newport to Bermuda Race, and won the 1989 Worrell 1000 Mile race. Burnham was an 11-time U.S. National Champion.
Later in his career, Burnham coached sailing athletes in the U.S. and around the world preparing them for the highest levels of international competition. He especially loved coaching youth and Paralympic athletes.
His overall positive presence, incredible optimism, and never give up attitude will always be remembered.
Burnham is survived by wife Elizabeth Kratzig, son Eddie Burnham, daughter Kyla Burnham, brother Greg Burnham, and his father Bruce Burnham.
Kevin Burnham and Paul Foerster were interviewed by Gary Jobson on US Sailing’s Starboard Portal on August 5, 2020. During the broadcast they share their Olympic memories and discuss fascinating stories about the 2004 Games and how the gold medal performance came together:
Source: US Sailing, World Sailing