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Canadian duo sails onto podium

Canadian Press

Athens — After sailing to a silver medal on Saturday, Mike Wolfs got on his cellphone and called his buddies that had gathered at the Brogue Inn in Port Credit, Ont., to watch his final sailing race in Athens.

Wolfs owed them a lot.

Wolfs, alongside skipper Ross Macdonald of Vancouver, won silver in the Olympic Star-class regatta, tying the best ever Canadian sailing finish at a Games.

But to get them to Athens, and all the tropical training stops along the way over the last six months, their friends and family raised more than $150,000.

"That made the difference for us right there, allowed us to train full time and get the equipment that we needed, and get a professional coach as well," said Macdonald.

"We both knew we had to work at it really, really hard and go at it full time in order to achieve anything. We dropped everything we were doing and concentrated solely on this."

Brazil's Torben Grael and Marcelo Ferreira clinched the gold Thursday, essentially leaving the Canadians to fight it out for the other medals in the final race against the French team of Xavier Rohart and Pascal Rambeau.

Macdonald, 39, and Wolfs, 33, were third heading into the last race of the Star, the most prestigious of the sailing races. The French were second, with just 2.2 points separating the two crews.

The Canadians got out to a blistering start in their two-person keelboat during a day of shifting winds on the Saronic Gulf, and made up the points difference by finishing second in Saturday's race, leaving Rohart and Rambeau, who were seventh, with bronze.

"It was a tough day as far as conditions go," said Macdonald. "Our plan was to try and get a clean start and work the middle of the track and it worked out."

Wolfs, a medalist in his first Olympic appearance, clutched a Canadian flag on a hockey stick on the dock after the race.

It's the second Olympic medal for Macdonald, who won a bronze with Eric Jesperson in the event at the 1992 Barcelona Games.

"I have to admit the novelty of the bronze wore off a few years ago," said Macdonald. "And this one is just sinking in. It's great."

Canada has won silver twice before — Evert Bastet and Terry McLaughlin in 1984, and the eight-man in 1932.

Macdonald and Wolfs only teamed up in January. Macdonald had known Wolfs since he was a young kid on the national team, fresh out of youth sailing.

Macdonald tried him out at an eight-day training camp in December, and the two clicked immediately.

"It was a risk," said Macdonald. "But Mike picked it up straight away and got the green light."

But while they had the talent and the boat, money to finance training and trips to international competitions was scarce. So friends from Macdonald's Royal Vancouver Yacht Club and the Port Credit Yacht Club in Mississauga, Ont., where Wolfs sails, banded together to raise the money.

For the past six months, the pair have been training in Miami's Coconut Grove and in spots across Europe.

After Saturday's race, the twosome had some time to reflect while they were being towed back into the harbour.

"It's been a tough road for us to get this far and I just thanked him for giving me the opportunity," said Wolfs. "It was a great thing."

What's the significance of Saturday's medal?

"It will allow us to go around and say, 'we're one of the better sports in Canada, please take care of us,"' said Canadian Paul Henderson, a member of the International Olympic Committee and the president of the International Sailing Federation.

Macdonald thanked Wolfs for the months of hard work, and told the young sailer his dad would have been proud.

Wolfs' father, Frank, died 10 years ago, but not before father and son sailed from Port Credit to Amsterdam, a trip that took six weeks.

"It was a pretty big thing for me because my dad passed away seven months later," said Wolfs. "So it was his lifetime dream and we just snuck it in there."

Oskar Johansson of Oakville, Ont., and John Curtis of Kingston, Ont., finished 15th overall in the Tornado class after placing 13th in Saturday's final race.

Austrians Roman Hagara and Hans Peter Steinacher dominated the deciding race to win their second straight Olympic gold.

They sped ahead of the fleet, leaving American sailors John Lovell and Charlie Ogletree with silver and Argentine duo Santiago Lange and Carlos Espinola with bronze.

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